Under the sea
I love sushi. I have had plenty of encounters with it, across this country and abroad. To understand what makes good sushi has become one of my major gourmet quests, and it takes work here in Northern Nevada. Owner Tony Pastini has made Kim Lee’s Sushi & Oyster Bar a mecca for raw fish connoisseurs in Carson City.
Many people would say high quality fresh fish or seafood is the key. It’s the star of sushi and usually the most memorable item. However, fish is only part of the game. There are many subjective and objective factors to consider in order to ensure a great sushi restaurant experience. Kim Lee’s draws from at least five purveyors up and down the west coast for product.
Oysters, clams and mussels are only served Tuesday through Saturday, when head chef Steve Soswa is there. Fresh is an absolute at this establishment, and Soswa is the master. He’s a classically trained sushi roller from Micronesia, and in the last 25 years, he’s trained many of the successful sushi rollers in Northern Nevada.
Sushi is defined as cold, cooked rice dressed in vinegar and usually topped or rolled with fish. Rice is the foundation of good sushi. The proportion of rice and other ingredients is also important. A good piece of sushi offers an integrated experience: the final swallow should never be rice or fish alone. In addition, the size of sushi is important—it shouldn’t be too big to put in the mouth.
There’s a big menu and includes pan roasts ($16.95-$27.95), Louies ($12.95-$18.98), undon $9.95-$11.95), yaki soba ($10.95-$11.95) and vegetarian rolls ($4.50-$5.95). There’s also oysters on the half-shell ($14.95 for a dozen), steamed clams of Green Lip mussels on the half-shell in wine, garlic and butter broth for $12.95 and teriyaki for $9.95. There’s a round eating bar that holds 35 of the 45 seats, and service is friendly and efficient. There is a modest drink menu with some Japanese beers ($6), domestic ($3.50), a little wine and sake.
The Lily ($9) is one of the specialty rolls. Tempura shrimp, green onions, topped with avocado, spicy crab, sake and chives. The warm center was not overdone with tempura, and the topping was generous adding to the layers of flavor. Avocado is an excellent addition to the sushi. It has a smooth texture similar to the creamy taste of fatty fish, but it does not have a distinct flavor to compete for the leading role. This worked for me.
Each of the rollers has created some specialties of their own. Mario’s Rooster Nigiri ($4.50) is two pieces of salmon topped with avocado, spicy crab, crystal shrimp, jalapeno and Mario’s secret sauce. It was really fresh fish, and the sauce was soy based—sweet and spicy. GM Charles Bloomfield told me, “We are very protective of these recipes.” With layers of flavor and many textures, this hand roll had it all and was very filling.
I tried a teriyaki dish since they make their own teriyaki sauce. It was a generous piece of chicken ($9.95), and the sauce wasn’t thick, heavy and sweet. It was light, with a lot of sesame seeds, wine, and a touch of vinegar. It leaned toward savory with a hint of sweet—a nice treatment.
Great sushi is a fine balance achieved by the right distribution of solid individual ingredients. Use the right amount of condiments—wasabi and ginger—to enhance the flavor. The setup of sushi allows infinite possibilities of a creative fusion. However, each participating ingredient needs to have a voice. I liked what the food said to me at Kim Lee’s.