3122 E. Colonial Drive | 407-328-3839 | kabookisushi.com | $
In the theatrical arena of the sushi bar, the chef often brings a certain degree of flair and showmanship to the stage behind the refrigerated display case. Sometimes, the performance can be a real show-stopper; sometimes, it can be an utter tragedy. At Kabooki Sushi, itamae Henry Moso and his supporting cast are drawing raves (and plenty of sushi zealots) to their kitchen stadium downtown, and deservedly so.
Now, if you’re the sort who’s been to Japan a hundred times and only seeks out sushi joints run by Japanese chef-owners, you might want to set the ethnic bias aside and give Kabooki a chance. It may not take you back to the superlative sushi you had in the Ginza, but Moso, who is Laotian, fuses creativity and fresh ingredients in a balancing act that’s worth an encore.
Moso’s parents are predominantly responsible for honing his sushi skills – they ran the now-closed Origami Sushi on East Colonial Drive – but Moso’s kitchen chops received some polish during stints at Brandon McGlamery’s Luma on Park and Prato. Behind Kabooki’s hipster, city-slick mask is an air of seriousness, highlighted by the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi playing on the restaurant’s flat-screen TVs. Even when Moso came by our table to do some front-of-the-house socializing, his eyes kept darting back to the kitchen, where he knew he needed to be.
After all, who else was going to prepare the “Moso 5.0” ($15), a plate of fresh catch translated into five pieces of sashimi? As you’d expect at that steep price, said pieces – octopus, escolar, tuna, yellowtail and salmon – were fancily plated according to pomo standards, and they were gone in a matter of seconds. So good was the escolar that we ordered a plate ($12) of the buttery slabs, seared and dotted with an avocado puree and black sesame seeds. A splash of kimchee vinaigrette made them amazingly gratifying. Wagyu yaki ($14), grilled morsels of Snake River Farms flank steak skewered with spirited shishito peppers, offered a mid-meal dose of red-meat luxuriance.
When selecting from the 20-odd rolls on the menu, we solicited the assistance of our helpful and accomplished waitress, but not before ripping apart the crispy-skinned hamachi collar ($11). You have to work at getting to the flesh, but it’s well worth the effort. A dip in the house-made ponzu brings it all together. If you’re here on a date, though, best to skip this workingman’s dish and woo your companion with the Louis Vuitton roll ($17): filled with king crab and asparagus, topped with Italian black truffle salt and crème fraiche, crowned with tempura and blow-torched wagyu beef, then adorned with 24-karat gold flakes. Those merely looking to spice up their lives may want to consider the “Smoking Double T” ($12) – spicy tuna tartare, avocado and cilantro crested with blow-torched escolar, jalapeños, spicy mayo and sriracha sauce.
Lone disappointment: We were informed that otoro ($17), a rarity in this town, was available, but we were instead served chutoro ($14). Moso indicated that the fatty belly cut he had on hand wasn’t up to snuff, so he opted to serve us the less-fatty cut in its place.
No matter; we more than made up for the lack of fat by indulging in chef Pedro’s sublime desserts – both the ginger-chocolate-Guinness cake ($9), served with Bailey’s ice cream and a shot of Guinness and Bailey’s, and the eggy vanilla tart ($9), served with bacon ice cream and candied bacon, put us over our fat quotient for the week.
The large open kitchen definitely lends to spectacle and attention-grabbing stagecraft, but thanks to chef Moso’s focused approach, Kabooki keeps the theatrics to a minimum.