Enjoy sushi with a view -- and new friends
It seems there’s a boom in reasonably priced sushi in Boston. In the past few months, Brookline’s quirky Super Fusion Cuisine expanded to four locations, and a third Fin’s Japanese Sushi + Grill opened in Beacon Hill. Franchise-ready spots have appeared in Chinatown and Peabody. And location scouts from the high-design British mega-chain YO! Sushi are reportedly scouring Boston for suitable locations.
In February, Snappy Sushi jumped into the fray. Chef-owner Kazu Aotani has operated good, affordable sushi locations under various names since 2003. Now he’s in a tony corner of Newbury Street for an ambitious expansion: moving his tiny eatery up the street to a three-tiered space with seating for 76. The lower level offers small tables and a traditional bar and outdoor seating for 30. An elevated mezzanine offers a communal table with a charming view of the street.
The communal table, sized for those traveling samurai you might see in an anime movie, seats 18 very comfortably. A meal here is entertainment. Many at the table are dining alone, stopping in while shopping or running errands. The ambiance is easy and friendly. Around lunchtime, polished female luxury shoppers of a certain age often mix with unshaven college guys over dramatic presentations of maki, sushi, and the restaurant’s own inventions. The food is a conversation starter.
At Snappy, it’s important to figure out the day’s best fish before ordering (another good reason to chat up your new dining companions). The restaurant uses fresh striped bass (suzuki), salmon (sake), and sea urchin (uni). Striped bass sushi ($2) is perfect: mild and subtle, with an almost crunchy texture and a slight, fresh pop as you bite down. Many fish are flash frozen, shipped from afar by suppliers better able to comply with stringent regulations.
Flash frozen fish, quite good if properly handled, thawed, and cut, is the norm for moderately priced sushi. On one visit, the tuna nigiri (toro, $2) is excellent. On another visit, it is off color, chewy, and nearly inedible. Our server agrees to substitute the delicious striped bass for the unwanted tuna, which turns out to be a wonderful trade. Rainbow battera ($11.95), a pressed open-face sushi with avocado and a variety of fish, is marvelous.
The only rice used at Snappy is light brown koshihikari, popular in Japan for its flavor and texture. Koshihikari rice has a subtle taste that suggests hazelnut and bread crust, and is firmer than ordinary sushi rice. In most of the rolls, it adds a welcome complexity and substance. In sushi with delicate fish, such as yellowtail (hamachi, $4.75), it can overshadow a bit.
Fancy rolls, many of which do not contain raw fish, abound. One is the tasty Boston lobster roll ($12.95), creamy and fresh, brightened with wasabi. Mamemaki roll ($9.95) adds citrus (yuzu) flavors to raw tuna, salmon, avocado, cucumber, and shisho leaf, packaged in a tasty soy wrap called mamenori, instead of the usual seaweed paper. The seasoned rolls are both delicious and strategic. Sometimes a zingy sauce evens out the uneven quality of the fish.
The unadorned fish might be wonderful or adequate, so there’s some strategy to ordering well here. First discuss matters with your tablemates. Seasoned rolls are a better choice one day, open-face sushi the next. But even this or that dish misfires. A seat outside under a large shade umbrella, or inside, chatting with new friends, is fine consolation.
Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at email@example.com.