Risotto with a side of sashimi? Start getting used to it. Suddenly haute restaurants all over the country are installing sushi bars. Sure, sushi is only a small step away from the tartares, carpaccios and other raw-fish creations that are ubiquitous on menus these days, but the trend may have an even simpler explanation: In an increasingly cutthroat restaurant business, sushi is a sure thing.
In April, Ken Oringer, the chef at Clio in Boston's Eliot Hotel, announced the opening of a new sushi bar adjacent to his formal, French-inflected restaurant. Sushi might seem an incongruous addition to a menu that includes dishes like caramelized swordfish au poivre and glazed veal chops with bone-marrow flan. But Oringer reasons, "Sushi is a natural extension of my style of cooking. The older I get, the more I believe in the Japanese culinary aesthetic of very pure, clean flavors." The six-seat black granite sushi bar offers rare ingredients such as white soy sauce, wasabi leaves and ankimo (monkfish liver). Oringer works the sushi bar himself two or three nights a week, shucking live scallops, sea urchins and other shellfish to order.
When NoMI opened in 2000 at Park Hyatt's Chicago hotel, French-born Sandro Gamba (an F&W Best New Chef 2001) inherited a sushi bar that had been incorporated into the design before he was hired. "I didn't have a clue about sushi," admits Gamba, whose menu highlights Asian-influenced French dishes such as seared diver scallops with onion-ginger jam and fresh mango. But like any gifted chef, he learned. The owners sent him to Japan for several weeks to study the basics with master sushi chefs. And the restaurant has also lured a few masters over from Japan to help out at the bar.