Sushi Chef Suji âElvisâ Sugawara bring years of calm experience.
Itâs a dichotomy, of sorts, this kitchen at Shinsei, if it could even be called a kitchen in the singular tense. In one section â" the section open for the customers to see â" a chef operates deliberately, even surgically, at his craft. Those around him are quiet, also concentrating deliberately on their tasks at hand, silently executing their functions.
The other section can get loud. It can get hurried. It is almost always hot. And when the tension in that section gets just high enough, the chef will tell those around him to stop and take a look at the other end.
âItâs this pristine, calm, controlled environment â" that right there is a major departure from an industrial hot kitchen. Itâs subdued and precise,â says Jason Czaja, the Head Chef at Shinsei about the sushi side of the restaurant. âItâs an ideal, and in their case itâs obviously something thatâs technically entertaining to watch, but itâs also something that you aspire to: precision â" collected, calm, measured, thoughtful precision.â
It is Sushi Chef Suji âElvisâ Sugawara to whom the calm, cool collected side of the kitchen belongs, and while Czajaâs kitchen and Sugawaraâs sides of the kitchen may not be mirror images of each other, theyâre really not meant to at all. Rather, the kitchens reflect Shinsei itself; a restaurant that serves a multitude of styles of cuisines (all Asian) to a multitude of people and for any different reason or occasion. The calm, cool sushi side and the heated enthusiasm of the kitchen combine to prepare and present a meal and experience that Czeja describes as, âAll things to all people.â
âI donât want to sound trite when I say that it is, but this is a dining destination for Dallas and is nationally known â" at the same time, itâs Cheers to Park Cities. Along with businessmen dropping hundreds of dollars on a meal, you might see people rolling in here in shorts and flip flops who just got their kids from soccer practice who just want a quick bite of fish,â he adds.
From Coconut Chicken Jalapeno Poppers ($9) to Garlic Pork Potstickers ($14), Honey Hoisin Baby Back Ribs ($15) to Oven Roasted Mahi Mahi ($34), the offerings at Shinsei â" which is run by Tracy Rathbun and Lynae Fearing â" would be considered varied even without the sushi bar, but it is the sushi bar that makes the concept complete. Sugawara worked for three yearâs with Soda Takashi, now at Richardsonâs Sushisake, and went on from there to stints at Anzu, Tei Tei Robata Bar, and Teppo before taking the reins as Shinseiâs sushi chef. With his experience, he presents a traditional, trained â" yet creative â" aspect to Shinsei in the form of sushi. And while it seems that his kitchen is always calm, cool and collected, itâs merely due to the fact that when dealing with raw fish, you have to be all of those things all the time.
âSushi is a skilled work â" I would say slicing the fish is the aspect that takes the most skill â" to get the maximum yield with the minimum waste. Anybody can cut fish, fast. But how much mess are you going to get?,â he asks with a smile.
But knifework aside, Sugarawa is quick to observe that it doesnât matter how much skill you have if youâre starting out with an inferior product.
âWe make sure weâre keeping up the same quality â" we are in Dallas, so I have to search for the piece I want. And lately tuna has been coming from everywhere, but I just end up buying tuna from Hawaii, because even though I have to pay more money, I can have the quality that I want,â he says.
With that said, itâs little surprise that his present favorite offering is the Hawaiian Sashimi, which features the aforementioned tuna and features a white balsamic vinegar infused with hibiscus. It features not only the freshness on which Sugarawa places so much importance, but also the creativity and technique for which he is so highly regarded. Itâs the perfect example of the unique aspect that Sugawara brings to Shinsei that â" when integrated with the entire kitchen â" helps set it apart.
âThere is definitely a duality,â says Czeja. âAnd when people ask what itâs like, I just tell them that itâs kind of a balancing act.â
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