How does Seattle stack up against other American cities when it comes to sushi? We asked several people with experience here and in other cities to find out.
“I think we’re fourth,” says Executive Chef Taichi Kitamura of Sushi Kappo Tamura. “We’re behind L.A., New York and San Francisco for a combination of reasons. But we’re close.”
Kitamura says some of those factors include the size of the Japanese community, the number of direct flights to Tokyo, and the amount of wealth in the region. Seattle stacks up well on all those fronts, although it isn’t nearly the size of those other three cities. And our city’s palate is getting more sophisticated, Kitamura says. He points to the delicious uni available in the Seattle area. Years ago, when he first opened Chiso in Fremont in 2001, he recalls how hard it was to sell. “I had to try to sell it. Now it sells itself. I don’t even talk about uni and it sells.”
Ed Kashiba, son of Sushi Chef Shiro Kashiba, recalls how his father would go to Los Angeles for inspiration in the early days. “In the Valley along Ventura Boulevard, there must be a sushi bar on every block,” he says. “The competition is fierce, and that leads to innovation.”
For example, in the old days, omakase courses were only served at the sushi bar. When restaurants in L.A. and elsewhere started tableside omakase, they opened the whole restaurant to the course menu, and now it’s a stable of just about every high-end sushi shop.
Shiro Kashiba came to Seattle in the 1960s. “Seattle has a relatively longer sushi history because of Shiro,” Kitamura says. “We also have close ties to Japanese businesses.” That combination has helped Seattle learn to love sushi a little faster than many other US cities.
Also, Seattle has an ace in the hole that most other cities don’t: our very own local delicacies, from oysters and shellfish to matsutake mushrooms to smelt and albacore tuna. In fact, L.A. restaurants often look to the Pacific Northwest to source shellfish and other items.
While New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco rely heavily on fish flown in from Tsukiji, Seattle has much to offer locally that gives its sushi scene a different twist.