Photo by Curt Norris
Shin Toyoda, head sushi chef at Sushi Roku in Newport Beach, isn’t a matchmaker. Yet he knows of five couples who met while eating his sushi, twosomes who later married.
I imagine that the taste and appearance of his tantalizing fare inspired strangers to chat, remarking about the refinement of flavors and the alluring texture contrasts, the colors and yes, the wow.
It’s understandable how guests could fall in love at his sushi bar. Patrons, no doubt, with discerning palates.
His poke (pronounced POH-kay) is an irresistible dish. The concoction has Hawaiian roots, but has become a very popular dish in Japan. It showcases jewel-like cubes of chilled raw big-eye tuna napped with a delectable Asian-themed sauce. Chef Toyoda builds on the basics, adding just-right ingredients that bring judicious spicy heat and appealing crunch, along with a worthy dose of umami.
Sushi Starts: He trained in Tokyo before coming to the U.S. 30 years ago. He says that he is still training, revealing that learning never seems to be finished.
Homework: He lives in Redondo Beach and often spends his time off fishing in a sea kayak. It’s a catch-and-release pleasure, the fun is more about relaxing and having time to think, rather than filling the fridge.
Roll Ups: Sushi rolls aren’t popular in Japan. He says that rice on the outside of those rolls doesn’t show the proper respect for the fish. Sushi hand rolls are preferred in his homeland.
Sushi Roku’s Tuna Poke
Yield: 2 generous servings
3 1/2 cups cubed (5/8-inch) sushi-grade big-eye tuna fillet (or ahi, yellowfin tuna or bluefin tuna)
1/2 cup Asian-style roasted sesame oil, plus 1 tablespoon, divided use
1/4 cup tamari, see cook’s notes
Chili oil to taste
About 1/4 cup drained sansei vegetables, see cook’s notes
About 1/4 cup ogonori (edible seaweed)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 tablespoon golden tobiko (flying fish eggs)
Small amount of black lava salt to taste
Small amount of shichimi pepper to taste (also called tōgarashi)
About 5 cups cooked rice (white or brown), room temperature
Garnish: tiny spherical rice crackers (bubu arare)
Garnish: sliced dry nori (kizami nori)
Cook’s notes: Tamari is a type of soy sauce that is richer and thicker; most often it contains little or no wheat. Sansai vegetables are Japanese “mountain vegetables” that are often sold pre-cooked and are typically packaged in plastic packs in liquid.
All ingredients are available at Japanese markets. Mitsuwa, as well as Tokyo Central Market (formerly Marukai) – both in Costa Mesa, are two Japanese supermarkets in Orange County.
1. Place fish in a nonreactive bowl (glass or ceramic); drizzle with 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Toss.
2. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup sesame oil, tamari and enough chili oil to make the mixture a little spicy but not overpowering in heat. Stir to combine. Drizzle fish with about 3 tablespoons of mixture; gently toss. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.
3. Remove fish mixture from refrigerator. Add sansei vegetables, ogonori, sesame seeds, wasabi, tobiko, lava salt and shichimi pepper; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
4. Divide rice between two bowls. Top with poke mixture. Sprinkle with rice crackers. Mound the kizami nori in the center of each. Serve.
Source: Shin Toyoda, head sushi chef, Sushi Roku, Newport Beach