In the early '90s, from behind the sushi bar at Tsuru (now Sono Bana), chef Shige Matsuzawa's smile and never-failing "Irasshaimase!" were welcome gestures to this never-been-in-a-Japanese-restaurant-before Boise local and took the anxiety out of the exotic realm of raw fish.
When chef Shige and his wife, Debbie, opened Shige Japanese Cuisine in 1992 in the heart of downtown Boise, the idea that the city would now have two sushi restaurants seemed ludicrous. But sushi was the new "it girl" of the foodie world, and Boiseans filled the establishment nightly--and did so for the next two decades.
A few months ago, the Matsuzawas snapped up the available property adjacent to the sushi restaurant and added a steakhouse, high-end bar and tepanyaki room.
On a Tuesday night, the tepanyaki room was empty and one table was seated on the terrace, but the seats and tables in the low-lit red, chrome and wood lounge were filled.
Big wooden menus held a handful of high-end items including foie gras ala Japonais and diners can request a menu from the sushi side of things as well. I didn't need one: I had heard rumors of a KC Roll ($13.95, named for KC, a sociable server who has been with the Matsuzawas almost since the beginning), and intrigue turned into an order. The roll, Red Carpet salad ($8), Kurobuta pork chop ($18) and grilled Alaskan salmon ($18) soon graced our tiny bar-side table.
The Red Carpet Salad sported a sweet miso dressing and tangy panko-breaded and fried goat cheese so tantalizing, that they could have stood alone as an app. But combined with the fresh greens and watercress, made for an inviting dish on a hot summer evening. The KC Roll was a monster of seared scallops, green onions, panko breading and jalapeno slices bound with a little mayo atop a shrimp, cuke and avocado roll and was so mouthwatering, my dinner date later confessed that she considered pushing me off my stool and shoving the whole thing in her mouth. We felt equally taken by two tender Kurobuta chops, drizzled in a salty-sweet miso and carmelized pear reduction, sided by cushiony tiny new potatoes and slices of dried, chewy fig.
The small but succulent pile of Matsuzawa salsa--an Asian influenced pico de gallo--on the huge, perfectly pink salmon filet provided a tang and mote of spice but with that on top and the bed of fresh, sliced cucumbers beneath, the dish was a lukewarm temp. The side of steamed white rice with black sesame seeds was also cool and we wondered if the entire dish was supposed to be served cold or hot.
A lime saketini, the color of translucent green glass window cubes provided the strangest taste of the night: it slipped past the tongue like a wash of air, tasteless until a burst of sake and a little lime pulp hit the back of the throat. Refreshing, but potentially dangerous.
Myriad sushi joints have sprung up since 1992, but the Matsuzawas, who cornered that corner of downtown, still have the corner on sushi.
--Amy Atkins tries--often unsuccessfully--to order off the menu.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Shige's Red Carpet Fine Dining.