That one lyrical word is the key to a nearly flawless meal at Ginko, Dante Boccuzzi's new sushi spot in Tremont. Simply take a seat at the horseshoe-shaped bar — preferably on the side manned by chef Taishi Noma — and say "omakase." The Japanese equivalent to "I place myself in your hands," the entreaty transfers all decision-making to the wisest man in the room. What will follow is a sparkling presentation of sashimi that looks (almost) too good to eat.
It was somewhere between gleeful bites of voluptuous raw tuna and glistening sea urchin that I fully succumbed to Ginko's charms. Once you strip away all the artifice — the glowing glass walls, the gimmicky kung-fu flicks, the rushing-river countertop — what you are left with is fish. And that fish is of the highest quality that currently exists in Cleveland, cut by some of the keenest hands.
Ginko is a shrine to fish: most of it raw, some of it rolled, and almost all of it exceptional. Unlike most sushi joints, where the menu is sullied with everything from potstickers to teriyaki, Ginko rarely veers from its hyper-focused attention to seafood. The room, too, is designed expressly around eating sushi. The best seat at any sushi restaurant is always at the bar, and at Ginko, that's pretty much all there is.
When I say that our sashimi tasting almost was too pretty to eat, I do so without a hint of hyperbole. Arranged like gemstones atop a frilly cloud of radish ribbons were pieces of ruby-red tuna, gold-tinged sea urchin, and coral-colored salmon. Positioned in the shell whence it came were strips of briny raw clam. Head-on sweet shrimp poked up from beneath the radish fronds like surfacing dolphins. Creamy, nutty uni (sea urchin) was offered in a hollowed-out cucumber, while chewy abalone was thinly sliced and presented inside its shimmering mother-of-pearl shell.
For those who crave rice with their fish, chef Noma also offers an omakase-style platter of nigiri sushi. Thickly cut and draped atop pearlescent cylinders of glutinous sushi rice were pieces of salt-water eel, king crab, uni-topped scallop, and pristine mackerel. Fatty, buttery seared salmon belly made a melt-in-your-mouth, guilt-free substitute for the less-sustainable bluefin tuna belly. But going from sublimely textured fish to a meaty piece of foie-gras-topped duck breast — a specialty sushi — proved too jarring and unpleasant a shift for my palate.
If you prefer your fish cut into bits and tucked inside nori, then you too will adore Ginko. There's a full line of deftly crafted hand rolls, cut rolls, vegetable rolls, and large specialty rolls. What you won't find at Ginko are torpedoes stuffed with cream cheese and showered with sticky sauces. Here, finesse and restraint seem to be the order of the day.
Almost exclusively seafood, starters include quail-egg-topped salmon tartar, thin-sliced filets of barely seared tuna, and Pringles (yep, those Pringles) topped with spicy scallop salad. If monkfish liver is on the menu, get it. A frequent special appetizer, the delicacy is often described as the "foie gras of the sea," thanks to its creamy texture and livery taste.
The one big exception to the fish-only rule at Ginko is shabu shabu. Available only to those seated at either of the two booths, the Japanese-style fondue is an interactive meal that involves cooking wafer-thin slices of fatty beef (certified Angus or the pricier Waygu) in dashi-flavored broth. When pulled from the broth, the meat is dipped into various sauces and eaten with veggies like cabbage, onion, and mushrooms. This social form of dining is great for small groups.
For such a funky, subterranean grotto, it's a shame that Ginko is always so damn bright. And when it comes to the beer and sake list, we would appreciate a few more value-friendly options. Also on our wish list are more comfortable barstools. Then again, for sushi this good, we'd gladly bring our own seat cushions.