Review: Umami’s the word at Birmingham’s Adachi

Tuna sashimi.
Tuna sashimi. Tom Perkins


325 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham
11 a.m. to midnight Mon. through Sat.; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday

Michael Schlow is one of a small group of James Beard Award-winning chefs and restaurateurs now plying their trade in metro Detroit, and it's partly that sort of talent that is going to lift Detroit from an interesting place to eat to something truly special.

Sometimes, however, they flop — see Maccabees Trader. A James Beard Award-winning restaurateur who opened it in 2017 only to close it less than a year later partly pinned the issues on Detroit just not being ready for what he was doing. Uh huh.

Schlow, however, will likely succeed. And if he fails, there's no blaming the location. Adachi is set up in the grand Ford-Peabody mansion's ground floor at the intersection Old Woodward Avenue and Brown Street in downtown Birmingham — there aren't many better spots for a high-end sushi restaurant in the region.

More importantly, what Schlow is sending out of the kitchen and across the sushi bar is mostly incredible. He brought in veteran chef Lloyd Roberts, who cut his teeth and built up a resume in high-end restaurants around the world, and together they built what's billed as a "Japanese-inspired" menu focused on fresh fish, though there's plenty of beef, chicken, and some duck, as well as thoughtful vegetarian options to consider.

It's worth noting that Adachi sources much of its seafood from True World, the supplier behind Clawson's well-loved Noble Fish. And Lloyd and Schlow — the latter of whom in 1999 won a James Beard Award for "Best Chef in the Northeast" with Boston restaurant, Radius — seem to get that people are into that whole umami thing. Of course, there's few cuisines packed with more umami than that of Japan.

That's showcased in Robert's hamachi which is presented in several forms, with some combination of white truffle oil, yuzu, ginger, and other ingredients. Hamachi is Japanese amberjack, a fish similar to tuna, and Adachi did its best work with the hamachi crudo — delicate, paper-thin strips of fatty fish made intense with the yuzu and white truffle oil. These are some of the best bites in metro Detroit. There's a similar effect in the hamachi that's a part of the tartare tasting menu, which consists of three small patties of raw fish. It came crowned with a small tangle of shiso, and is incredible. Similarly, the hamachi truffle roll comes with the added benefit of a serrano and avocado, for an intensely deep, rich, umami-laden package — it's arguably Adachi's best roll.

Accompanying the hamachi on the tartare tasting menu is a disc of fatty tuna under a light coating of crunchy tempura flakes, and a soft salmon disc that seems to spread its intense flavor as it melts on your tongue. The crudo also comes with delicate arrangements of tuna and salmon. In the sashimi, the tuna is one of the better options as it comes with, or in, serranos, cilantro, and wafu — a Japanese vinaigrette composed of soy sauce, mirin, daikon, ginger, green apple, and more. (Keep in mind that the preparations and recipes frequently change, so you might not find the same exact plate twice.)

The roll with red snapper with crispy snapper skin, sesame, and tobiko (roe) is decent but didn't hold up well in the shadow of the hamachi. What does fare well next to the hamachi is the Kobe slider with "umami flavors" that turns out is a truffle aioli generously dripping from the small puck of Kobe. It's not likely that these sliders' cows were raised in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture, which is where true Kobe cows live, but it's high-grade beef.

One thing to note: Order the sliders and prime koji steak rare, as both were slightly more done than what I find ideal. In the latter, tabs of flavorful beef arrive with slightly chewy king trumpet mushrooms, both of which are under a coating of yuzu bearnaise along with black truffle sauce. If I had to choose between the two beef dishes, the sliders were superior. Also solid are the duck meatballs, which are ground in Adachi's kitchen, packed, and served with koshu sauce and a house teriyaki.

The crispy salmon skin salad is made with a ginger soy dressing, microgreens, and super crisp tabs of crunchy salmon skin that should be broken up and mixed in well with the salad — it's fish skin, so it's fishy, but it fits well with the mix. Another solid lunch item is the spicy seafood soup with a simple broth built off of a house dashi with soy sauce, mirin, bonito flakes, and chili-garlic. The menu says spicy, but it definitely won't singe your tongue.

The drink list includes a range of house craft cocktails, Japanese beer, American beer, and finer whiskeys. There were a few minor issues with the service at times and a bathroom that on two different trips was in need of some employee attention, but everyone was friendly and sometimes that happens early on. Everything else suggests the work of pros, and metro Detroit is better off for Adachi's arrival.

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