FROM THE SEA Scallops at Nami.
Nami means wave, as the design of the graceful logo of the latest Japanese restaurant in Providence indicates. Their claim to fame is sushi, the seafood specialty that came ashore after WWII and built to tsunami proportions by the turn of the century, at which point sushi bars had quintupled over the previous decade.
It’s an attractive room, with fresh flowers on every table and an elegant tracery design in the wood partition separating white leatherette banquettes. Federal Hill was a smart location for it to debut at this spring, since this restaurant row could always use another departure from the Italian default.
French doors, open in our recent balmy weather, allowed a breath of fresh air in on my visit, close enough to a sea breeze. Close your eyes, though, and you can imagine yourself nibbling otoro at the Honshu seaside.
Not that carnivores are excluded from the table conversations here. For an appetizer they can have beef negimaki or even pork belly sliders, and duck confit rather than just garden greens in their salad. Among the dozen entrees, half are meat, so anyone accompanying somebody here for the crab-crusted salmon ($26) or the sea scallops (market price) can have grilled Australian lamb chops ($36) or teriyaki chicken ($16).
I had to try those sliders ($12), to see what an Asian restaurant would do with them. Three were served with plenty of lettuce, the nicely browned slabs of pork edged with just enough fat for flavor, infused with soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, in sweet rolls pan-fried for crispness. Quite delicious. I didn’t feel guilty at all for ordering that along with yellowtail ceviche ($12) as starters. I wouldn’t have identified it as such; tangily marinated, it was a row of slices rather than minced. A pretty and tasty departure, topped with tiny, red salmon roe on green jalapeno circles.
The miso soup ($6) was the most substantial I’ve ever enjoyed: not just a broth with stray tofu cubes but chock-full of enoki mushrooms and a slim other kind I didn’t recognize. A pleasant surprise, apart from it arriving before I started my salad.
But I came for the seafood. Things had begun poorly, since I get grumpy when served unfiltered Providence tap water, that foul chemical stew, to motivate purchasing bottled water. But, sigh, San Pellegrino it was. I also ordered a “Wasabi-tini” ($10), a clever offering I’d like to see everywhere that the horseradish-like condiment is used to pique tastebuds and open nasal passages. It was fine, not too biting.
I had the lunch special rolls ($15), served with that soup and salad, which meant my pick of three rolls among 14 choices. The salmon-mango had plenty of both ingredients; the eel-avocado was a buttery combination; and while the white fish tempura didn’t retain the crunchy texture contrast I’d chosen it for, it was yummy. I also ordered spicy tuna ($5) separately, and its moderate heat was a good complement. They were all prepared the standard way: sticky rice around nori seaweed, around the main ingredients, six fat pieces.