Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gari Of Sushi: Tacoma's Best Sushi Joint

Tell me, where do you go when you want

  1. High-quality, interesting sushi
  2. Decent booze
  3. A hip(-ish) atmosphere
  4. Somewhere family friendly
Were you to have asked me a couple of days ago I would have told you that such a thing doesn't exist or that, if it did, it was in some crunchy, hippy nirvana like Eugene. Well, it turns out that such a place exists, and in Tacoma, no less.

The wifey and I had heard good things about Gari Of Sushi by word of mouth, but didn't know exactly what to expect. Thinking that a sushi restaurant on 38th couldn't be all that formal1 we packaged up the wee one and went out to investigate. The parking lot was full when we got there, and with good reason. The sushi was superlative, the atmosphere was great, and they had a pretty good (though somewhat overpriced) booze selection.

Unless they want to continue being a "word of mouth" place these guys need to work on their exterior; you'd hardly have any idea of what's going on inside to look at the place. It looks like your basic, dumpy, not-too-interesting suchi/teriyaki restaurant. They also need a website with some pictures, but I'll try to do justice to the inside. It was bright, but not painfully so, and had lots of random glass art panels hanging on the walls. The booths are large, like they're used to accomodating groups of people out to have a good time, and when we were there they had the TVs tuned to some kind of Japanse obstacle course game show. Comfortable and interesting, but not formal; people hardly even noticed we had a kid with us

But the most important things about a sushi restaurant is, obviously, the food. The had some nice looking bento boxes and the people across the aisle from us got some pretty good looking tonkatsu; so even if you've got non-raw-fish type people with you there's a wide variety of items for them to choose from. I myself stuck with the sushi because they've got one of the most exciting selections I've seen in who knows how long.

They've got a comprehensive selection of sashimi and nigiri for those of you who are purists, but the real interesting bits are their selection of rolls and "speciality" sushi. For some reason or another what is otherwise a very respectable sushi restaurant has allowed many of their rolls to become infected with avocado; negative points for that. However, despite the avocado infestation, there are still plenty of good rolls to be had that show greater than average thought in terms of composition/flavor selection. Here's my assessment of the ones I tried:

  • Gari-sama Maki: The name literally means "Mr. Gari's Roll" and, given the restaurant's name, could be intended as an homage to a (possibly mythical) proprietor. But, given that this roll features gari, the name could also be taken as an homage to the ingredient itself. It contains gari, shiso, and some sort of a mild fish (I forget the exact type) and is really quite tasty.
  • Scorpion: Jalepeno and fish, well executed. I appreciate that they've this fairly spicy option on the menu.
  • Step Family: This is another worthy flavor combination, spicy tuna and ikura (salmon roe).
  • Volcano: Spicy scallop with mayonaise IIRC. Also good.

But the real prize is the specialty selection. I ordered two of them, one consisting of quail egg and lobster salad and the other with salmon, shiso, and a couple of other ingredients which escape me. Both were pretty tasty, but they totally could have played up the presentation. The specialty pieces are little works of art, but came on the same plate as the rolls and essentially got lost. If I were the gari folks I'd be serving the speciality pieces on their own little plate, before the rolls were presented, and maybe accompanied by a little palette cleanser of some kind.

Overall the meal was very well priced. My wife and I got booze, a bucket of sushi, some tempura and some fried tofu, for $72 or so. Not bad really though, as I alluded to earlier, their booze menu was a little pricey. They wanted $13 IIRC for a 300ml of Sho Chiku Bai; not horribly expensive, but no bargain either. Overall I definintely think its worth (multiple) repeat visits and highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area.

1 For those of you not from around Tacoma 38th isn't exactly a high-rent district. The closest restaurants are a couple of (really good, but grungy) burger places.