A few weeks ago, a friend asked for a sushi recommendation on the far west side of town—my old stomping grounds, where I grew up. He was certain I wouldn't have anything for him aside from grocery store sushi (this, despite the fact the west side is teeming with great independent restaurants) and was surprised when I told him one of the best sushi joints in town was at Dairy Ashford and Memorial.
14670 Memorial Dr.
Sushi Jin's street cred stems from owner Bill Nakanishi, who once owned a seafood importing company called Prime Sales & Trading. The remarkably fresh fish that Nakanishi was able to bring into Sushi Jun was a result of this prime pipeline. A few years back, Nakanishi sold Prime Sales & Trading to none other than Jim Gossen at Louisiana Seafood. The whole operation—Louisiana Seafood and all of its affiliates—is now owned by Sysco, which acquired the business in August of last year.
My friend was dazzled by his Sushi Jin experience—"It was fantastic!" were his actual words—but I realized that although I'd been heartily recommending Sushi Jin for several years, I hadn't been myself in at least two. Though Nakanishi still owns Sushi Jin, master sushi chef Katushiro Uotani—who was equally responsible for the quality of Sushi Jin's food—passed away in 2011, and I hadn't visited since.
It turns out that I should't have worried. Sushi Jin is still as wonderful as ever, a little jewel of a place so hidden in a strip center dominated by a massive Randall's and the looming Memorial Athletic Club that you'd hardly know it was there. No master sushi chef has stepped up to take Uotani's place, but the quality of the food doesn't seem to have suffered.
As usual, there was the little printed menu of daily specials—the freshest fish Nakanishi has on hand any given day—and a small but happy crowd. I love the sound of pleasant murmuring coming from a dining room when I first walk in; that's the sound of Sushi Jin—neither too quiet nor too loud. My mother and I grabbed a table near one of the porthole-style windows that line the dining room and ordered as much as we could from the daily specials list.
We ended up with a plate of tempura fried shisito peppers, crispy and sweet; Japanese snapper with a side of tangy ponzu sauce, the snapper so fresh it was still crunchy; a platter of eel under a plush layer of caramelized unagi sauce; a sashimi platter of soft mackerel and pearly, fat scallops; and a beautiful presentation of amaebi, raw shrimp served two ways.
The tails of the uncooked shrimp had that telltale jiggly texture that's so different from the way the shrimp stiffen up when boiled or grilled or fried, and it's something everyone should experience at least once—especially if they've been eating cooked shrimp their whole lives. The flesh is so much sweeter, too, than after the shrimp is cooked, with a flavor that's almost like sugared seafoam.
When you order amaebi, you should also get the heads of the shrimp deep-fried and served with a tempura sauce. Not every restaurant does this, but places like Sushi Jin, Kata Robata, and Soma Sushi never fail to miss this crucial step. Once you've eaten your sweet, jiggly shrimp tails, eat those shrimp heads whole (just mind the sharp, sticky bits that were once the shrimp's rostrum and antennae, as they'll poke your hard and soft palate in unpleasant ways if you don't bite them off and chew them up first). The soft, tender bits underneath the crispy carapace are akin to sucking the head of a big, fat crawfish combined with the textural pleasure of crunching through a piece of fried chicken.
I could not, however, convince my mother of this, and she pushed her shrimp head toward me with a pained look of disgust. More delicious shrimp heads for me.
No, I shouldn't have worried about Sushi Jin at all, despite the shifts and transitions over the years. We lingered long after our meal, finishing off a large bottle of sake and relishing in the fact that—at least in some cases—the more things change, the more they stay the same.