When it comes to Asian cuisine, no one knows how to uncover the neighborhood gems better than my mom, especially in a relatively Eastern food-deprived community like Awhatukee, Phoenix. For the unknowing, Sushi Ken is just another hole in the wall, housed in yet another suburban roadside plaza, set in between your run-of-the-mill hair salon and smoothie joint. Yet, you’ll find that most cars parked in that plaza are those of Sushi Ken patrons. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that Urbanspoon (a restaurant finder iPhone application) caught on to this quiet restaurant, which my mom had been talking about for a couple years now. And as it always is with my grandma and good old-fashioned Japanese cuisine, it was a feast.
We started with the traditional sashimi platter – dual slices of your most basic fish – tuna, salmon, yellowtail, etc. While fresh, it’s a pretty basic order, so on to the more interesting stuff. The fried squid – made fresh to order with a crisp crunchy texture, but slightly bland making the spicy mayo dipping sauce necessary. The grilled kama – this is the chin of a 3-foot long yellowtail fish. The chin itself was about a foot long and supposedly a delicacy in Japanese cooking. The kama meat was really succulent and its natural flavors needed only a little lemon zest to complement. Next, the chilled tofu topped with scallions and ginger over a bed of ice. This was really refreshing against the table-ful of contrasting aromas. And finally for something hot, we all shared a ramen soup, which unfortunately lurked on the saltier side.
As for their forte, Sushi Ken’s laundry list of sushi and sashimi items is pretty exhaustive, ranging from traditional single-fish roles to a plethora of special concoctions. My personal favorite – the spicy scallop, perfectly-sized chunks of fresh, juicy scallops lightly tossed in a spicy roe-mayo dressing. A close second was the sweet ebi (shrimp poached in boiling water for just a few seconds). These babies weren’t the usual measly little slivers of raw crustaceans you find in so many sushi restaurants in the States. They were bulbous and hardy, definitely the healthy ones out of the crate. And last, but not least was the uni (don’t cringe). This tongue-textured raw sea urchin can be really pungent to the nose if not cleaned right, but they executed it really well. If you ever dare to try this, just take it in small doses and try to savor its unique qualities, as not all Japanese restaurants offer this delicate coral inhabitant.
So once again, I guess I underestimated the cuisines my hometown has to offer. Being in New York really makes you seek out highly publicized, pretentiously touted venues. So this experience was, in a sense, grounding as you don’t have to be at Megu (disappointing, by the way) or Gari or Yasuda (both sensational though) for some great Japanese food.