Gari of Sushi chef-owner Kazuya “Kazu” Kamada calls his Osaka style sushi more assertive than other styles, which he delivers in the form of bold ingredients and custom sauces with secret ingredients.
In Kamada’s sushi universe, rolls are more fish than rice and sauces add dimension that renders soy sauce unnecessary. However, should a diner want a drizzle of soy, Kamada blends his own custom soy sauce at Gari. His other sauces also are custom blends. He won’t divulge ingredients, but said he has several sauces that serve as base sauces — ranging from mild and creamy to zippy and flavorful — and he can add or manipulate ingredients to change the character of each sauce.
Kamada said he began his sushi career in Osaka more than 20 years ago learning from sushi masters, who sometimes, well, kicked their apprentices if they got something wrong. Kamada is a bit less tightly wound in the making of his sushi (read: no kicking staff at Gari)
The flavors of Osaka sushi, Kamada said, are more a study in contrast than a tour of complementary tastes. In Tokyo, for instance, diners might be treated to sushi with a sour flavor paired with a complementary sour flavor – a one-note flavor experience, which Kamada finds limiting. In Osaka, contrasting flavors of sweet-sour unfold in complex layers.
Kamada opened Gari of Sushi in 2002 and experienced a setback in December 2007 when an electrical fire closed the business. The restaurant reopened in August 2008 with a new look, but everything else more or less the same. Kamada’s menu has about 40 maki rolls, a dozen of which are signatures diners won’t find at another restaurant:
Electric samurai ($11): Salmon, sea bass, crab and black tobiko form a rich interior, which contrasts with chewy seaweed and crunchy tempura bits outside. It’s a study in textural layers. Each bite yields a creamy, rich crunch while the flavor plays savory sweet.
Complex ($12.95): This roll pairs decadence with crunch. Chopped lobster is an interesting mate for crunchy asparagus and chewy tempura barbecue eel. A layer of shiso leaf surprises with its distinctive pungent flavor. Topped with a channel of black tobiko, this roll fits its name — rich, savory and lightly sweet.
Mango Paradise ($13.25): Soft paired alongside soft work together — mango and salmon are a creamy match. Tempura soft shell crab adds a crunchy richness that, like the electric samurai, makes the roll a mixed textural treat. Topped with wasabi spiked tobiko and a spicy sauce, flavors zigzag nicely between sweet and spice.
Spicy tuna ($5.95): Kamada gives yet another textural treatment with avocado, adding a creamy richness to the already rich and spicy chopped tuna interior. The heat of the sauce could use a bit more sting.
The scene: Gari’s after-fire remodel gave an added modern spin, with light wood floors, comfortable and roomy booths, fluid glass art and more dining space.
Nigiri: Although this sushi series is about maki, Kamada’s impressive specialty nigiri is worth noting. His nigiri specials are far more interestingly presented than most sushi restaurants. Try the yellow tail ($3.50), a piece of hamachi topped with a quickly fried jalapeno and citrus punched tobiko. The white fish ($3.65) comes with a piece of seared uni, shredded daikon, black tobiko and a flavorful soy sauce jelly. The salmon nigiri ($3.60) is topped with crunchy shredded daikon, shiso leaf, and bright bursts of ikura (large, bright pearls of salmon roe).
Gari of Sushi
Where: 1209 S. 38th St., Tacoma; 253-475-3456
Hours: Lunch served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Dinner served 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Price: $-$$ (Entrees under $30)