Are we destined to just have middling Japanese food in this town? I was excited to try Shiki, and there were certainly some highlights, but overall the food left me kind of puzzled. Is this the best we can expect?
Shiki is a small subterranean restaurant just outside of the heart of Coolidge corner, pretty and bright and warm on a cold night. As I'd been prompted, I had called in advance to reserve hamachi kama in case they ran out early. Turned out they didn't have any yesterday but that was okay, our substitution was one of the highlights of the uneven meal.
I'd read reports about the brusque service and indeed we were firmly handled all night -- this particular table, order in this particular way. I didn't really mind, but it was noticeably bossy. But hey, it's about the food, right?
Izakaya style Japanese food is not familiar to me, so my friend did the ordering for us. We started with a flight of sakes, one of my favorite parts of the evening. I'm a sucker for a horizontal tasting of just about anything, and this was no exception. Samples of Kaguyahime (Kyoto), Umenishiki (Ehime), Dassai (Yamaguchi), and Hitorimusume were accompanied by salmon and halibut tartare. This was a lovely way to start and I'd highly recommend going this route if you're trying to learn more about sake. We had another bottle of the Hitorimusume later.
A small plate of pickled vegetables was a pretty palate cleanser before the next course -- a round of nigiri -- tuna, salmon, engawa (halibut fin), hamachi, ebi. Now hounds, I like my portions hearty, but these nigiri were huge! Definitely two-bite wonders, much to the horror of my finicky friend. They were out of otoro and the regular tuna was virtually tasteless. The salmon had NO discernible fat, which was a disappointment. I love that silky texture on my tongue and it was missing in action. The halibut fin was killer, though, with a shiso leaf tucked under the fish and a gorgeous clean bright taste. Ebi was quite nice -- sweet and fresh. I must note that they do have quite a heavy hand with the wasabi, so if you are planning to dunk your nigiri in soy/wasabi (the horror!) you might want to taste first.
Next up some cooked dishes -- agadashi, broiled black cod, broiled kurobuta pork belly. Agadashi was fine, with a ton of bonito that would have made Galleygirl happy. The pork belly tasted great but the texture was all off ... really really chewy with no melty fat. However, the black cod was great -- a really fine rendition with crispy skin and lovely firm flesh.
Finally we had to see how they do with the fryer, so we had pork tonkatsu and what the heck, throw in a little sake marinated broiled beef to round it off. I found the tonkatsu to be greasy. I think I could make a better one at home. But the beef was tasty.
Again, for every highlight there seemed to be an accompanying mis-step. It was a roller coaster ride that left the rider wondering which way was up. I like Toraya a lot, but it's not refined. O Ya is exquisite for what it is, but sometimes you don't want your fish blow-torched and drizzled with truffle oil. Sushi Island, Blue Fin, Oiishi all have their fans. And maybe I need to go back several times to get the hang of Shiki -- I'm certainly interested in the lunch set. But at the end of the evening I was left scratching my head. What am I missing?