In 2009, Mashiko Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar chef Hajime Sato, made a responsible but risky decision: go fully sustainable. This move meant eliminating some of the more popular sushi dishes, such as eel and shrimp, because of their endangered status. "You have to explain to people," he says in a video introduction to the restaurant. "People aren't going to eat whale because the media talks about it. But nobody talks about eel." Today, Sato and his staff pride themselves on running one of the few truly sustainable sushi restaurants in Seattle—or anywhere. He can trace each of his menu items back to its source and identify how it was caught. Seafood such as salmon and tuna are raised in farms that are free of antibiotics and designed not to disturb surrounding ocean life or dolphins trying to nap. The fishermen Sato works with pay equal respect to adjacent species by keeping bycatch—fish caught accidently—to a minimum. The policies and the resulting flavors alike have won praise from outlets such as Eater Seattle, which named Mashiko one of its 38 Essential Seattle Restaurants in 2012.
Shiro Kashia has certainly earned the title of master chef. As a teenager, he left his home in Kyoto, Japan in favor of training under some of Tokyo’s most lauded chefs. Strenuous apprenticeships prepared him for an even bigger move to Seattle in 1967, where he opened a full-service sushi bar. Twenty years later, he sold what had expanded into a chain of sushi bars and became a consultant for Westin hotels; it wouldn’t be long before he found his way back to the kitchen, though. Shiro’s opened in 1994. At his self-named eatery, chef Shiro puts a local twist on the sushi for which he is so famous. He maintains his traditional Japanese technique, but lets local seafood and ingredients, such as albacore tuna, inspire his menu. He continues to make daily trips to seafood suppliers to make sure his selections are as fresh as possible and that they haven’t told any dolphins, whales, or sharks where he takes the fish he buys. It’s clear that his time-honored rituals—and his rigid standards for freshness and flavor—have made a lasting impression: “[Shiro’s] set[s] the bar that others aspire to,” according to a Zagat review.
When the staff at Umi Sake House say they want to make guests feel at home, they mean that quite literally. The entire layout mirrors a streamlined Japanese country home, which makes sense given the informal, izakaya-style dining experience the sake and sushi bar hopes to foster. Seated in a bright red modular chair or cozied up on a couch, diners taste 18 types of sashimi and nigiri and more than 50 varieties of roll. These delicacies are ballast for a huge list of hot and chilled sakes, available by the glass, bottle, or beaker borrowed from a Japanese scientist. Newcomers to this complex sip needn't fear: servers are happy to help guide guests' selections or delineate the difference between a nigori and a junmai sake. Summing up the Umi experience in naming it the city's Best Sushi in 2012, the Stranger concluded that "Umi Sake House is the whole package." That package can be sampled as late as 2 a.m., as CBS Seattle noted in placing Umi on its Best Late Night Eating in Seattle list.
'Ohana presents diners with an invitation to escape first by immersing them in tropical sights and sounds, and then by tempting them with a menu of Japanese-style sushi and Hawaiian entrees. In addition to rolling maki with scallops, peanut sauce, sea salt, and other ingredients, the chefs roast servings of Hawaiian-style pork and simmer big pots of curried stew. Beneath a thatched tiki bar, the bartenders pour sake and mix tropically themed cocktails with pass-o-guava juice and coconut rum.
These flavors spread out to add a distinctive tropical vibe to the entire dining room. A panorama of an island sunset dominates one of the walls and bamboo stalks surround each of the booths, which feature upholstery with leafy, flowery patterns. T-shirts and trinkets adorn almost every free surface, filling the space with everything from lava lamps to life preservers. DJs perform on most weekend evenings, and from time to time, the restaurant hosts live island music that occasionally makes the tribal masks hanging from the rafters break into songs that nobody can understand.
It might be hard for Japanese Gourmet Restaurant’s patrons to eat the food—the dishes are so artfully presented, it feels sinful to deconstruct them. Colorful swatches of roe cap each piece of a rainbow roll, and a seared scallop thatched with herbs balances atop a cylinder of rice. The chirashi bowl resembles a bouquet: pink petals of sashimi bloom beside a spray of cucumber slices, and a dollop of wasabi is shaped and scored to look like a leaf. The thoughtful presentation of the food is in spirit with a larger mission—as a member of the Pike Place community for nearly 20 years, the restaurant has developed a habit of giving back through charitable donations to local nonprofits such as Low Income Housing Institute and Kin On Health Care Center.
Okinawa Teriyaki, a casual little lunch-through-early dinner spot, serves up quick Japanese eats in hearty portions. In addition to the marinated teriyakis that give the eatery its name, the chefs here also prepare steaming bowls of ramen that The Seattle Times called "divine" and Seattle Weekly deemed "a revelation." The latter also acknowledged the eatery's tendency to draw long waits at lunch, and recommends that diners call-in their order ahead of time or rent a cardboard cut out to hold their place in line.