A sushi parade
Shige Sushi5938 Madison Ave.
The story of sushi in Sacramento is an almost generational one. Taka Watanabe taught Billy Ngo, the rock-star chef of Midtown who now runs Kru Restaurant. And Shige Tokita taught Watanabe, who now runs the beloved Taka’s Sushi.
So really, if you’re eating the food of Ngo or Watanabe, you’re in a way eating the food of Tokita.
Tokita himself runs the humble Shige Sushi in Carmichael, where he can often be found chatting with regulars (of whom there are many). The food tends to edge more classic than modern, which, in today’s sushi world, seems to be rare.
Cooked chicken hearts may sound a bit detestable to those who find offal awful, but properly cooked, skewered and dusted with a bit of chili powder and lashed with lemon juice, this classic street food comes out juicy and flavorful.
Fried smelt are crispy and oily in the right way: by way of the smelt themselves and not the cooking oil. It’s a treat that should not be passed up.
For those looking for sushi rolls, it’s hard to find better. A classic Philadelphia roll is packed with crab, avocado and cream cheese—American-style sushi at its finest.
A Ziggy roll was by and far the favorite of the night and is one Shige’s most popular rolls. The roll, wrapped in a canary-colored soy wrap, is a mix of masago, avocado and crispy soft-shell crab and offers a blend of textures and a creamy-piquant flavor that’s terribly addicting.
The specials here are always worth investigating. We enjoyed an amazing roll with crab, barbecued yam, specks of dill and green onion, and topped with wafer-thin slivers of lemon. Earthy and briny, it’s one of the most intriguing rolls I’ve ever had.
However, the real reason to visit Shige is for omakase, a Japanese phrase meaning “it’s up to you.” This is what happens when you give the sushi chef a dollar amount and let them run wild preparing a meal unique to you. You won’t find much in the way of contemporary American rolls during this.
Tokita insists on classic sushi done right: usually a thumb of seasoned rice, a precocious smear of wasabi, and then the finest cut of fresh fish. Sometimes it’s garnished with a julienne of fresh ginger cut as wide as a horse’s hair, as it was with the generous slab of hamachi. A piece of scallop as sweet as a love letter arrived brushed with lemon. Monkfish dolled up with a minty shiso leaf made for a peculiar but incredibly appealing treat. A pale cut of often-underrated kurodai (black sea bream) was brilliantly flavorful and left me to wonder why this fish doesn’t appear on more menus.
For $35 I left the sushi bar not only full, but utterly blown away by the parade of fine food. When you’re finished, Tokita asks for your name, which he will then file away with his notes about your likes and dislikes so that when you come in again he can even better tailor your experience to your liking.
Admittedly, Shige is more expensive than most people are used to paying for sushi. Four rolls might set you back about $60 before tip or drinks. In a world of half-price mayo-slathered rolls for the masses, this is too much—regardless that the product is infinitely better.
If you prefer cheap, bombastic rolls that are deep-fried and buried under avocado, then Shige is not your place. If you want to eat authentic, classically prepared Japanese cuisine from a man who knows his craft, then it’s definitely worth the trip.