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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.
Kamioka said that he shops daily for fish and that his supplier knows his habits. He won't serve the neon frozen stuff. "You know when you go to a sushi bar and it's so bright?" he said. "That's how you tell." He took out a block from the freezer that leaned toward fluorescent and was surrounded by colored ice. "It's drying out already." He keeps the block on hand only to show customers the comparison; he doesn't serve it for dinner.
Our best bite was up next. Kamioka told us of a rare bluefin that had missed its flight to Tokyo that morning and was instead parceled off among four or five local chefs. It had been headed for Japan's famous Tsukiji Market, where fish commands the highest price and about 900 seafood vendors have stalls. In many cases, fish — or parts of fish — that don't sell are then shipped back from where they came. The bite was an unsettling reminder that a sea creature might take a laborious, roundtrip, postmortem journey before arriving on a plate, even when caught in local waters.
"This fish is really tough to get," Kamioka said as he prepped bites of toro for our minimalist plate. "You likely won't find it here again."
The pink, veined fish marbled with fat was like softening butter. The toro was hard to pick up as it fell apart on its bed of rice. And wow, was it succulent and rich. We were given new saucers for fresh soy sauce and real wasabi — the root rather than the neon powder-based stuff that's often served. This round of wasabi was grainy and earthy green with a bite similar to horseradish, its cousin.
As we savored the bite, Kamioka sliced a paper-thin confetti of seaweed that would garnish our final course: a humble bite of unagi. Freshwater eel was drizzled with a sauce of soy, mirin, rice wine, and sugar presented in a cucumber roll.
"I'm not sure I'll make it like this again," Kamioka said. He prefers to try new combinations and presentations, to avoid making the same thing twice.
We never did get to try the egg. Neither did Kamioka's mother, whom we'd just missed when we arrived. His mom doesn't eat sushi, which is why Kamioka has so many vegetarian options.
"Wouldn't you know I didn't have eggs the night my mom came in?" he lamented. A gracious host, particularly for his family, he revealed a note of regret. "I had been busy earlier. And that egg," he said with a shrug, "it's a lot of work."