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Reinventing Sushi

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4039 Masonboro Loop Rd. #1A
(910) 703-7253
$-$$ •
Bottom line: Tamashii makes sushi taste new again!

INVENTIVE SPOONS: Tamashii brings bite-size mouthfuls of delight with their spoons concept, featuring items hard to find in Wilmington like Hawaiian poke; featured above, ceviche. Photo by Sue Cothran

Sometimes I sit down to a perfectly well-executed meal, yet it barely sparks interest because it’s something I’ve eaten and seen on menus a thousand times before. Sometimes I sit down to a meal which is remarkably creative but simply isn’t any good. Every so often, I find a meal which challenges my mind and delights my palate simultaneously; these meals make for the best food columns simply because they hit every mark. Tamashii is the latest victim to the latter: They didn’t just serve me a delicious dinner at Tamashii, they reminded me why I love food in the first place.

Housed in an inauspicious shopping center on Masonboro Loop Road, this tucked-away sushi house can be easy to miss for folks who aren’t looking for it. Dressed in purple and black, the single-room restaurant is somehow detachedly inviting, combining the best elements of formal and casual chic.

A friendly waiter opened the evening with a complimentary serving of edamame hummus with fried wonton strips. Mildly garlicky and wonderfully smooth, the edamame lacked the grittiness of chickpea hummus. In retrospect, the Far Eastern take on a Middle Eastern standard seemed a fitting prologue to the innovative dinner I enjoyed.

While debating the finer points of the menu, my dining companions and I requested a shrimp-and-crab dumpling appetizer. Someone objected that its thicker crust suggested something closer to an egg roll than a dumpling, but no one objected to the flavor. The sweet shellfish, opposite the rich fried dough, tasted like a perfect combination. The soy dipping sauce seemed pleasant if unremarkable, but the homemade spicy sauce with its potent red pepper blend, was a treat. Those who seek new challenges for their cravings for fiery dishes will relish it.

One of the unique offerings on Chef Mark Scharaga’s sushi menu are the spoons: single-bite appetizers featuring (where possible) locally sourced seafood. Line-caught Hawaiian poke, uncommon in Wilmington eateries, made an enormous impact. It comes served either in lime juice or in a spicier Japonais style. Both tasted bright, light and irresistible. Though I didn’t know it then, later in the evening I learned that Scharaga takes particular delight in tweaking spicy foods. On the Japonais Poke Spoon, green onion and jalapeno dueled with sesame oil and mango caviar, mixing fruity sweetness with the somewhat potent Mexican pepper.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note Tamashii’s dedication to high-quality, local ingredients. I was unable to order the Volcano Shrimp because Scharaga couldn’t obtain the locally farmed rock shrimp for which he’d designed the dish. He briefly considered using another breed but abandoned the idea out of loyalty to his vision. I’ve never been so happy not to get what I wanted.

I could have ordered poke spoons the size of shovels, but curiosity compelled me to move on to the sushi. Already enamored with Tamashii’s ingenuity, we dove right into their specialty rolls. I found the Tamashii Roll quite tempting, especially based on the fact that everything Tamashii served so far in remained an unabashed hit. Thus, to have their name attached to any dish seemed to indicate something remarkable. A variation on Steak Oscar (no hollandaise in sight), the Tamashii Roll contained lump crab meat and asparagus wrapped in nori and rice, with a thin slice of medium-rare seared beef atop. Finished with a small dollop of Sriracha to give it a subtle spiciness—the signature of the chef—this innovative roll took a Western standard and gave it Eastern flair. The mild hint of sea salt on the beef enhanced its richness, and the potent crab meat blended in seamlessly.

Another favorite: the Winter Roll, mixed salmon and sweet potato, finished with a pumpkin curry sauce. Deliciously autumnal and perfect for the rapidly cooling weather, the hearty root vegetables offset the fishiness of the salmon. I sat wishing I could get away with something so innovative at my mother’s Thanksgiving table. Surprisingly, given the dedication Tamashii had already shown to spicier cuisine, the pumpkin curry tasted milder yet as equally satisfying as other peppery items.

For fear of turning off more delicate palates (or gullets), let me be clear that Tamashii’s spices are brilliantly balanced. They aren’t serving “atomic” or “nuclear” sauces often seen at wing joints for people to impress friends. Scharaga uses spice to enhance his sushi, not to overpower it, (Still, we didn’t have the courage to attempt the Firecracker Roll, which came with an “extra spicy” warning, filled with mid-Atlantic crab and avocado, topped with maguro [yellowfin tuna], sesame seeds and wasabi-based spicy sauce.)
Though wisdom would have told us to call for the check after finishing our sushi, my curiosity got the better of my instincts. And so we persevered through a few small-plate appetizers, including a delightfully crispy pan-fried crab cake with red curry basil aioli and crunchy seaweed salad. The whole dish showed off the tangy sweetness of the shellfish with a noticeable but not overindulgent sauce. Basil can be a difficult ingredient to regulate when designing a flavor profile, but here its subtle presence accented the dish perfectly.

We also ordered Tamashii’s maple-wasabi ice cream to end our meal. The hearty maple coupled with a vanilla base struck the palate first. Only on the finish did we find definite hints of the horseradish. I love innovation—I love it more when it’s delicious.
While easily I can gloat about Tamashii’s food, they haven’t figured out everything quite yet. We dined early in the week, and a strong weekend had cleaned out a large amount of the bar’s inventory. But the place is only two months old and those are normal growing pains—and I can always find a drink I like. I rarely find a meal like this.

In the end, we made gluttons of ourselves: one appetizer, 12 spoons, five rolls, three small plate entrées, and a mercifully small dessert made their way to our table—scarcely a grain of rice escaped our attention. No responsible editor would ever give me the column inches required to properly extoll each morsel, but one of my companions put it best: “Even the worst thing we ate here tonight I would order it again in a heartbeat.”

Halfway through dinner I gushed that sushi felt new to me again—a feat considering sushi restaurants are quite abundant around town. Hard work and innovation had taken that which was commonplace and reminded me why I loved it in the first place. This little restaurant on an under-traveled street in an out-of-the-way part of town has rocketed to the top of my list of favorites. My biggest problem upon my return will be passing up so many of the dishes I loved in order to try something new. That is my favorite problem to have.

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  1. Ben Parsley

    October 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Well written and I cannot agree more. Living in the Masonboro area, we are over-joyed that Tamashii is so close by. Even if you ‘don’t like sushi’ there are plenty of options to satisfy any palate.

  2. Carol Santos

    October 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    You certainly have it right! Mark is a master and so innovative. He has been catering for years and I’ve had the pleasure of savoring his sushi for years. Next time be sure to sample their dinners as well. The creativity extends to the kitchen as well.

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