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Sushi Done Sustainably and Simply


On the hipster-satirizing sketch comedy show Portlandia, a couple sits down in a restaurant, scans the menu then asks about the chicken. The server rattles off that it's a heritage breed, woodland-raised chicken that has been fed a diet of sheep's milk, soy and hazelnuts. When the couple asks even more about the fowl's rearing, the server returns with a folder containing a snapshot of "Colin" the chicken and his life history.

When I slid onto a barstool at Simple Sushi Bar in Nampa and asked chef Mike Key where their fish comes from, he told me they receive bi-weekly Fed-Ex deliveries from Hawaii and only serve species designated a "good choice" by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. When I probed further still--asking, for example, how he knows that their tuna was sustainably pole-and-line caught--Key pulled out a binder filled with individual tracking numbers documenting how and where each fish was plucked from the water. No joke.

While these vignettes are both hilarious and absurd, they hint at a growing consumer trend. Vague labels like "sustainable" and "natural" no longer suffice; people are demanding specific, accurate info about where their food comes from and how it was raised. And Simple Sushi Bar is happy to provide that.

The small, naturally lit space was opened in March by couple Clif and Tracy Volpi. From behind the open, central sushi-rolling counter, Key, a tatted former cook at Bella Aquila in Eagle, chats up everyone who walks in the door. He details the restaurant's concept--sustainable fish and local, organic produce when available--then lists what's fresh that day.

Simple's menu features an eclectic assortment of apps and salads, including cucumber coins topped with spicy tuna or salmon and kaiware sprouts ($8) and the Hawaiian ocean salad ($6) with Ika squid and Pacific seaweed, tossed with ginger and burdock root.

I went with the Millipede specialty roll ($13), and watched as Key fashioned an inside-out roll with spicy Tombo tuna and steamed prawns, then covered it in a fan of fresh avocado, tobiko, green onion and a drizzle of sticky-sweet soy. The roll was moderately sized and refreshingly, satisfyingly ... simple.

When I asked Key how this concept has been received by Nampans--not exactly the bespectacled ethicureans Portlandia pokes fun at--he said folks have been enthusiastic. Though Key said many patrons have never heard of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide, or sustainable fishing for that matter, they've been eager pupils. On the other hand, Key also mentioned he'd like to procure a fryer and add some deep-fried rolls to the menu.

Baby steps.