Do sushi and tequila go together? That's the fundamental question raised by Sushi-Teq in the InterContinental hotel, which offers both, and almost nothing else. It's a niche.
The concept comes from the InterContinental in San Salvador, where a sushi restaurant is located near a tequila bar. According to server/bartender James Ocampo, people were observed sashaying back and forth between the two establishments - a few maki, a shot or two, some toro, a shot or two. Sushi and tequila must be a natural pairing, the hotel group's food-and-beverage honchos concluded. Of course, had the tequila bar been located near a pizza place, say, or a liver and onions joint, the hungry tipplers might have sashayed there, too.
But never mind. San Salvador's inebriated noshing is now our hotel restaurant. And the InterContinental wins a prize for having the most offbeat hotel restaurant and bar concepts in Boston. Nine Zero and Fifteen Beacon play by the numbers - both recently repurposed their restaurants as high-end steakhouses, KO Prime and Mooo respectively. Steak is not a niche; it's a known. The InterContinental, on the other hand, contains: Miel, a formal French brasserie open 24 hours a day, every day, for those in need of 3 a.m. fruits de mer; RumBa, a champagne and rum bar; and Sushi-Teq. You have to hand it to these folks. They know how to specialize.
Sushi-Teq handles each part of its mission well. At first glance, it treats its sushi with a tequila-esque party sensibility. The menu, in a little red Trapper Keeper, opens with the words "WHY SUSHI? IT'S HOT!" (Hopefully not.) It contains a mini-essay on the evolution of sushi, and short lessons on types of sushi, what "that little green ball of paste" on the side is, and what makes good sushi. "The best Sushi will dissolve in your mouth with nary a nibble, bombarding your taste buds with flavor from all directions," it professes. (I duly try to eat some maguro with "nary a nibble," but after a minute of sitting there with a slab of fish on my tongue, I get bored and chew.)
Paging past the essays, one finds the likes of Pizza de Sushiteq (salmon, tomato, jalapeno, and other frippery on a tortilla - the bites with jalapeno are good, but it's otherwise bland), tuna mozzarella (elevated from "why bother" status by the Korean chili paste gochujang), and a signature roll called the Big Dig. It includes eel, shrimp, avocado, and asparagus, and its pieces are arrayed in an arch, held in place by the sticky rice. Unlike the real Big Dig, however, it only costs $8.
The best of the New Age combinations is the 510, a maki filled with avocado, cucumber, and asparagus, draped in pieces of gleaming white fish. It's refreshingly light, and a bit spicy from jalapenos. Also a winner is the namesake Sushiteq roll, avocado, cucumber, and scallions rolled in a pretty leaf-green wrapper (it's made of soybeans) and topped with spicy salmon. Keep paging through the menu, though, and ingredients such as cheese, hot peppers, potatoes, and garlic chips give way to an a la carte list offering a very respectable array of seafood, from zuwai (snow crab) to tairagai (penshell) to three kinds of eel and five different toro presentations. The fish I sampled was of high quality, and the sushi chefs put together thoughtfully varied omakase plates. This should come as no surprise - Toru Oga of the acclaimed Oga's in Natick is a chef there. He designed the menu and brought the other chefs over.
The tequila is of high quality, too. (Yes, there's an educational essay about it in the menu. No, there will not be a pop quiz.) Sushi-Teq offers tequila flights and tequila-based cocktails galore, including an above-average margarita and a minty "mojarita." There are also about 70 sipping tequilas, listed in alphabetical order, each with its own description. (These put winespeak to shame: "vanilla ice cream," "spearmint rainwater," "lavender and bacon.")
Scoffing at Patr?n, Ocampo recommends the Don Julio 1942 and the Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia ("the only good tequila they ever made"). We try the Don Julio, which is deep and smooth, with the promised notes of pepper and caramel. Sushi-Teq treats its serious tequilas with a sashimi-esque sensibility: They're served to savor without distraction.
Well, maybe if you put a paper bag over your head to block out the lit-up wall that changes color, the space-station tables and stools, and the extraordinarily inebriated couple at the bar. He's wearing a black Hawaiian shirt decorated with colorful libations; she's barefoot. Then he puts on her discarded high-heel boots and together they totter in a tequila-and-sushi-fueled slow dance. The guy in the corner on his MacBook looks appalled. The staff looks nonchalant. At this moment, Sushi-Teq is more intergalactic than InterContinental - it feels like we're in the cantina on Tatooine.
But I think we're supposed to feel like we're in Latin America. In the menu's penultimate educational blurb, it promises, "At Sushi-Teq the sound track is Salsa music!" (That and Spanish-language techno.) Sushi-Teq's ultimate goal is to function as a salsa club late at night. There's a large patio overlooking the water where one can easily envision a live band, and guests can ask Ocampo for impromptu dance lessons in the restaurant - he's happy to oblige. But until Sushi-Teq's nightlife reputations grows, with parking at the InterContinental $18 after validation and the T inconvenient, it looks like the clientele will largely be hotel guests or people who work in the area. If I were either, I would be very glad Sushi-Teq was there, because not much else currently is. I would show up after work or before turning in to eat some sushi. Or to sip some tequila. But not at the same time. Because ethereal raw fish and earthy, fiery tequila don't go together. They're surf and turf: two separate experiences that take place side by side.
And now for a change of subject. A sushi-and-tequila-only establishment is just one more illustration of the diversity of Boston restaurants, which run the gamut of cuisines and settings. As anyone who eats out often knows, they also run the gamut of quality. The Globe's current star system allows for a restaurant to be extraordinary (four stars), excellent (three stars), very good (two stars), good (one star), or fair (no stars). If a restaurant is downright poor, however, there's no way to indicate that within the current system. To allow for that possibility, we've decided to adjust the meanings of the stars. Four will still indicate that a restaurant is extraordinary, and three that it's excellent. Two stars will now mean a restaurant is good; one star will mean it is fair; and no stars will indicate that a restaurant is poor. Previous rankings will retain their previous meanings. Here's hoping for zero zeros, and plenty of fours. Stay tuned.