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Eat & Drink » Restaurant Reviews

Sushi of the Damned

Getting a little evil with the inventive flavors of Itto Sushi.

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ALEX SPRINGER
  • Alex Springer

It can be easy to forget the concise blend of artistic expression, culinary science and simple geometry that goes into making a sushi roll. Few other foods rely on a chef's grasp of color, texture, shape and presentation in the same way that sushi does, and it's easy to take for granted—especially when eating food is your job. My recent visits to Itto Sushi (multiple locations, ittoutah.com), however, reinvigorated my appreciation of the artistry and creativity that sushi chefs apply to their craft day-in and day-out.

After only seven years of operation, Itto Sushi has already carved out a sizable chunk of turf for its growing empire. With locations in Midvale, Orem, downtown SLC and a recent addition to South Jordan, Itto has no shortage of ambition.

It's a swagger that is also evident all over the menu, through rolls like the heart-shaped mango-infused Romeo & Juliet ($12.95) or the spicy citrus combo of the Kill Bill ($12.95), whose glittering crimson tobiko evokes Beatrix Kiddo's quest for bloody satisfaction. Itto Sushi's flair for presentation is on display in the most unexpected places, and there is no shortage of oohs and aahs from guests as a member of their friendly staff brings places their order on the table.

Indeed, it was the rumors I'd heard of Itto's unconventional presentation that initially lured me inside. I had read about something called the Dracula Roll ($12.95) that apparently got served up inside a tiny wooden coffin filled with wood smoke. As a fan of all things morbid and spooky, this was something I had to see for myself; when my interest in food overlaps with my interest in the macabre, I take special note. I pulled up a seat at the sushi bar during happy hour—every Tuesday and Wednesday night after 5 p.m.—so I could get some half-priced specialty rolls in addition to my main course. If you're planning a first-time visit to Itto, checking them out during happy hour is a great way to get your bearings.

While I was waiting for Dracula to rise, the other rolls on my docket arrived. First was the Mafia Roll ($12.95), which wraps a tasty combo of tuna, avocado, cilantro and jalapeño in a thin layer of rice paper that gets topped with tobiko. The spicy and herbaceous mix of cilantro and jalapeño along with the crunch of fresh romaine lettuce lends a Vietnamese banh mi flavor and texture profile to the party that has a way of waking up the other ingredients. It's definitely one of the best deals on the happy hour menu.

As a complement to my Dracula roll, I also ordered the Sushi Vampire ($12.95), which is another great happy hour bargain. This one is for the shrimp and shellfish lovers out there who don't always see their seafood of choice show up on a sushi menu. It starts with some tempura shrimp wrapped in its traditional rice and nori vestments, but it also comes topped with a modest heap of baked baby lobster tails tossed in some savory eel sauce. I'll always be a fan of the clear, fresh flavor that tuna and salmon impart to a sushi roll, but the sweetness of those baby lobster tails and the crunch of that tempura shrimp are spectacular additions to any sushi roll.

By the time I handily devoured my first two sushi rolls, it was time for the prince of darkness itself to grace my table. As promised, the Dracula roll arrived sealed in its own wooden coffin. Opening the lid reveals a wispy bed of wood smoke that emerges like moorland fog and heralds the emergence of this legendary sushi roll. As far as presentation goes, things don't get much cooler than this. Even if you're not a giant horror dork like I am, watching wisps of smoke billow away to reveal a roll stuffed with tempura shrimp and spicy crab that's been topped with fried onions and blood red sriracha is a dining experience you won't soon forget. The roll itself lives up to this A-list presentation as well—the subtle smoke flavors highlight the other ingredients giving this roll a multi-tiered spectrum of savory flavors to navigate.

While you'll want to visit Itto for its vast menu of beautiful sushi rolls, no one will judge you for perusing the other Japanese delights it has to offer. Their takes on classics like tonkatsu ramen ($9.95), unagi don ($15.95) and agedashi tofu ($5.25) are excellent ways to mix up your experience. I'm also a fan of their bento box ($9.95 for lunch; $12.95 for dinner) specials that come equipped with options that include a chef's choice of nigiri or sashimi, some classic sushi rolls or teriyaki-marinated beef, chicken or salmon.

If you're in the market for inventive sushi rolls or some delicious takes on a few beloved Japanese comfort food classics, Itto Sushi has got a little something for everyone—especially if you're suckers for primo presentation.