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"How important is egg in a sushi restaurant?" I asked Takeshi Kamioka, owner and sushi chef at Gaysha New World Sushi, which opened in the Wilton Manors gayborhood in August. My friend and I sat at the counter well after 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, having worked up an appetite with a few beers beforehand.
"It's really important," Kamioka said as he pulled out a square copper pan with a wooden lid. "The egg tells you what kind of chef you're working with: kind of like an omelet does in classic French cooking. If a guy I'd consider hiring doesn't make something well that's so basic, then I know he's not skilled enough for me to pay him $25 an hour."
Kamioka, an ageless, inked-up Japanese guy with a mullet, clearly has a sense of humor. He also lets it be known that he likes to party, which is one reason he is open only for dinner: He doesn't wake up early enough to get ready for lunch. "The prep is superlaborious here," he said. "I want to have a life too."
2223 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors
Oakland Park, FL 33334
Region: Oakland Park
Making eggs isn't just for the chef to test line cooks, none of whom were behind the bar on this night. It's for diners to understand how he seasons courses. Egg is a pliant ingredient.
Unlike making an omelet à la Julia Child, a Japanese-style omelet involves exacting steps.
"You're cracking eggs and letting them come to room temperature," said Kamioka. "Then you want to strain the liquid a couple of times so there are no chunks." He demonstrated how, as heated eggs set in the pan, he uses the wooden lid to corral liquid into a block, which he then sections into servings.
Behind the sushi bar at Gaysha, it's very Spartan. There is no oven or stove, only a single portable burner. A toaster takes up a corner. An array of black and red storage cubes hangs overhead. In one of them, half a dozen Red Truck- and White Truck-labeled house wines stand facing out. In another, a handful of cookbooks written in Japanese perch single file, followed by a lone English edition from Nobu.
On this night, "If You Leave" by OMD filled the airwaves in the 25-seat restaurant, which was occupied by one other couple at a two-top. More people filtered in during our meal; Gaysha serves until midnight Tuesday through Saturday.
"I try to keep it simple here," said Kamioka, having learned from a stint at Nobu in Miami Beach and another on the line at Wolfgang Puck when it first opened. Yet Kamioka was really schooled by his father, a sushi chef who was brought over from Japan to work at Benihana in the '70s and eventually opened his own shop, Japanese Steakhouse Village, now closed.
"I began learning the restaurant business when I was 9," said Kamioka, who made a gesture of washing windows to demonstrate. "I was so pissed to start off doing this kind of stuff. I didn't understand that my father was building discipline."
The younger Kamioka ran Shizen, a sushi joint on Las Olas Boulevard, for a few years; it shuttered as a result of a tanking economy and raised rents. His father's focus remains on the family's other restaurant, Tokyo Sushi, on the 17th Street Causeway.
From the one-page menu, we ordered a dragon roll, then perused the specials on the board, which listed triggerfish, tuna, and crab.
"Do you mind if we go omakase?' I asked, a term that loosely translates to "chef's choice."
"I'd been waiting for you to say that," Kamioka said as he passed our dragon roll over the bar. "The menu is for people who aren't comfortable with omakase. But it's what I'd prefer to do every time."
The $10 dragon roll served as a satisfying starter: marinated shrimp, romaine lettuce, cucumber, chili spice, and eel inside out, with red tobiko and avocado: a graceful balance of savory, sweet, spice, and fat, but nothing especially unusual. A pair of dandelion heads garnished the plate. A bright-green wasabi swirl from a pastry bag decorated a corner. A triangle of shaved ginger was its pair.
Kamioka moved us along with course two. "I've never had sushi with such unconventional sauces," said my friend when the $10 tuna Caprese arrived. Atop a beheaded cherry tomato and dolloped with sturgeon caviar beads, tuna shaved thin enough to resemble prosciutto rested on a leaf of basil and a sheet of fresh mozzarella. Four in a row lined a plate dressed with soy, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
Olive oil isn't standard at a sushi joint. Yet the Caprese was a straightforward, soulful bite that incidentally I could barely fit in my mouth. It offered sweetness, salt, fat, herbs, and that Japanese flavor, umami: a savory-acid combo that taps the salivary glands and can also be very fragrant.
Our next course, a $9 tuna tataki, was a complement to the Caprese. With garlic-daikon dressing, it linked to the Italian balsamic yet showcased pickled daikon that's decidedly Japanese. The seared tuna medallions were as clichéd as what you'd see on a Capital Grille salad yet markedly fresher, more delicate, less muscular.