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Perfect sushi, imperfect concept
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  February 13, 2008
4.0 4.0 Stars
TAKE FLIGHT: Sushi-Teq's flights are far out.

Sushi-Teq | 510 Atlantic Avenue (Intercontinental Hotel), Boston | Open Tues–Sat, 4:30–10:30 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking, or validated self-park in hotel garage | Street-level access; limited low seating | 617.217.5150
PerSushi-Teq starts with a really mediocre idea — pairing sushi with tequila and salsa music — and drops it into a glass cube with a two-wall color organ. It’s like being inside a Japanese cartoon. The salsa music is pretty good, and the tequila selection is impressive, too. But salsa and tequila don’t really go with each other (Mexico versus Cuba and Puerto Rico), and neither goes with sushi. Thankfully, this strange concept is saved by consulting-sushi-chef Toru Oga and some of the best sashimi and sushi I’ve tasted in Boston.

You might think that tequila, a fairly basic spirit, would work with sushi as does sake, a rice wine that also smells more like alcohol than anything else. After all, straight tequila is a mouth burner, and so is the wasabi we like with sushi. But I gave three levels of tequila and all kinds of sushi a try, and I didn’t taste any enhancement either way. Tequila is good with lime and salt and mariachi music. Sushi is good — not great — with sake, and goes with Japanese classical music or the new-age sounds of Kitaro.

Ignore the “Teq” and revel in the sushi, then. It comes out in random order, so we started with a “signature roll,” the Sushi Teq ($12). It looks like maki, but the wrap is jade-green soybean skin instead of nori (seaweed paper). Inside is avocado, cucumber, and salmon. Spicy cooked salmon and a single leaf of cilantro top it off. Right away we could identify really proper sushi rice, with a bit of seasoned vinegar to pick up the fish taste.

A platter of à la carte selections showed some other new tricks. Salmon sashimi ($8) was cut to show a kind of cross grain, a technique I’ve seen two or three times in Boston over the years. Zuke-salmon ($10) was three pieces cured in pickling sauce and sliced, with some skin left on for extra flavor. The chefs here seem to know just how much skin to reserve in order to make it both look pretty and have a balanced, enticing flavor — that’s a level of mastery I haven’t encountered elsewhere. A couple of finger sushi with grilled eel ($6) were a bit better than those at other sushi bars because the rice here is better. Red-snapper sashimi ($6) was served with some of its scalloped skin, and was only slightly less extraordinary.

The sashimi flight (varies; recently $25) was even farther out. It had the most beautiful fish of the night, Japanese silver shad, which is midnight blue with a pattern of black dots. I expected more of the herring flavor of American shad, but this was bland — a feast mostly for the eyes. On the other hand, a couple pieces of madai (Japanese snapper) with a bit of scaled skin were among the best raw fish I’ve ever had. Dark tuna — alas, the mercury — was the real thing; dotted with mustard and almost meatier than raw steak, it dissolved in the mouth. Fatty tuna, served in a bowl over ice, had the opposite effect: all rich flavor with a chewier texture. Pen shell, sliced thin as scallops but with a more crumbly texture, and interspersed with slices of lime, was delightful. Salmon was again beautifully cut, and dotted with pesto. Two pieces of Japanese amberjack were almost as rich as tuna.

Back to rolls with which we started: don’t miss the Rainbow ($18). It’s only six pieces, but wrapped with an array of colors, from white fluke to salmon and on to cooked shrimp, all sliced thin enough to use as a wrap. The inside is real crab, cucumber, and avocado, with crunchy flying-fish roe on top. For a more economical amazement, try the Big Dig ($8): rolled sushi presented as an arch! We weren’t sure how to eat this without tumbling it all down. But the hungriest among us pushed it over and took pieces of a conventional inside-out roll with asparagus, eel, cucumber, avocado, and shrimp. Outside was red and green flying-fish roe.

The 510 ($14), named for the hotel’s street address, is another inside-out roll, featuring a wrapping of thin white fish treated with Japanese citrus and cilantro, and a thin slice of jalapeño pepper under the skin of each piece. The inside flavors are large salmon roe and some vegetables, but the outside is almost like ceviche. This is one that was probably intended to — and does — go well with tequila.

Some simpler rolls were very good, especially negihama ($6), yellowtail chopped with scallions. Salmon avocado rolls ($6) were delicious, but rolled up sea-urchin roe ($12) tended to lose the subtle flavors. I’d recommend you have this as sashimi instead. Plain asparagus and avocado ($5) is a swell choice for vegans.

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  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Ethnic Cuisines , Asian Food and Cooking , Japanese Food and Cooking ,  More more >
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