Number 47: ICHI Sushi's Tai Nigiri

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Gil Riego Jr./Gil Photography
ICHI Sushi's tai nigiri with yuzu kosho, $5.75.
SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition

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No one -- certainly not in San Francisco, possibly in the country -- is making sushi quite like Tim Archuleta at ICHI Sushi. For the past two decades, the American approach to sushi has been moreish -- rolls with more fish, more flavors, more cute gimmicks, seemingly to trick the public out of remember they're eating raw flesh. But Archuleta and his staff do their best work with nigiri, incorporating elements of modernist cuisine in the subtlest of ways. 

Their fluke marinated in kombu is vacuum-wrapped to speed up the process, for instance. The glazes they brush onto the fish are mixed with Ultra-Sperse and xantham gum, hydrocolloids that help give the sauce some viscosity. "It sits up on the nigiri itself and perfectly seasons it rather than dripping off and soaking into the rice," sous-chef Jake Whitlock explains.

With one of SFoodie's favorite nigiri at ICHI -- the tai or sea bream -- Archuleta takes another approach, layering on flavors, though not in a maximalist Philly-Cheesesteak-49er-Roll way. He lays a slip of shiso leaf onto the capsule of rice, then a transparent slice of tai, or sea bream. The fish is brushed with kabosu juice -- a grapefruit-like relative of yuzu -- then sprinkled with green tea salt and dabbed with a little yuzukosho, a blend of salted yuzu rind and green chiles. 

Pop the nigiri in your mouth and the yuzukosho hits, with its weird, vegetal bite, followed by the shiso's clean notes of almond, cinnamon, and mint. The salt and bitter herbaceousness of the tea lurk around the edges, wraith-like, and when all those fade back, the faint seafoam scent of the fish wafts through. It's both whacked-out and traditional, this nigiri, and so layered you have to sit and think about it for a few minutes after it's gone. Until Archuleta or one of his assistants hand another couple nigiri over the bar, and you have a new subject to contemplate.

ICHI Sushi: 3369 Mission (at Godeus), 525-4570, www.ichisushi.com.

Other favorites in this series: 
48: Fish with explosive chiles from Spices! 
49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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ICHI Sushi

3369 Mission, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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