Some of life's most serious food choices boil down to a simple ultimatum. Oysters: fried or raw? Pizza: Chicago deep crust or New York thin crust? Crab cakes: like they do it in Maryland or like we do it out West? In Boise—a city with a surprisingly long list of sushi restaurants given its high-desert, nowhere-near-the-ocean locale—the question was usually: Zutto or Shige?
Even in recent years, as the sushi joint seemingly became the most pursued venture of restaurateurs in the Capital City, the only real rivalry was between the chic Main Street Zutto and Eighth Street's second-level Shige, where the decor once provided a complimentary time warp back to the cringe-worthy '90s. With that rivalry now buried like an old sushi knife in what is now Zutto's empty restaurant space, Shige is the last chef standing.
By chance, Shige was my first Boise sushi experience. I spent years loyally trekking to Eighth Street for my regular fix until a few too many lunches left me exasperated with inconsistent service. Then I started spreading my sushi love all over town. With the commitment I'd once had to Shige ancient history, I tried every specialty roll in the city. Some were completely forgettable and others I work into my dining-out rotation on a regular basis. But somewhere deep down, past all the empty water glasses, forgotten orders and excruciatingly long wait times, I still long for a Volcano and an Island Girl.
Last spring, after my party of four sat ignored on Shige's patio for an inexcusably long time, my sister's father-in-law—who I think would describe himself as one of the restaurant's super regulars—emerged after his lunch inside and gave me the key to cracking a foolproof Shige experience. First, he said, go on ____ and ____ because those are the days the restaurant gets its fish in, so you'll have the freshest food. (And if you think I'm going to fill in those blanks in print for thousands to read, forget it. That would be detrimental to part two of his advice.) Second, he said, to get the best service it helps to be either a serious regular or a restaurant reviewer for a paper like say, Boise Weekly.
So far, the latter only works out for me about half the time, but I always endure the wait and I always go back, and I think that's saying something.
Shige is sushi without bells and whistles. If trendy or tatami are requisite for your sushi experience, you won't find it at Shige. Aside from a traditional list of rolls and nigiri, you'll find a continually growing board of specialty rolls, for which anything goes. I put a handful of stars next to the Volcano ($10.95), a riceless roll with cream cheese that's deep fried, mounded and slathered in Sriracha. On a recent visit, the dish proved to be just the right thing to ward off single-digit weather. (Also on that visit, I sucked down two maguro nigiri ($4), the second of which was hiding a significantly larger portion of wasabi than the first, thereby clearing my cold-weather clogged nostrils.) When I feel like a change of pace, the tempura and bento items, including chicken katsu (of which I'd consider myself as serious a connoisseur as one can be of panko-fried chicken) are fine enough, but usually leave me wanting for food from the sea rather than that which is born of the land.
To Shige, or not Shige, has become the question. I'll go with the former and a large sake while I wait, thank you very much.
—Rachael Daigle never ig-nori-es her umami's desires.