edible words
June 18, 2004

Raw goodness
by Mike Taylor

California trend chasers flock these days to hip new places serving "raw food cuisine", totally vegan ingredients never heated above 118 degrees. Holistic chefs, claiming this the healthiest way to eat, apply gourmet methods and recipes to vegetables, nuts, fruits and the like. And charge accordingly, I'm sure.

I've been pursuing my own raw food trend recently, a trend hundreds of years old. With a surprising number of college and post-college clientele still in baggy clothes and shaggy hair, I've been eating sashimi and sushi at Saeko and Rick Symmonds' Sushi Gin restaurant, 9559 Nall, Overland Park. I've gotten hooked on the raw fish, sticky-sweet rice, the sinus-clearing wassabi stirred into soy sauce and the palate-cleansing pickled ginger.

Sushi "B" Combo (top) and a Bento Box Combo at Sushi Gin. (photo by Saeko Tsunashima)

The prices validate my trend also. My friend Karen the caterer and I made two trips, spending under $25 both times. We both felt satisfactorily full, although not stuffed.

In a phone conversation, Rick Symmonds told me his wife designed the decor of the dining room as well as the menu. "Saeko wanted the restaurant to reflect the style and tastes of modern Tokyo,” he said. “She didn't want it to look traditional like most places."

Black trim and upholstery accents stark white walls. Red tabletops jar the stark décor along with bright prints and kimonos hanging on the walls. Sushi Gin has three raised booths with mats for seats for customers who want to dine Japanese style — shoeless and cross-legged.

Sushi Gin offers a wide array of sushi (more composed tidbits of vegetables wrapped in kelp or other edible wrapper with or without the raw fish) and sashimi (raw fish and rice) in many different ways: single pieces for a $1 from one menu, while another menu offers a double serving of larger pieces, ranging from $3 to $6.95. The restaurant also offers sushi and sashimi as parts of combinations with their tempura, teriyaki and noodles.

Dinners range from $13.95 to $24.95 for the "Sushi/Sashimi Combo" Karen and I had on one of our forays. Served with soup or salad and a bowl of rice, the platter came filled with nearly two-dozen assorted pieces, allowing us to sample a wide variety of the raw tidbits and more complex sushi bites with the vegetables and other ingredients. We both liked the salmon, different tunas and the other fish. Although I tried the more exotic species of squid, eel and octopus, their textures weren't to my taste. The shrimp surprised me, even raw it had the complexity enjoyed in its cooked forms.

I have to mention the pickled ginger. While only a garnish, it refreshed the palate like nothing else I know and offered a most civilized way to convey the sophistication of the ancient Japanese culture. It is the perfect refresher to ready the taste buds for the next bite.

Two of the appetizers surprised Karen and I. We tried them along with the sashimi on a second visit. We each found one worthy of recommendation.

Karen fell in love with Nasu Dengaku ($4.99), unbreaded deep-fried eggplant in a Miso sauce. The pungent sauce accentuates the sweetness of the silky smooth eggplant. While dipping her chopsticks in for a second bite, Karen said, "I love this, this is really good. I want the recipe."

I liked the macho Dynamite ($6.50); baked clams, fish and mushrooms in the appropriately named, mayonnaise-based sauce. The mayonaisey flavor and texture of the sauce hits the taste buds first; then tender morsels of clams, fish or mushrooms pass by and finally a fiery explosion that lights up the whole mouth. It's almost too much of a burn, but I still couldn't resist poking my chopsticks back in for another bite. The second bite proved even more fun as the fire in my mouth enhanced the briny clam and earthy mushroom flavors. Along with some generously stuffed dumplings (Gyoza, $4.95) and the sashimi, we filled up enough to forego the rest of our appetizer adventure.

When I dined at Sushi Gin another time, Emily and I tried the tempura and teriyaki dinners more familiar to American palates. My other half had Seafood Tempura ($16.95), a collection of deep-fried seafood and shellfish with vegetables in a light batter. The rice flour tempura batter gave the dish a light crunch and refreshing alternative to American battered, fried foods.

My plate of Shrimp Teriyaki ($14.95), served over noodles and accompanied by Sushi Gin's concoction of Wassabi potato salad, had a dusky, smoky flavor. It wasn't as sweet as Karen had suggested it would be. And to my surprise, the serving of medium-sized shrimp proved generous enough to make me feel like I'd eaten more than enough..

The Symmonds have one of the town's strangest restaurant mementoes hanging by their cash register in the lobby. They have an autographed endorsement from former Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono. When the overpriced, underachieving Bono got cut by the team, he reportedly said the restaurants here weren't as good as San Francisco restaurants. .

Regardless of Bono's departure, the Symmonds have continued serving their wide array of reasonably priced Japanese cuisine and sushi for more than eight years. And I know I'll be going back whenever I have a yen for a taste of a centuries-old raw food "fad".

Mike Taylor can be reached at mtaylor@kcnet.com or publisher_editEKC@kcactive.com.

Sushi Gin

(photo by Jessica Chapman)

9559 Nall, Overland Park, KS


Lunch: Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Mon.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.;
Fri-Sat., 5p.m.-10p.m.

Ratings: (out of four stars)

FOOD ***

Key: $-under $10 • $$-$10 to $20 • $$$-over $20

fork, knife, spoon


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