A Tradition Honored
6400-C S. First St., 326-5807
Fri 11:30am-10pm; Sat 4:30-10pm
16th century samurai warrior saved face by commiting hara-kiri when the emperor stumped him with this riddle: What must be done well, but can't be well done? A total fabrication, but a timeless truth: The preparation of sushi and sashimi should indeed be left to experts trained to prepare it safely and in a manner pleasing to more than just the palate. Japanese tradition dictates that food should satisfy all the senses; taste, texture, and presentation bear equal weight in the art of eating. Unfortunately, tradition also dictates that the price of premium sushi-fish is prohibitive, high enough to keep it a rare delicacy for most people.
During a recent visit to D.K.'s Sushi Bar & Seoul (my first), I learned that reasonable price and quality experience needn't be mutually exclusive. D.K. Lee learned his art from his master sushi-chef brother, and along with traditional Korean fare and other Japanese specialties, D.K. furnishes beautifully presented, moderately priced sushi crafted from fresh, middle-grade cuts of fish in spare, clean, appealing environs.
Nigiri is not the style of sushi that's rolled in seaweed. Instead it's a slice of fish on a ball of sweet, clingy, vinegared rice -- pick it up with your fingers and dunk it, fish-side down, in a tiny trough of soy sauce with a smudge of wasabi dissolved in solution. Wasabi is the Japanese equivalent of horseradish -- too much in one bite provokes a "wasabi moment," the closest a human can come to imploding the sinus passages and still surviving. I chose nigiri-zushi a la carte, two pieces per order of yellowtail, abalone, crab, and raw shrimp, whose battered, deep-fried heads graced the wooden chopping block on which it all was served.
Aside from the shock value of the fried shrimp heads, the creamy, butter-soft yellowtail ($3.50) deserved the most attention. The waiter advised us to chew the yellowtail thoroughly, to get the full effect of the flavor, and to eat it before it had a chance to warm up, lest it turn "fishy." But neither the yellowtail nor any of the other fish we ordered was whiffy in the least -- even when we leaned directly over the chopping blocks and took big sniffs. The term "mid-grade" is not meant to describe the quality or preparation of the fish at D.K.'s -- rather, several of the choicer varieties or cuts of fish typically on a sushi or sashimi menu are simply not available here. Toro (marbled fatty tuna from the underside of the fish) is one of the most delicious, and consequently expensive, cuts of fish. D.K. doesn't have it on the menu. Nor does he offer uni, the fleshy, orange sex organ of the sea urchin. What he did have was pleasing to the eye, tongue, and teeth, including the striking (if false) rendition of crab (krab) for $2.75. The rarest choice was also the chewiest: abalone, at a whopping $6.00 for two swallows of dinner.
The salmon roe pieces ($3.50) were glossy, fishy bathbeads balanced on rice and restrained by a band of seaweed. We ordered only one roll of sushi -- the spider roll -- for $7.50. Deep-fried soft-shell crab was sprinkled with flyfish roe and paired with cucumber strips before being rolled tight in seaweed, then pressed in vinegared rice and black sesame seeds and sliced on the diagonal. The result had a rich, Kentucky-fried flavor, a delicious departure from the typical healthy-fresh sushi roll.
My companion's choice, the medium sashimi dinner ($19.50), was an abundant 24 slices of fish on a bed of shredded white daikon, garnished with fresh parsley and a pickled ginger rose. The assortment was divided between soft maguro tuna, scored rings of squid spread with sweet orange smelt roe, tender octopus, smooth salmon with an easy bite, and some tenacious red snapper.
Save some scallions floating in a bowl of miso soup and the wafer thin cucumber slices in a delicate sunumono salad ($3.25), a pairing of "crab" and cukes in a sweet, light dressing, no vegetables passed our lips during the meal. We left the restaurant happy with our experience, full of protein, and loopy from eating all the raw fish. I couldn't wait to go back.
A few days later, we returned to try other Japanese menu items and some Korean specialites. The Assorted Tempura ($9.99, served with rice) is clusters of carrot slivers, onion rings, and green onions, and five jumbo shrimp coated in a flaky batter, flash fried, and served with a sweet, soy-based sauce. The shrimp were light and delicious, but the vegetables, because of nooks in the clusters, absorbed more of the grease. I would have preferred that a greater selection of vegetables -- yams, for instance -- be included in the assortment.
The description of Kim Bab ($7.45), "Korean style big rolls with rice, beef and vegetables" conjured an image of something along the lines of an egg roll or a spring roll. We were surprised by a 10-inch sushi-roll type item on a chopping block. Seaweed-encased, sticky rice rolled around fragrant fragments of beef, pickled yellow radish, and carrot shreds. Though similar to a sushi roll in appearance and presentation, the rice was completely different from sushi rice, it was sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, and the tender beef was both cooked and highly seasoned. The radish added crunch and a pickled flavor. While we enjoyed the tempura, we relished the Kim Bab, and its unusual flavor and presentation made trying more Korean specialties at D.K.'s a priority for the near future.
D.K.'s also offers a selection of Japanese and Korean beers and wines, a $7 weekday lunch deal consisting of five sushi pieces, miso soup, and a tuna or California roll, and the promise of a tatami no heya, a cozy room with Japanese tatami mats and floor seating, opening next week.