Uncooked to perfection

A guide to the capital's sushi options.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
This summer, In Jerusalem went on a mission to sample the city's raw fish offerings. What we found were four sushi bars whose food was not always up to traditional Japanese standards but offered wonderful ambience and reasonable prices. GONG Gong sits discreetly at a less-than-elegant corner of Jaffa Road. To get into the restaurant on a warm evening, you may have to step over the teenagers who crowd the square pushing their curfew to the limit or a few beggars who have already passed out for the night. Once inside, however, Shai Koppel's restaurant transports you to the calm of a Japanese tea ceremony with its sleek, modern and polished décor. We started with a sushi platter: the tartar whitefish, the tataki gong and the alligator. The tartar whitefish was spicy, mashed and perched atop a more traditional sushi roll filled with mango and asparagus. The alligator - which contained no alligator meat - is one of many variations Jerusalem sushi has to offer of a standard roll with avocado on the outside. Inside was raw salmon and asparagus. The stand-out of the group, however, was the tataki gong - an excellent raw tataki steak carpaccio blanketing a sushi roll also filled with asparagus and mango that even non-sushi lovers can appreciate. For the main course, we shared two of Gong's specialty noodle dishes: the chicken Pad Thai and the yakisoba noodles. The Pad Thai was an unadventurous version of the Asian favorite but, all the same, undeniably good with a prominent citrus zing. Perhaps the biggest drawback of Gong was the somewhat over-attentive but slow and confused service. Though both amiable and helpful, we never had one consistent waiter and instead were catered to by a gaggle of servers who never seemed to be in sync with each other, our requests falling through the cracks. Overall: Good sushi for Japanese cuisine novices. For those seeking new culinary adventures, this may not be your best bet. Price Range: NIS 50-NIS 100 for a meal Must try: The Tataki Gong. The Facts: Gong Restaurant & Sushi Bar, 33 Jaffa Road, Beit Yoel; 625-0818, kosher; open: Sunday-Thursday 6 p.m.-2 a.m., Saturday night until early morning. Closed Shabbat. DOMO Domo was the most attractive of the restaurants we visited, with an attention to detail that made Iris Arie's small sushi bar a powerhouse. From the art adorning the menus to the soft, romantic lighting, Domo is both upscale and welcoming. To begin, we were served the standard pickled cabbage favored by Jerusalem's sushi scene. Alongside it, however, was a flute of delicate champagne with wild berries and passion fruit soaking inside. We were then brought a wide range of what Domo has to offer for the starter course. We began with a salad with lightly seared fresh tuna which was clearly of a high grade - an essential detail as the quality of raw tuna is most apparent without the grilling process that can alter or mask flavor. Next was the miso eggplant which both I and my tasting partner found lacking in flavor - our least favorite course of the evening. The chicken and vegetable dumplings were also somewhat bland but were clearly well-made, in their light, doughy sachets. The sushi course was excellent, boasting the finest of all the avocado rolls we tasted in Jerusalem. It was a simple, unpretentious inside-out roll, filled with salmon and blanketed in fresh avocado. A bold change of pace was an inside-out roll covered in mango with the usual dousing of soy sauce, ginger and wasabi - the perfect sweet and spicy combination. The last of the sushi was a sweet potato roll that, while innovative, was a bit too starchy and out-of-the-Bento-box for both myself and my tasting partner. All of the desserts on Domo's menu feature an Asian twist on classic last course offerings. We tried The Geisha, what seemed to be an icy Japanese variation on the Italian favorite, tiramisu. Frozen lady fingers provided the foundation for a white chocolate box with coconut milk and rice noodles. It was visually appealing and very subtly flavored. Overall: Exciting new sushi ideas in an upscale, romantic setting. Our pick for best sushi experience in Jerusalem. Price Range: NIS 49-89 for entrées, NIS 22-46 for appetizers, private party room available. Must try: Mango inside-out roll and the wild berry and passion fruit champagne. The Facts: 13 Rehov Shamai; 624-3336, kosher without certificate; open: Sunday-Saturday: 7 p.m. until last call. SAKURA Ask almost any Jerusalem sushi lover which is their favorite sushi bar in town and they will enthusiastically answer "Sakura." True enough, Sakura remains the standard sushi bar of choice for most, aided at least in part by the fact that it remains open on Friday nights. In the tranquil Feingold Courtyard, Sakura boasts both indoor and outdoor seating away from the bustle of Jaffa Road. Our meal began with Choya, a sweet Japanese plum wine served in small ceramic cups which had a very light and pleasant summer taste. The theme of the night at Sakura seemed to be unadorned raw fish. And why not? Of all the sushi we sampled across the city, Sakura did indeed have the freshest and highest grade of raw fish. The first course we were served was a fish carpaccio in a sweet wasabi sauce - the fish sliced so thinly it seemed to melt in my mouth. Next was a perfectly satisfactory miso soup and Adarashe Tofu, which was hardly worth being the vegetarian alternative. The main event was the sushi-sashimi platter, which featured both sushi and thick slices of raw tuna and other fish. Overall: Excellent, classic sushi. Perfect for both sushi novices and connoisseurs. Price Range: NIS 50-NIS 90 for main course or NIS 14 for appetizer Must try: Fish Carpaccio. The Facts: 31 Jaffa Road, Feingold Courtyard; 623-5464, not kosher: open every day from 6 p.m. until last call and for lunch from noon to 5 p.m. every day except Friday. REHAVIA SUSHI Rehavia Sushi now sits at the corner of Rehov Aza and Rehov Mitudela in the space previously inhabited by the venerable Atara Café that closed earlier this spring. The restaurant has yet to officially open, but it is functioning as if it were. The menu is still in flux and different dishes are still being experimented upon. We began with pickled cabbage and edamame with salt and lime, both of which were very by the book. Next came a dish that looked much better than it tasted. The tataki tuna with wakame seaweed salad was a general disappointment. The tuna was of a very poor grade and of a stringy texture. We were then brought a chicken yakitori which very nearly made up for the tataki tuna. The chicken was extremely tender, moist and flavorful without being drowned in sauce. The sushi was also generally good. We had a veggie roll topped with avocado and stuffed with shitake mushroom. A welcome change of pace was the cooked salmon roll with roe, which had a sweet hickory flavor. Our least favorite of the sushi was a fotomake roll with sea bass, salmon and sweet potato. Overall: Still getting its bearings but well on its way. Price Range: NIS 14-NIS 50, Kosher Rabbanut Yerushalayim Must try: Chicken Yakitori. The Facts: 29 Rehov Aza; 566-7477; open: Sunday-Thursday 6 p.m.-2 a.m., Friday 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturday night 2 a.m., kosher.