The outside of Itto Sushi exists in Utah, but the interior is something straight out of Japan. A few well-placed decorative items—including Japanese paintings—add to the atmosphere, but the true journey across the Pacific comes through the food. The chefs prepare traditional Japanese cuisine, from sushi to bento boxes with the likes of salmon, chicken, and veggie tempura. More than a dozen specialty sushi rolls anchor the menu, including salmon crunch with panko shrimp, cucumber, and jalapeno pepper. To complement the food, waiters pour imported beer and sake, served both hot and anti-hot, also known as cold.
As the country recovered from World War II, Fujio Iwasaki was hard at work getting his eatery off the ground. Fearing a distinctly Japanese-style restaurant would not be well-received in uncertain times, Fujio added some Chinese items to the menu, and in the basement of the Colonial Hotel in 1946, Pagoda was born.
Today, the restaurant still delivers the classic Asian cuisine and sushi originally fashioned by Fujio, under the fresh guidance of head chef Jared Ekstrom and sushi chef Steve Nichol, who spent time in Japan as a tour guide and translator. The chefs lay out a smorgasbord of entrees such as miso sea bass and sushi such as the Baja Sunset, a Chef Steve original with spicy shrimp, cucumbers, and avocado crowned with fresh salmon and jalapeños.
Since moving to its current location, the eatery’s architecture has left as lasting an impression as the cuisine. A vertical sign stretches skyward, emblazoned with the word “Pagoda,” drawing the eye to a triangular rooftop that emulates the restaurant’s namesake structure.
Lacquered tables lit by sunlight from expansive windows gleam in Rice's modern dining room. Spicy aromas waft in from the kitchen, foretelling the arrival of entrees that blend the culinary traditions of Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. Some of these flavors meld within the dishes themselves: combining grilled steak, asparagus, and eel sauce, the Cowboy sushi roll melts away boundaries between East and West, much like a blast furnace full of old compasses. But chefs also cook traditional Asian recipes, such as a Thai curry with coconut milk or Japanese udon noodles with tempura shrimp. And they're accommodating of other diets, too. Several vegetarian dishes incorporate soy chicken substitute, whose tender texture pleased the writer of a 2009 In This Week review.
Although Kobe Cho Sushi earned a feature on Man v. Food with its incendiary Hell Fire roll filled with tuna and jalapeño, the chefs can also dial down the heat and showcase the delicate flavors of fresh fish and produce. The menu stems from the mind of owner and head chef Mike Fukumitsu, whose 13 years of sushi-making wisdom has been honed during numerous training stints in Japan. As an example of his dedication to high-quality ingredients, he seeks out Wagyu kobe beef for some of his premium sashimi and sushi creations.
A few tables line the pastel-orange walls, but a large number of seats also surround the sushi bar, allowing guests to watch as the chefs slice, layer, and roll orders with the confidence of an encyclopedia salesman at a trivia competition.
As they slice fresh fish and roll seaweed wraps around sticky rice, the sushi chefs greet diners from behind the sushi bar. Upholding the affable atmosphere, friendly wait staff dressed in navy and white kimono tops then seat guests at clothed tables or on the outdoor balcony. After perusing the menu, guests bite into vibrant pieces of red tuna and pink salmon sashimi, along with more creative rolls, such as the spicy-tuna-and-jalapeño Cancun roll, which arrives garnished with green cilantro leaves. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, chefs fry shrimp tempura and grill marinated beef bulgogi, which pair well with Kirin Ichiban beer, wine, or hot sake.