As quickly as vaccination requirements for staff and guests were put in place at Ten Thousand Waves, its restaurant, Izanami, also added sushi to its offerings.
The first sushi service under newly hired sushi chef Shigeru Usuki took place Aug. 18.
Sushi is being served Wednesday, Thursday and Friday until more staff members are trained to serve seven days of sushi, Ten Thousand Waves and Izanami owner Duke Klauck said.
Sushi is a big leap for Izanami, an acknowledged missing link for Klauck’s Japanese restaurant in the Japanese setting that is Ten Thousand Waves.
“It is a huge deal for Izanami,” he said. “We have a lot of clientele asking, ‘When is there going to be sushi?’ ”
Klauck has been hesitant about seafood since opening Izanami eight years ago. After all, how good can seafood be so far from the ocean? Then on a visit to the far Northern California coast, he learned chefs there get seafood shipped from Japan.
Executive chef Kiko Rodriguez, who has been at Izanami 5½ years, did not have the same seafood fears. He introduced fish specials in May 2016, limited to three fish: tuna, salmon and hamachi (yellow tail).
Then in 2018, Rodriguez increased the fish varieties for specials to about a dozen and added fish to the menu itself in 2019. But sushi did not follow, despite constant customer requests.
“We never felt we had the skills for sushi,” Rodriguez said.
Izanami’s training manager, Kaz Tani, for five years drove regularly to the Japanese Kitchen Sushi Bar in Albuquerque, where he got to know Usuki, the sushi chef. In late June, Usuki mentioned to Tani that Japanese Kitchen Sushi Bar was closing July 11.
“I asked him jokingly if he had any job openings,” Usuki said.
Tani instantly schemed to create a job opening.
“Finally, we were getting good fish,” Tani said of Rodriguez’s push for more fish varieties direct from Japan.
Tani presented the idea of starting sushi at Izanami to his bosses, and two months later, sushi service started. Beyond sushi, Tani found another ideal quality in Usuki.
“He told me he likes to teach,” Tani said. “That’s something we need in our kitchen.”
Usuki came to America in 1986 from Japan to learn English, first landing in Los Angeles. But with such a large Japanese community, he felt he would lapse too easily into Japanese and not earn English.
He saw “Albuquerque” in a Los Angeles newspaper and quickly moved to the Duke City and signed on with Japanese Kitchen. Usuki said he learned his Edomae sushi skills from Sadao Mori, who had joined Japanese Kitchen after launching Minato of Japan in Albuquerque a few years later.
“I want to give the customers real authentic sushi,” Usuki said.
Usuki was at a loss for words to describe “authentic sushi” other than the correct slicing of fish, considered a high art form, and the preparation of the rice, which is of equal importance to the fish in sushi.
“Sushi rice should be a little harder than steamed rice,” he said. “You mix a special vinegar with it. We don’t want it to be too sticky.”
He described one preparation of hirame (Japanese halibut) and madai (red snapper) sandwiched between layers of kelp.
Rodriguez had more ease in putting words to “authentic sushi.”
“I will say presentation and taste,” the executive chef said. “The fish melts in your mouth. If you do it wrong, you chew it more. Everything is handmade. He does it with his hands. Others put rice in machines. We don’t.”
Klauck said it took “a lot of convincing” to win him over to increased fish offerings and sushi — “It took him eight years,” Rodriguez teased — but now Klauck embraces the fish section of Izanami’s menu.
“This is the next evolution in our journey to the ultimate fish experience,” Klauck said.