Last Sunday, Reza and I went to Village Sushi located in the University District. We almost missed it on the way by as it is in an old house which still houses UW students upstairs, we are told. We cheated and had a Rue La La coupon (a system similar to Groupon but for higher end restaurants, shops, etc) so we got an omakase, a Japanese tasting menu chosen by the chef, and sake pairings for just $45! Sorry, the deal is over but I definately recommend going! Before a deal on Rue La La, we had never heard of this place before but we’re very glad we did.
We arrived around 8, just as it was slowing down. Jazz music played in the background, with a collection of vintage records lining the wall. We took a seat at the counter by the chefs and we were met with excitement. Today was a rare treat as the Executive Chef and owner, Jong Chan Cho, referred to as “Joe”, was cooking for us as Sundays are his chef de cuisine’s days off. Joe moved from Korea to New Jersey over 15 years ago and was heavily influenced by the Italian culture he was surrounded by. This was evident in some of our dishes with nontraditional garnishes like capers and tomatoes.
All of the art hanging in Village was painted by Joe, the Executive Chef/Owner.
We chatted with Joe and his sous chef all night. We shared stories of the food industry and his past. Wanting to learn more, I researched him and came across a ‘chef bio’ which he wrote about his journey to cooking and art:
As a teenager, I came to the United States and it was then that I had my first exposure to the seafood business and industry. I worked part-time in a family run fish market, each day learning how to properly choose and handle fish.
In 1996, while trying to obtain my fine arts degree in New York, I worked at a well respected Japanese restaurant named Kiku in Alpine, New Jersey. There I met my mentor, Suda-san who was one of the head chefs and who revealed to me the joy of Japanese cooking. I learned not only patience but also other essential skills needed for Japanese Cuisine, and I came to appreciate the art and culture that Japanese cuisine preserves. I also found cooking to be personally rewarding. I was able to make a living while still utilizing my passion for art.
After moving to the Seattle area in 1998, I continued my work at several restaurants and I was able to advance my skills as a kitchen chef. I also had the great pleasure to be involved in setting up two new restaurants: ‘Hana Sushi’ in Bothell and ‘Flo’ in Bellevue.
It has been a life long dream to open my own restaurant. Finally in January 2008, I opened Village Sushi. I have been blessed with the support of a wonderful staff and the patronage of many dear and loyal customers. I hope that my 12 years of cooking experience will be reflected in my establishment and the selection we offer at Village Sushi. My commitment to my customers is simple: to bring quality food coupled with excellent service.
All of the servers were on queue during the evening and assessed our every need. They were all very informed on all the sake, even with their sommelier on maternity leave. This was helpful as Reza and I are completely foreign to the knowledge of sake. Nor did we expect to be so fond of it!
As we settled in, we watched Joe and his team create stunning platters with speed and finesse, both essential qualities in Japanese cooking. Raw fish is delicate and should be handled as little as possible. Sashimi knives are most efficient, designed to slice fish with ease like butter, with a thin, slightly heavy blade to use the weight of the knife and motion, not pressure, to achieve uniform, thin slices. While I know a lot about raw fish, I know very little about sake.
Sake is a rice based alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin. Generally, the higher grade the sake, the more polished the raw grain of rice is to create a pure sake using only yeast, water, sake and, if not a Junmai, alcohol is added. Below is a table showing the different sake classifications and their descriptions.
Using this sake as an example of explaining the title of a sake, Kimoto Kasumi Tsuru Hyogo-ken Junmai, Kimoto being the style of sake (extra dry), Kasumi Tsuru is the maker, Hyogo-ken is designation, and Junmai is the classification, meaning any sake polished to less than 70% of its original size (in this case, 65%). This is a pure sake, a Junmai, meaning no added alcohol. If it had added alcohol, it would be classified as a Honjozo. Any questions?
Our first course was Madai Usuaukuri (red snapper or red sea bream, “true tai”) dressed with a housemade ponzu (soy sauce and citrus juice), diced tomato and capers. Paired with this was Ohyama Nama Tokubetsu Junmai. This sake went perfectly as it was slightly sweet to balance the saltiness of the capers and ponzu.
Our second course was a Japanese style risotto with seared salmon and oyster mushrooms. Risotto is made using a high-starch rice, stirring frequently to create a porridge-like consistency. This was achieved using sushi rice. The salmon and onions melded well with the creamy rice, with an acidic tone to compliment the saltiness, Mizuo Junmai Ginjo. The aroma of this was just like that of imitation banana! Sweet and fruity..
Next was a beef tataki (seared beef) with sesame dressed soba noodle salad loaded with scallions. I have always seen this dish on Japanese menus but as I always order sushi, I have never had the beef tataki with the chilled noodles. It was delicious! Paired with it was Kubota Hyakujyu, with a viscous texture and higher alcohol which cut the fat of the beef and sesame oil.
Next was, my favorite, assorted sushi and sashimi platter! From left to right, sake (raw salmon), snow crab roll topped with salmon belly, Tekka (Ahi tuna), Hamachi (Japanese amberjack, yellowtail), raw spot prawn, tako (thinly sliced octopus) topped with salmon roe, and uni (raw sea urchin). This was some of the freshest tasting, most uniformly crafted sashimi I have had since the much missed days of Saito.. Paired with this course was Sougen Junmai, clean, balanced, crisp, perfect with sashimi to let the fish shine.
Feeling perfectly full, we were just in time for our dessert. Joe chose for us a platter of fruits and mochi. Paired with our dessert was an amazing (my favorite so far) Shiboritate, infused in-house with fresh coconut meat and water. It was unfiltered and so delicious! At first sip, it is clean and bright. After a few seconds on the palate, it warms up to a fresh, “holy shit, I’m back in Hawaii” type of coconut flavor! I almost finished it by the time our dessert was up! Below is a video of Joe preparing our dessert.
We had an amazing time at Village Sushi! It has motivated me to venture outside the popular sushi spots and try something off the beaten path..