Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shiki: Authentic Flavors of Japan

Sushi for the discerning, and much, much more

Brookline offers plenty of sushi, from everyday spots perfect for a nice bit of maki, to express joints smelling like greasy tempura, to supermarkets selling pre-packaged boxes of the stuff. You might think there's no reason to visit another sushi joint.

But Shiki, if you let it, will give you a hundred different reasons. To start, there's much more here than sushi: the menu offers dozens of small plates and noodle dishes that sparkle with the flavors and textures of meticulous and distinctive Japanese cooking.

Shiki is just a few steps off of Harvard Street; an unassuming little space, a breath of peaceful air within brown and mustard-colored walls. The menu takes a bit of study, offering written descriptions of the lengthy offering of dishes. But the good news is, one can't go wrong, whatever the order. One highlight is Ebi Mayo ($8.50), a handful of large, firm shrimp lightly fried in a barely sweet, honeyed batter. Alongside is a savory mayonnaise for dipping, and then the shrimp are popped into the mouth, where their firm texture and delicate flavors are a pleasure to behold.

Nasu Miso Dengaku ($7.50), broiled halves of baby eggplant, is dressed with spoonfuls of a smooth thick brown sauce of miso and egg. The result is at once salty, sweet, and wonderfully nutty.

Agedashi Tofu ($7) is a delight: slabs of tofu, lightly fried to create a delicate shell that encases a custardy inside, bathe in a sauce singing roundly of ginger, soy, scallion, and bonito.

In a bowl of Inanwina Udon ($13), long hand-crafted noodles with a slight chew swim in an exquisite dashi broth.  Two skewers of elegantly fried shrimp tempura arrive alongside, to dip in the broth if one wishes.

Avocado tartar ($12) is slivers of ripe avocado and buttery fish, tuna or salmon or yellowtail, all bound together with a savory mayonnaise.  It's creamy and unctuous, a luscious indulgence.

Broth and rice, like the Shio Konbu Ochazuke ($5.75), is a Japanese comfort food, to soothe and nourish.  Here the steaming seafood broth arrives in a separate kettle, ready for pouring over the seaweed, sesame, white radish sprouts, shiso basil, and rice. The bowl is a blend of subtle flavors, from the sea and the earth alike.

And of course, there is sushi, with notably fresh ingredients, and lacking many of the gimmicks of other sushi places. There are few fancy names and no cream cheese, just simple selections filled with lustrous fish, smooth avocado, and bright orange roe, to name a few.

During your meal, you may pause for a glance at the extensive sake list, or for a sip from your sake flight; I loved the incredibly smooth "Silk" sake, at $15 for a carafe, ringing with flavors of cucumber and melon. Or, take in hand a cup of green tea whose leaves were roasted before brewing, giving the drink a warm, nutty flavor.

While the Japanese aren't particularly fond of dessert, Shiki makes a few pleasant sweets to finish, like a strawberry and adzuki bean cake. But though your meal might be over, let's face facts—this won't be your last visit.

Shiki is open for lunch Tuesdays through Sundays 12:00pm to 3:00pm; open for dinner Sunday 5:00pm to 9:30pm, Tuesday through Thursday 5:30pm to 10:00pm, and Friday and Saturday 5:30pm to 11:00pm.  Closed Mondays.  9 Babcock Street, Brookline.  617-738-0200.

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