In a city that has sushi in supermarket aisles and is home to the original Morimoto Restaurant, you'd think you have your bases covered and wouldn't look to the Northeast for a raw fish fix.
But, I'd been hearing about a place near Five Points that had been luring nearby Montgomery County suburbanites over the border for eight years. It was time to venture forth and find Nemo.
Makiman Sushi is owned and run by Executive Chef Peter Hong and his wife, Kimberly Cunliffe. Hong's first kitchen job was as a dishwasher at Fuji Yama Mama in New York City. He worked his way around the Northeast (as in the coast, not Philadelphia) including stints in Genji.
We were greeted at the door by a smiling waiter in a T-shirt bearing the Makiman logo, "Do you like it raw?"
I immediately sensed this was either going to be very good, or very bad. No middle ground was ever staked out on a T-shirt like that.
Dinners come with salad and miso soup. It was a sign of good things to come that the salad greens were perkily fresh and the house-made, ginger dressing a perfect balance of sweet, acidic and spicy. In fact, the ginger dressing was such a hit we wondered if the recipe could be supplied, but our waiter shook his head and noted that even as a cousin to the owner, he can't get the recipe.
The miso soup was also a higher quality than I often find. There were perfect mini squares of soft tofu and a very mild seaweed that was almost like spinach. The miso broth was just right - a slight sweetness with just the right amount of salt.
Next up was the Sashimi Deluxe ($19.95). These morsels included hamachi, tuna, salmon, fluke and white tuna. The fish was beautifully presented in a modern blue bowl on a bed of shredded daikon and garnished with flowers and a carved lemon bird. With sashimi, there's no vinegar-seasoned rice to hide the flaws. This was flesh that could stand alone.
A tiny point of discussion here. White tuna is a catch-all term that could include - and in this case was - escolar. As delicious as this rich, fatty fish is, it can cause digestive problems in some people.
The chef serves it in very small quantities for that very reason, and none of us had any problem. And I suppose if you've ever had an escolar incident, you'd be sure to ask what's being served. Still, I'd prefer to call an escolar an escolar right up front.
The Makimono Dinner ($15.95) was undoubtedly the dish that my tasters and I liked least. Not that there was anything wrong with it. The Tuna Roll, California Roll and Cucumber Roll (six pieces each) were predictable and bland, much like supermarket sushi. That said, it surely would make a non-adventurous sushi diner happy.
The Fusion Sushi Rolls are where the fun begins. Imagination meets rice and seaweed. Hong is constantly developing new combinations and the rolls are generous so you can order several to share.
Of course, being in the Northeast there is a nod to all things sports. So, you can order by team or player while watching the flat-screen TV which, thankfully, is unobtrusive.
We chose the Sixers ($9.95) not so much because the draft is on our minds, but we liked the combo of shrimp tempura and spicy tuna.
Our waiter recommended the Cap 'n' Crunch Roll ($5.95), imitation crab, shrimp, and cucumber are rolled inside-out fashion with the rice on the outside, seaweed on the inside. The crunch comes from tempura flakes and a little mayo gives it that fusion touch. A good recommendation.
As soon as I saw a picture in the menu of an ice cream cone, I was in for a Ben & Jerry Spicy Tuna ($7.95). A scoop of crunchy tuna or salmon mix is hand-rolled on a sheet of cucumber to make a "cone." B&J, eat your hearts out!
The Spider ($8.95) is the traditional soft-shell crab tempura with a hit of fish roe and a hit of spicy sauce. The tempura was well-executed and crispy. The rice in all the rolls was just as it should be - not too sticky, not too much vinegar.
Dessert after sushi somewhat defeats the purpose of having a "lighter" meal - especially when it entails massive amounts of ice cream. But, I'm always willing to overlook the absurd - so spoons all around!
General consensus was the Fried Bananas and vanilla ice cream ($5.95) was the fave. A crispy tempura batter contrasted with a creamy, textured banana inside while the hot banana juxtaposed nicely with the frozen ice cream.
The Green Tea Ice Cream Tempura ($6.50) didn't quite live up to the promise. I love the idea - which is much like Mexican fried ice cream - but the tempura was a little soggy and the strawberry sauce was too processed. A few fresh strawberries would have sufficed.
Service was attentive and friendly. The biggest flaw of evening was that we had to ask for a bucket for our BYOB white wine. The decor is modern and light, although the real attention is on the beauty of the food. I did find the Ikea Western art prints a little out of place, but it does lend a certain charm. There is also an extensive Korean menu.
Makiman Sushi is reasonably priced (no one wants cheap sushi because you do get what you pay for) and worth the trip. I guess I'll be needing one of those "Do you like it raw" T-shirts. *