- Cost: $70-$95, before drinks, tax, and tip
- Size: 14 seats at counter, dining room
- Style: new-style sushi
- Reserved: 1 day in advance
The story of Café Sushi's rise to become one of Boston's top spots for sushi omakase is pretty endearing. Chef Seizi Imura returned from a stint as a chef on the west coast to run his family's 20-year-old sushi shop in 2007. Since that time, he has quietly been serving a nightly omakase menu while the restaurant otherwise primarily operates as a maki- and teriyaki plate-centric restaurant. Imura-san's credentials as an itamae are legit: he spent 8 years at Sushi Ran (considered one of the Bay Area's top sushiya) working under Mitsunori Kusakabe, who now runs a highly-regarded eponymous sushiya in San Francisco.
The omakase at Cafe Sushi is decidedly more casual than what one might expect from high-end sushiya in New York or LA. This is a fact of life for many American sushiya where a chef might have the skill and passion to provide a more authentically Japanese experience but where the bulk of the restaurant's business comes from casual diners. Courses are not served by-the-piece, but rather on tasting plates of 3-4 pieces each. Chefs at the counter (including Imura-san) do double-duty between roll orders for tables and the more artfully-composed omakase plates, and on a busy night the wait between bites can stretch upwards of 10 minutes.
I found the omakase at Café Sushi to be quite good by US standards, and certainly among the best (if not the best) in the Boston area. The neta selection during my visit included a variety of seasonal items from Japan (buri, sanma, kinki, among others) and the balance on the nigiri was very good. The shari was well-prepared but pressed a bit too densely for my liking and somewhat underseasoned - not particularly surprising given that Café Sushi is the kind of place where many diners might dip their rice into the shoyu.
Given the casual nature of Café Sushi and the price point for the omakase, it would be pointless to compare characteristics such as neta quality to some of the top shops in places like New York. But even if it doesn't sit in the very top tier of American sushiya, I still found the omakase at Café Sushi to be quite good. A few flourishes (perhaps a nod to the Sushi Ran/Kusakabe style of "composed" nigiri) were brilliant - such as a sliver of caramelized grapefruit with buri, or Maine uni that was topped with a dab of cured uni "kimo".
Imura-san as a chef is brimming with potential, and it was clear from my meal that his passion for bringing traditional Japanese flavors to his diners is huge (for example, he lamented not having the time to make his own shutou, which was served with slices of sawara). I can only imagine what sort of meal he might be able to produce if he was given the free reign to focus exclusively on omakase diners in a smaller space with fewer seats (and perhaps, a bigger budget for ingredients). If you've enjoyed meals at top sushiya in New York or LA, Café Sushi might not be a destination-worthy spot, but it's a place to which I will return whenever I'm seeking good sushi in Boston.
1105 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge