Cambridge: Cafe Sushi

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman, photos by Janet Vohs

Cafe sushi imura Kudos to Cafe Sushi chef Seizi Imura. Boston Magazine awarded him "best sushi, highbrow." I'm not sure how you classify fish by brow, but the restaurant is within walking distance of MIT and Harvard and I guess that has something to do with it. Even they themselves refer to their sushi as "refined" on Twitter. Another story says you can find Joanne Chang (Flour Bakery) and Chris Myers here late. Though we do not run into them, we can tell you their taste in sushi is impeccable.

Janet and I don't have reservations. You must. When we arrive the hostess says 60 minutes, which on Saturday is neither unreasonable nor unexpected. There's no shortage of shopping on Mass Avenue and off we go. Not ten minutes later she calls me to say our table is ready; one of those good surprises. Here we are in front of the sushi bar. We see sushi being cosseted by chefs wielding tweezers.

Janet's opting for sake. I see one called poochi poochi, a cold sparkler. I think there would be a lot to say about something called poochi poochi but it's been done. A guy in Manhattan thinks it would be good for a hangover because it's sweet. A guy in Kyoto writes it's too sweet and he can't take it seriously. A Santa Rosa Rhodes Scholar describes it with notes of "rice cereal . . . with baby diaper flavors." If we want it, we would have to down an entire bottle. Instead, we choose Hakushika and we like it. The brewer says sometimes you want it warm and sometimes not. It's served warm, which we prefer, it's velvety, not sweet and I did check the comments and there are no baby references. Our menu doesn't specify the one they're pouring so check which of the 25 sakes, plus lots of beer or wine, goes with your fish.

fish face It takes a while to figure out what to order at a new place. We choose the kama, broiled fish collar and tonight we're told it's salmon. I remember collar as bony. This one is a collar and it is bony plus the head and eyes and gills are all there too. It's grilled with diakon and lemon. To me, it tastes nothing like salmon but it's good so I don't know. Maybe it's marinated? Janet watches me poke around: "There's nothing like watching you navigate the interstices of a fish brain" which is what I'm doing, looking for what I don't know, and then I have a taste. Not for the faint of heart, no, and she thinks my meet-cute with a real brain has made me smarter. Here's skin that's been crisped and it's all fat but no one's making you eat it.

maki maki This is shrimp tempura with spicy mayo, avocado and cucumber that's now my favorite maki. And the music, it's jazz with a '50s vibe via New Orleans. Chef Imura likes his music as impeccable as his plates; he works with tweezers and 16" knives. Everyone's miso soup comes out steaming.

Tekka maki's tuna is the best. In some places the best is only for sushi, but not here. There's no scallion to hide behind, no spicy sauce, no soy and no wasabi. Salmon with avocado is divine and their signature seared hamachi with spicy tuna and asparagus is topped with yellowtail. Another night we order the whole fish: it's a porgy that's been steamed in sake and beautifully put up with rice, ginger and scallion.

Yellowtail is wild; when they call it hamachi it's farmed and the fish . . . all the fish is out of the ordinary. Our server Kelsey is friendly and well paced, not easy in this room. Everyone watches and when a colleague needs help, they get it. It's geographically desirable to wait outside: yes, summer or winter, your wait is likely outside. Inside, there's room to pay for takeout, get on the wait list and that's it.

maki rolls I make the trek to Cambridge more often than you think. While my first choice is sitting at their bar, when I'm at home in the kitchen I eat less. Cafe Sushi's takeout containers are thin with lids that are attached, not like the two pieces I'm used to. They even, horrors, keep leftovers for tomorrow. Yes, I have leftovers because I order too much, and I eat them for lunch. Holding leftover sushi until dinner would be nuts.

We've done it, a respectable amount of damage with more sake than usual. We like the tunes, it's Dixieland now, which is down with fish. Janet's asking Chef Imura if she can take his picture. He's says 'sure' and smiles for us. Really, what's not to smile about? He smiles at lunch too.

I read about a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan called Shuko that serves apple pie after their "omakase and kaiseki only" experience to, as you can imagine, a stunned audience. Shuko's chefs Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau say pie is like a hug. We agree, pie is not only like a hug, it is in fact a real hug. I'm thinking I could go for some pie right now. If pie were to appear here at my desk in the middle of the afternoon, I hope it's peach. But if you only have chocolate with whipped cream, I can make do. Pie-wise, I'm not going to be the one to tell a chef, even a smiling chef, that he needs peach pie. But it's more than fine if he's going to think about it. You know lemon meringue is good too.

Cafe Sushi
1105 Mass Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
617. 492. 0434

© March 20, 2015 Photos by Janet Vohs. Kitty Kaufman is a writer living in Boston. See more of their adventures on Corporate Edge and Twitter
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