Yoshi Sushi, 640 New Loudon Road, No. 5, Latham, 783-6100, yoshisushialbany.com. Serving Mon-Thu 11-9, Fri 11-10, Sat noon-10. AE, D, MC, V.
Entrée price range: $10 (Yoshi’s Veggie Box) to $64 (64-piece Kamikaze Box); $2-$11 for rolls and individual pieces
Ambiance: strip-mall humble
The photographs tell the early story: young Yoshi Arita standing among the dozens of kitchen staff at Japan’s Hotel Nagoya Castle; an older Yoshi at the Restaurant Nippon in Manhattan’s midtown. And that might have been journey enough had he not been persuaded to leave the city’s craziness behind to work at (the now long-gone) Ginza in Latham.
Sixteen years ago, Yoshi and his wife, Yon, opened their own restaurant in a small strip mall on Route 9 in Latham, just south of Route 155. It’s small and easy to overlook on a street that hurls its promises of commerce at you from every which way, but it’s therefore a welcome retreat. A sanctuary.
Here, Yoshi presents what he does best and does better than most: fresh fish bound to vinegared rice in all the many forms we’ve come to expect from sushi. And that’s all he does, o teriyaki seekers.
As is traditional, you can sit sushi-side, at a narrow counter that gives you the best view of Yoshi at work, or at one of the handful of tables, where you’ll find menus and pencils with which to select your comestibles.
Appetizers include miso soup ($2) and a green salad with ginger dressing ($2/$5), but you get those with dinner anyway. While a seaweed salad ($4) or edamame ($4) or even five dumplings (gyoza, $5) would give you something to play with while awaiting the sushi, I’d save my appetite for the stars of the show.
Nigiri is the formation in which a little rectangle of rice is topped with a colorful slice of the main ingredient, from the near purple of tuna to the salmon of salmon and the off-white of shrimp, with tamago (a block of egg custard) for the nervous and such items as mirugai (giant clam) and uni (a specific part of sea urchin) for the fearless—priced from $2 to $4 per piece.
And there are rolls, a five- or six-piece array of seemingly endless variety, with shrimp or spicy tuna ($6 each) among the favorites, not forgetting the ubiquitous California roll ($5), a shrimp-crab-avocado Boston roll ($6), a version of same with added apple, making it—wait for it—a New York roll ($6), the cream cheese-corrupted Philadelphia roll ($6) and more adventurous variations such as the eel-based unagi maki ($7), a salmon-based sake maki ($5, worth it for its name alone), a kimchi roll ($4) and the $18 Yoshi roll, in which are eel, shrimp, tuna, yellowtail and salmon.
I like to taste the components as more isolated flavors, so I was pleased when my friend Matt decided to order a kamikaze plate ($65). It’s a 64-piece assembly that covers the menu’s high points, and needs only a platoon of trenchermen to make short work of it.
“Who’s joining us?” I asked. During his lifetime, composer George Frederick Handel was almost as well known for his rotundity as for his music. After ordering a huge supper at a London restaurant, he angrily asked why the food was taking so long in arriving. “We’re waiting for the rest of the company,” the server replied. “The gompany?” shouted the German-born maestro. “I am the gompany!”
Thus it was with us. A handsome round platter was placed between us. Chopsticks ready, wasabi divvied, soy sauce poured, we went to work.
Although masago—capelin roe—normally is among the platter’s occupants, Yoshi substituted gunkan with salmon roe, the large blood-orange pearls of which he topped with a raw quail’s egg. In which you have no choice but to immerse yourself, figuratively speaking, delighting each sense in succession. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s a challenge to bring to your lips without losing the yolk, which is why you might want to use your fingers. There’s the merest whiff of land and sea as it heads for the lips, and then—the yolk breaks open to provide a custardy bed for the pearls that then pop and release their own salty goodness.
The nigiri included four pieces apiece of tuna, salmon, yellowtail and shrimp, which needed the merest dab of wasabi to help activate the flavors. Eel (unagi) sported a deliciously soft texture, and there were tents of inagi—rice-filled containers of fried tofu—for a calmer contrast.
And there were the rolls, with California edged from highest favor by the tuna-yellowtail-salmon-filled rainbow roll and a simple tuna roll for contrast.
Not that we . . . look. What good is wrapping it to go? Soon enough the frenzy passes and you realize how not-hungry you are, so while the plate is in front of you . . .
So we finished it. I’ll say it with pride, even if I feel like a pig. I’ve had the best possible sushi fix, leaving me (beyond the sense of overfullness) immensely satisfied. This is how it should be done, without distraction. Soon enough I’ll be ready for more.