Everyone has a go-to teriyaki restaurant.
And that's because they're everywhere.
Strip malls here can't even seem to get a building permit unless they include a requisite teriyaki place, a nail salon and a check cashing business. OK, OK. I exaggerate.
My point: Teriyaki here is ubiquitous, an everyday quick, cheap and filling fast food. We don't give it much thought beyond that.
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So when I was driving down Pearl to Ruston and saw the plastic banner announcing "teriyaki" at Flying Fish in Westgate, I didn't really give it a second glance until I noticed the storefront sign announcing "Sushi Bar & Grill."
Grilled sushi? Sushi grill?
That moniker describes two sides of the business.
One side of the menu is Japanese sushi. The other is a curious mix of Japanese, Korean and Chinese entrees, the likes of which I don't see sharing real estate much on the same menu.
A restaurant where I can get maki, nigiri, bulgogi, soon doo boo, udon and salt and pepper prawns? At the same table? And it's all pretty well executed? And a good price? Sign me up. I really like this place.
Owner Uisup Lee, a Gig Harbor resident of 13 years who opened Flying Fish five years ago, calls his concept "crowd friendly."
"My concept is that family members, four or five people, can say, 'Let's go out and eat.' And even if everyone wants something different, you know, it's an easy compromise in our restaurant. You can have Korean, someone can have Chinese, and someone can get sushi. Even (with) one customer, one table, sometimes they have teriyaki and Korean and a sushi roll. Dish by dish, they can share," Lee said.
Lee is a man who knows his fish, and it shows in the quality at Flying Fish (which shares a similar name with the esteemed Seattle seafood restaurant, but is not related to that franchise). Lee spent much of his career importing and selling fish from all over the world for a Korean company. It was fish and the Seattle office of that company that brought him to the Northwest in the 1980s, and he stayed.
I appreciate how Lee, the menu designer who is aided by a sushi and kitchen chef, merges the culinary prowess of Korea and Japan, all the way down to the complimentary appetizers.
Order from the Japanese side of the menu and your meal starts with miso soup. Order Korean and you'll be brought dishes of the Korean appetizer banchan, dishes of house-made pungent kimchi and sweet-sour pickled radish.
The smart-looking restaurant is comfortably appointed with cushy booths and chairs, but it is tiny - six tables and a few stools at the sushi bar.
A semi-private tatami room is open for impromptu seating for four to six, and can be reserved in advance.
While the banner might scream teriyaki, sushi takes up half the menu, with more than 40 maki roll choices.
The saucing and artistic presentations reminded me much of the rolls found at Gari of Sushi on 38th in the Lincoln District, one of my go-to sushi restaurants for its beautiful, delicious maki rolls.
Flying Fish's salmon pillar roll ($10.95) of silky salmon and spice-tinged creamy krab salad (surimi, not real crab) was crowned attractively with overlapping layers of velvety soft avocado and drizzled with a sweet chardonnay cream sauce. The Tacoma roll ($9) sported another deliciously creamy sauce over a thin layer of slippery raw salmon, also hit with a drizzle of spicy red sauce and topped with little bursts of crunchy tobiko fish eggs. Inside was tempura shrimp.
The Lion King ($12) was a California roll kicked up with a layer of salmon draping the roll, a pile of krab salad with a dose of spicy chile heat and a hit of garlic and sesame oil that turned the roll pungent-nutty. The spider roll ($8.50) was crunchy breaded soft-shell crab with avocado and cucumber, a twist of grassy, peppery flavor from daikon radish sprouts and poppy bursts of salty tobiko fish eggs embedded in the rice. The orange blossom roll ($12) - eel and cucumber inside and topped with raw salmon - was downright cute. Six slices formed the shape of a flower, with a healthy scoop of masago fish eggs adding a delicious, salty flavor and visual focal point. Even the wasabi on that plate was pretty, molded into the shape of a green flower.
The basics are done well, here, too. A spicy tuna ($6.50) came with the promised kicky heat (which so many places just don't deliver), and a negi hamachi roll ($6.95) was fresh and tightly rolled. A spicy salmon hand roll ($4) towered on a vertical plate.
From the Korean menu, tender, sweet-salty sauced strips of bulgogi ($10.95, dinner) came on a sizzling cast-iron platter, a scattering of sesame seeds adding a pop of nutty flavor to the traditional Korean grilled beef dish. A bubbling cauldron of the Korean soup soon doo boo ($6.95) was brimming with chewy octopus (maybe a bit too chewy for some palates) with ethereal clouds of silky tofu in the orange broth that was punched with chile heat. (They can make it mild, too.)
The Korean sashimi bowl ($9.95) was a mixed rice and lettuce salad topped with raw sushi. House-made spicy-sweet sauce that our server told us was a "special Korean sauce" added piquant flavor. A drizzle of sesame oil and pine nuts pushed the flavor nutty.
From the Japanese menu ($7.95), yakisoba can be made with udon noodles for an extra dollar. We received the substitution and were rewarded with thick and chewy noodles threaded with crunchy-fresh broccoli, peppers and onions.
Bento ($11.95, dinner) showed how well the restaurant handles this Japanese standard: a hodgepodge of grilled sweet-glazed dark chicken, breaded katsu, light and crunchy tempura, gyoza, a California roll, a sesame-kissed salad and three nigiri (cooked shrimp, raw salmon and red snapper). It's a meal enough for two at a cost for one.
From the Chinese menu, the salt and pepper prawns ($8.95) was the only dish that missed during three visits: the shrimp tasted past its prime. The shrimp shells were too chewy to eat, too sticky to peel off.
A tip about the menu: Don't forget to take a look at the board near the sushi counter for specials.
Flying Fish Sushi Bar & Grill
Where: 2723 N. Pearl St., Tacoma