FEED ME: Nikai: Adventures beyond Sushi
Who knew some of the valley’s best sliders were at a sushi restaurant?
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – However, calling Nikai a “sushi restaurant” doesn’t do it justice. When I remember to look at its menu of cooked foods, I’m always impressed. But 100 percent of the time, I still fall back to sushi rolls, usually ordering the Luxe (a Kobe beef and lobster roll with teriyaki wasabi sauce and tempura crunchies, $15) and the Bonsai (panko fried soft shell crab and avocado topped with tobiko, scallions, and yuzu vinaigrette, $16).
I hate being predictable but, well, you try either of these rolls and tell me you don’t want them again and again.
Last week, I was able to branch out – a bit. I shared Nikai’s Kobe Beef Sliders ($10 for two) before digging into the Luxe and several other specialty rolls.
Nikai’s sliders, like the rest of its non-sushi foods, have an Asian twist. The Kobe sliders are topped with shitake mushrooms, kaiware sprouts, wasabi aioli and teriyaki sauce. Because I love pickled ginger and there happened to be a sizeable pile of it on the table, I ad-libbed and put a couple of slices of it on my mini-burger too.
My mouth is still recovering from the explosion of taste. The buns are substantial in height, but perfectly compressible. The beef, from Snake River Farms, is so tender it is difficult to tell when you bite through the bun and into the meat.
The Kobe sliders aren’t the only sliders on Nikai’s menu. There are also Sake Sliders (again, $10 for two), but I did not try the house-made spicy salmon burgers topped with cucumber salad and spicy aioli and served, like the Kobe sliders, with sweet potato fries.
Although the Kobe sliders were the extent of my adventures into ordering from Nikai’s non-sushi menu, others in my party went further. And were generous enough to let me sample.
The Lobster-Coconut Bisque ($12) might be the best soup on any menu anywhere in this valley. Never again will standard lobster bisque do. Using coconut milk, the bisque is every bit as thick and rich as a pure cream bisque, but more flavorful. Cream bisque meets taste buds with grace and good manners, politely waltzing across your palate. This coconut bisque hits your tongue with a loud, “Fu!&ing yeah!” and then launches into the Lambada.
Then there is Nikai’s sushi. Nikai’s nigiri is right up there in terms of freshness and quality ingredients. But, it is the restaurant’s specialty rolls – heavily sauced and requiring sentences on the menu to detail ingredients – where executive sushi chef Laura Inukai and her staff are at their boldest and best.
Inukai says that creating sushi rolls is akin to enjoying art. Nikai’s Sunny Unagi roll (tempura sweet potatoes inside topped with toasted eel, avocado, sweet soy, and sweet potato crunchies, $15) is as sumptuous as any Cezanne.
I’m not a fan of eel, but combined with sweet potato – both the tempura spear inside the roll and the crisped wisps sprinkled on top – it is one of my new favorite things.
Together the pair makes me think of honeyed barbecue as you get a smoky taste from the eel and a sweet flavor from the sweet potato.
Or perhaps I’ve just got barbecue on my mind because I can’t stop thinking about the slider.
Open nightly at 6 for dinner; 225 N. Cache; nikaisushi.com; 734-6490.