Every once in a while—and far too infrequently—a restaurant comes along that I can get really excited about. In the course of my job, I write about a lot of so-so restaurants, some good ones and, once in a blue moon, a great one. This week, it’s my privilege to tell you about a great new Salt Lake City restaurant. No, let’s make that a great new American restaurant. Because Takashi is one of the best restaurants I’ve encountered in my not just in Salt Lake City or in Utah, but in this country.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve written about Takashi before. Takashi Gibo is, in my opinion, the best sushi chef working in Utah. For years, he wowed loyal customers at Shogun, where he wielded his razor sharp “yanagi” knives, combining sushi-making mastery with artistic innovation. I know serious sushi lovers who won’t even think of eating sushi and sashimi that isn’t made by Takashi.
So I know I wasn’t the only person in town who brimmed with nervous anticipation at the idea of Takashi opening his own restaurant. I say “nervous” because Takashi is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my career as a food writer. His customers and employees feel the same way about him. We all wanted to see him succeed. But as too many great and out-of-work chefs know, running a successful restaurant is more than just a matter of producing superb food. There’s a lot that can go wrong in the restaurant business, and Takashi Gibo enthusiasts were afraid Takashi might have bitten off more than he could chew with his new namesake restaurant.
Silly us. From the moment you walk into Takashi, you know you’re in for a treat. The restaurant is housed in the building on Market Street that previously was home to Au Bon Appetit. Gone are the Parisian streetlamps and French boulevards; Takashi and his partner-wife Tamara knocked down walls and created a very modern, energetic space. A metal fish sculpture the size of a dirigible hangs over the sushi bar, where avocado-colored walls combine with gorgeous oranges, pinks and yellows to create a vibrant atmosphere—one that is an ocean apart from the tatami mats and rice paper walls of more traditional Japanese restaurants. The place just buzzes with color and energy, which also means that it can get a bit noisy. That’s OK; it’s an indication that people at Takashi are having fun.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t reverence at Takashi. I’ve yet to eat at Takashi’s sushi bar when a stranger to my right or left hasn’t wanted to share their good fortune with me. Last time, it was a couple who insisted I try their “J-J” roll, a custom-made “maki” roll that Takashi invented specifically for the couple, made with tuna, scallops and soft shell crab. The out-of-towner to my right couldn’t resist telling me how much he enjoyed Takashi’s tuna “tataki.” A couple who knows a thing or two about fresh fish—the owners of Aquarius Fish Co.—insisted that I try the melt-in-your-mouth “maguro” tartare ($9.50), the prized fatty tuna (“toro”) that Takashi serves with colorful fans of avocado and cucumber and garnished with scallions. It was stupendous.
Yet another Takashi aficionado e-mailed me to say I must try the T& roll ($9.95), made with albacore, yellow tail, salmon and scallions, all fried tempura-style and served with “Hotter Than Hell” dipping sauce and named for Takashi and his wife Tamara. It’s rare that I visit restaurants where customers are so enthusiastic about their food that they want to share it with strangers, but it happens every time I visit Takashi.
As for my own recommendations, I revered Takashi’s monkfish liver (“ankimo”), for example, which might just be the most enjoyable thing I’ve put in my mouth so far in this millennium. To make monkfish pÃ¢tÃ©, Takashi begins by removing the liver from a fresh monkfish, which he says is nearly the same size as the monkfish itself. He then steams the liver to cook it and rolls it into a cylindrical shape using a bamboo rolling mat. The monkfish liver ($4.80) is served in slices with shredded daikon, ponzu and a sweet-tart garnish of shredded “yuzu,” a tangerine-like fruit. The ankimo is remarkably light and more delicate than foie gras, a truly incredible culinary treat.
Takashi restaurant reminds me a bit of the Nobu restaurants I’ve eaten in, only better. Dishes like ahi and albacore tuna served with a red pepper sorbet pushes the envelope of contemporary Japanese cuisine in the way that Nobu Matsuhisa has done for years. The difference is that at Takashi, the prices are lower and the service is better. Stellar service from staff members like Harvest, Wendy and Tamara Gibo herself adds to the overall delight of dining at Takashi.
With sushi and sashimi that’s so extraordinary, it’s easy to overlook the cooked menu items. Don’t—because Takashi’s kitchen also turns out dishes that I can’t imagine improving upon. Fresh clams served in a heavenly red curry-coconut broth over rice noodles ($9.95) is a fragrant and remarkable appetizer. So is “azekura,” Takashi’s ridiculously tender seared skirt steak ($8.50), sliced and served with tempura Portabellas and green beans with citrusy ponzu sauce. It’s hard to do justice to the artful attention these dishes are given, so I won’t even try. Let’s just say I’ve yet to see a plate of food at Takashi that didn’t elicit oohs and ahhs for presentation.
I could go on and on about the “tai” (sea bream) nigiri I had and how fresh and delightful it was or the fabulous crunchy “ebi” (shrimp) roll I loved, but I think you get the picture. Simply put, Takashi is the most important restaurant to open in this town in years. I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the best restaurants to open in this country. It’s that good.
TAKASHI, 18 W. Market St., 519-9595, Lunch & Dinner, Monday through Saturday