The art of the knife

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I couldn’t get my friend Dianne to join me for dinner at Café Sushi. “I’m not much for sushi,” she demurred. I guessed there would be other things on the menu, but I couldn’t talk her into it.

Ironically, co-owner Shigeru Yamada, who also owns Cherry Blossom in Novi, designed Café Sushi for a “local” audience. Yamada recommends it for those who want to try Japanese food but are scared away by raw fish. (That’s you, Dianne.)

When you walk into Café Sushi you are greeted by a sleek sushi bar topped with black tile. Everything gleams. Sit right there if you enjoy watching the creation of sushi, which is something of a performance art. You’ll have the added benefit of the affable chef Atsushi “Steve” Higuchi or head chef Yoshiro Nakamura to steer you toward things you might like. I ordered a sushi combination dinner, which includes a cup of miso soup, a California roll or tuna roll and an assortment of nigiri sushi (fish on balls of rice, not rolled). I had yellowtail, salmon, tuna, shrimp, smelt roe and eel. All were delicious and my request to refrain from mackerel, which I don’t like, was honored.

The menu at Café Sushi is “modernized Japanese,” according to Yamada. It streamlines decision-making and features American palate pleasers like tempura and teriyaki. There are combination dinners of teriyaki (beef, chicken or salmon) with shrimp tempura and a California roll — no daring is required here; California rolls are made with cooked crabmeat and avocado with the traditional vinegared short-grain rice, all wrapped up in a papery sheet of black seaweed called nori.

Other options are to be shared by two or more. Nabemono means food cooked at your table, and you can get sukiyaki ($25 per person), shabu-shabu ($25), or yosenabe ($30). Omakase (chef’s choice) dinners are an interesting way to go for the adventurous eater; the chef will serve your party a dinner with four to seven courses for $35-$60 per person. These dinners are tailored to your tastes, and give you a chance to try things that are not on the menu.

Of course, my job was to check out the menu, so we ordered for ourselves.

An appetizer of soft-shelled crab ($9.50) was deep-fried in a light batter and elegantly presented on a square black ceramic dish. Agedashi tofu ($6) is deep-fried and served in a warm broth. We liked both of these.

Skip the appetizer called dynamite ($7) — broiled conch with a bright yellow spicy mayonnaise sauce, served on rounds of seasoned toast. Yamada says that the same dish is served at Cherry Blossom on half a clam shell. The presentation at Café Sushi is designed to make it more like a canapé. Conch is a chewy gastropod, something of a chore to eat, and the canapé presentation didn’t make it any better.

An entrée called tekka don ($20) combines sliced raw tuna (tekka means tuna) over a seasoned rice, with steamed cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus. Chirashi ($20) combines an assortment of fish with vinegared rice and vegetables.

Desserts include wonderful flavors of Japanese ice cream, which is not as sugary as the American variety. We tried litchi and red bean; ginger and green tea are also offered. One night we had the tempura cheesecake, which starts frozen but is partially melted by the cooking process. It was interesting, but not a must-have.

The service at Café Sushi is definitely above average. When we commented to our server about the improbable striped wallpaper and French impressionist reproductions on the walls, she immediately invited us to see a tatami room where the decor is traditional.

So give Café Sushi a try even if you would never, ever eat raw fish. There’s plenty to choose from, and if you try a little nugget of sushi — and like it — a new and healthful cuisine will be open to you.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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