Saturday, January 3, 2009

Evening the Earth Stood Still

In early 2008, we walked up to the double doors leading into Shinano and read a posted sign thanking us for our patronage and that they were closing their doors. We were in shock.

It was a delicious, as usual, but bittersweet meal. Even though plans of reopening were mentioned, a location had not been secured. We were pessimistic and felt they may never re-open. We left our email address with only a sliver of hope we'd hear anything as we paid and bid them a sad farewell.

Months passed and we heard nothing. Bug routinely scoured the internet searching for a snippet of information.

Finally, in June, eureka! Bug ran across a morsel of info on Cleveland Foodie's site that mentioned a Shinano signage siting near Miles Market in Solon.

We hopped into the car to check it out. Sure as poop, there was the familiar sign in hiragana. We also noticed Viet Pho in another part of the mall. We were giddy. A sign meant that they'd have to be open in a couple of months, right?

We waited for months. No email. We'd go out of our way to check every few weeks. No progress. Grr. Viet Pho hadn't progressed at all either. I commented sarcastically that some of these "opening soon" storefronts have to be fake, to entice other businesses to sign up with the hopes of a lot of activity "coming soon."

In mid-December, we drove by and spied movement. Ooh! Can it be? We drove closer and it became apparent that they were workers...and some familiar faces! Bug rushed into a nearby spot to park the car and I barreled out of the car. The owners were just leaving to get into their cars, as I waved my hands and screamed, "HI!" They looked startled at first like I was a naked stalker jumping out of the bushes, but smiled after they recognized me or recognized I meant them no harm.

They were not dressed to be standing outside in the arctic gusts, but stuck around reassuring us that they'd be opening up soon, perhaps the last week of the year or the first week of 2009. Like adoring fans, we hung on every word they said.

On Thursday, New Year's Day, I happened to check my email just before heading to bed and there within an email, the announcement we were waiting for:

...[soft] opening Friday January 2nd, 2009 for dinner starting at 5:00 pm...


Despite me reeling from the news, it didn't mean that much to attend the soft opening, while it would be wonderful, with Bug reeling from a starkly different reason.

SicklyBug vs The Bug. Ding ding!

This match-up did not look good. Round 1. By mid-morning, Bug was nearly down for the count having vomited several times.

Finally, by round 3 at 16:00, after a nap, Bug called and proclaimed victory. He asked me to make reservations for us at 19:00, since traffic would be slow around town with it being a Friday evening.

Traffic wasn't as bad as we had anticipated. I had entertained the thought of returning home to switch from Bug's more unassuming Nikon L18 camera to my favorite camera, a Nikon D60, that takes superb pictures. We decided against returning home, a 30+ minute detour through Downtown traffic. After seeing the pictures, I regret the decision.

We meandered about at Borders for ~30 minutes, and still made it to the restaurant at 18:00.

The restaurant's interior was beautiful; modern, simple, and open. A few ukiyoe prints hung from the walls and Final Fantasy III type atmospheric music played in the background. The air, however, was electrified with the buzzing frenzy of anticipation. I shyly asked if it would be possible to be seated early, as we had reservations at 19:00. All but one of the tables were filled -- the one we were about to take.

I loved the shades and the slate floor tiles. The shades were a clean, fine gun-metallic weave that filtered images from the outside, softening the headlight glare of cars parking.

A glance at the newly printed menus (Century Gothic typeface) revealed that prices remained the same.

As EVERYONE who worked there passed our tables, they exclaimed, "Happy New Year! Long time, no see!" and asked how we were doing, as well as teasing Bug whether he was going to order sukiyaki tonight. I used to be the unajyu princess, but became enamored with their tendon the last year. It was great to see all the familiar faces of the family, the same sushi chefs, and the same servers with a couple of new faces mixed in.

Every few minutes, we heard similar long-lost exclamations across the restaurant. It felt like we were at a joyous family gathering of strangers within an ideal world encapsulated in this room percolating anticipation, joy, patience, remembrance, and appreciation.

salad and miso shiruSalad and miso soup

Typically, the miso soup comes first followed by the salad, but with it being a circus tonight, they came together thankfully.

I am the biggest hater on raw onions (garlic, too), but this salad dressing rocks! It almost brings tears (of joy) to my eyes when I eat this. I am not sure when I was converted, but I have a feeling it happened quite suddenly 2-3 years ago. I clearly remember hating this dressing when I first ate this here then at Benihana.

This dressing is perfect with cold, crunchy iceberg lettuce and julienne carrots. The salad also comes sparsely with julienne red cabbage. I am neutral about the red cabbage. I don't like it at all as sauerkraut.

gobo, unagi, and salmon skin makiGobo, unagi, and salmon skin makizushi

The sushi was served messy, unfortunately for the shot, but they tasted great. It's unusual that they looked as shoddy as this, but I'm sure their butts were lit with the amount of customers coming through the door.

Gobo maki ($4.95) with pickled gobo - not young carrots - were a great, piquant palate cleanser between the grilled unagi maki ($4.95) and the salmon skin maki ($4.95). The char was just right on both grilled rolls. I don't like chicken skin, but boy do I love me some salmon skin, from steamed to grilled.

Volcano rollVolcano roll, oh my!

The Volcano roll is our favorite roll. It's so un-Japanese, and yet it is. The textures, color, and flavor blend so harmoniously.

In a single bite, you first experience the soft steamed scallops with the firmer octopus teamed perfectly at room temperature under the warmed Kewpie mayonnaise, which invokes a creamy, slightly tart and shoyu essence; mid-bite gives way to the nutty avocado, the cool crunchy cucumber, essence of nori, and the texture of each rice grain; followed finally by the vibrant crunch of the red masago lava and toasted sesame.

Describing it, the flavors sound over-worked, too complex and jumbled to enjoy; however, the actual experience is far from it. This roll is to be savored, much like one would savor a perfect serving of (non-vegetarian) dolmades with avgolemono sauce, bite by bite.

sake shioyaki teishokuSalmon shioyaki with tempura

I decided to go with something different and ordered the combination with salmon shioyaki and tempura ($18.95). Bug was jealous. Missing from the picture above, but appears in the picture below, is my tempura dipping sauce because I requested more grated daikon.

The tempura was crispy, especially considering the volume of customers. There were 1 broccoli, 3 shrimp, 1 sweet potato, 1 kabocha, and a 4-green bean (think pan flute) tempura. The broccoli and carrots were steamed perfectly.

The portion of the salmon skin was perfectly charred so it was slightly bitter, not too different from the flavor of sansho pepper. I enjoyed my dish, but I will return to my tendon, which is $6 cheaper. Bug was quite impressed by it and said that this teishoku would rival sukiyaki as top items he would order here.

yakiniku platterYakiniku platter

Bug decided to be different and ordered the yakiniku platter ($15.95) instead of sukiyaki ($18.95). The meat was tender, but too garlicky and oniony for me.

When we walked out 2 hours later, each table was filled. The soft reception, I am sure, was declared a success at the end of the evening.

Driving away, Viet Pho's space remained dark. I wondered how many anxious fans await their opening.

- Cassaendra

Shinano Sushi Bar and Japanese Cuisine
28500 Miles Rd
Solon, Ohio 44139
Tel: (440) 498-1614

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