If youre not a convert to the hip and earthy downtown Nampa scene yet, you may be sick of hearing about it from those of us who are.
But get ready for some more gushing. Simple Sushi is the real deal.
What? Raw fish in this meat and potatoes (and sugar beets) town?
Yes. And not just any raw fish some of the freshest, most sustainably caught, delicately presented fish dishes you can find anywhere in Boise.
At first blush, its the sustainability that makes Simple Sushi different. After opening in March 2011, owners Clif and Tracy Volpi set out to have little impact on one of the earths most precarious resources: the sea. They stick to fish approved for conscientious eating by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, all shipped from Hawaii the day its caught. This devotion leads to a slightly different variety of fish that you may be used to seeing. For me, bored a little bit with ahi, salmon, shrimp and the usual sushi fare, it was welcome regardless of the reasons behind it.
You can still get many of the classics: spicy tuna, California (with crab, not krab), tuna and salmon sashimi. But depending on the season and the chefs whims, you may have a chance to try something new: blue marlin, king salmon, escolar and even barracuda have appeared on the chalkboard in recent weeks.
Ive overstuffed myself with friends at lunch (though Simple Sushi is dinner only this summer), but I think Ill just describe a recent dinner there with my wife, to give you an idea of the place.
Lucky to get the only open table on a Tuesday night in the intimate and often-packed room, we started with happy hour sake-tinis, half off their normal $7 to $8 cost. They consisted of a spicy sake Mary, served up, in a martini glass, that would have been better colder, and a pint glass full of sake, plum wine and berry juice a wonderfully tart and tasty treat for a summer night.
The Dungeness crab tower ($11) combined salty crab with bright seaweed salad and avocado. We opted for a salad sampler ($7) that came beautifully presented on a simple white serving dish with our choice of three distinct flavor profiles: spicy (but not hot) house-made kim chee, sour paper-thin cucumbers quick-pickled in vinegar, and the less describable but equally tasty Hawaiian ocean salad. This salad paired small pieces of squid with seaweed, ginger and burdock root, a sweet and pungent plant popular in Asia that has the added benefit of being a traditional medicinal plant (and seeds so pesky in attaching to clothes and fur that they are said to have inspired the invention of Velcro).
The delicate blend of flavors was perfect, and a pleasant precursor to our coming rolls. Though a little spendy, the large and specialty rolls here are meal-sized. Ive pushed myself past just one, but certainly never had to. (I do it for you!) On this night, we opted for a phoenix ($14), which topped spicy tuna and avocado with a delicious cap of quick-broiled crab. Each bit was delicious, but the spicy crab blend overpowered the raw fish a little.
I wanted to best experience the fresh fish of the day, so I ordered a couple of the hoso maki, small and simple rolls, with escarole and marlin ($7 each). They came with a house-made ponzu sauce, which is kind of a Japanese vinaigrette, but often is so heavy with soy sauce that you dont get the sour of its citrus base. Not here. It was light, far more sour than salty, and a perfect complement to the two white and subtle fish.
The dish catches a trend Im thrilled about, because Im obsessed with sour and happy to see it making some inroads off the edges of the plate. SunRay Cafe in Boises Hyde Park makes its own tasty pickles, and beer bars around town occasionally offer the growing number of Belgian-influenced, highly acidic sour beers (an acquired taste, but one worth acquiring). The best example Ive found is at the spectacular Thai restaurant Pok Pok in Portland, which serves its own vinegar-based drinks and a sour pork sausage that blew my socks off.
It may still seem a little strange to mention Nampa with the culinary bigshots of foodie-centric towns like Portland, but remember that nearby Brick 29s Dustan Bristol has been Idahos sole finalist for the coveted James Beard award for a few years.
And Simple Sushi shares a building (and an admittedly far-away bathroom) with Messenger Pizza, another relative newcomer worth making the drive for.
The innovations at Simple Sushi can be seen in the modern DIY-esthetic decor as well as the cuisine (like the best bar mixologists, the folks here love to whip you up a special one-off creation).
I hope chefs and restaurant owners in Boise take it as a challenge.
Email Gregory Hahn: firstname.lastname@example.org
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