Something’s fishy

Photo by David Robert

“OK, I’m ready.”

So began my conversation with Sushi Club sushi chef Sang “Mike” Cho. Mike is a tall man with a steady gaze and an affable smile. He is Korean by birth but has lived in the United States for some years, first in Los Angeles and then, after visiting for a skiing trip, here in Reno. He says he was impressed by the honesty of the town. Of course, it isn’t hard to imagine that, after living in Southern California, even a gambling town would be appealing for its honesty.

When I asked Mike if he wouldn’t mind telling me a little bit about himself for a newspaper article, he hesitated so little that I was unsure he’d understood the question.

But it turns out Mike, who was given his American name because of his fervor for basketball superstar Michael Jordan, is a completely sincere guy who values his own open mind and isn’t afraid to talk about himself for the benefit of casual readers.

He’s also one hell of a sushi chef.

When, after four other excellent recommendations, I ask him what my friend and I should have next, he gives it some serious consideration before responding.

“I know,” he says with a confidant nod, “albacore tuna. White tuna. It’s very fresh and not something a lot of sushi places usually have.” When he places the sushi in front of us, he says quietly, “It’s a beautiful color.”

It is a beautiful color—a pale, nearly translucent pink—and it tastes even better, fresh and flavorful with a nice, soft, palatable texture.

Mike prepares the sushi with an attentive alertness but he still manages to keep up with the behind-the-counter fun that’s part of Sushi Club’s appeal. The chefs always seem to be having a good time, laughing and joking with one another and the customers.

“We’re never just employees here,” Mike says. “We’re always family.”

When the person who’s making your food is standing right in front of you, taking your food orders directly, it makes the food seem tastier. And when that chef is having such a good time making the food, it makes it that much easier to have a good time eating it.

“Let me tell you my joke,” Mike begins with a smile. “Sometimes, a guy and a girl will come in and sit down and I’ll wonder if they are husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend or whether they’re just friends. And then I’ll ask, ‘All-you-can-eat or a la carte?’ And if the man says, ‘all-you-can-eat,’ I know they’re boyfriend-girlfriend. But if he says, “a la carte,” then they’re just friends. But sometimes a couple will come in and get a la carte and come back in a few weeks later and I’ll ask them, ‘Are you still a la carte?’ And they’ll say ‘No, we’re all-you-can-eat.’

” ‘Oh,’ I’ll say. ‘Very good.’ “

Mike continues preparing sushi, including the exotic and flavorful dinner-only long rolls like the delicious Mountain Roll, loaded up with seven different kinds of meat, and the ever-popular, tempura-fried Godzilla Roll.

“You know, sushi’s an up-and-coming trend,” Mike continues with a tone of casual authority. “Fifteen years ago, not as many people ate sushi. The only restaurants were in the big cities like San Francisco and they were very expensive. The Bay Area restaurants are still expensive. But we get the same fish and aren’t as expensive. Why? I don’t know, but Reno is a very, very lucky town.”

And after eating at Sushi Club, that’s an assertion I won’t hesitate to second.