There’s a good reason the apprenticeship of a sushi chef can take 10 years or more: It’s really hard to cut up a fish without making a serious mess of the whole thing. Add in razor sharp knives sliding along wet, slippery flesh and suddenly deboning a chicken seems like child’s play.
But after dead lifting a 150-pound tuna with his sous chef, both of them straining to hold on for the nail-biting 50 feet to the kitchen, Chef Aiki Terashima of Reel Fish Shop & Grill breathes a sigh of relief once the yellowfin is firmly on his chopping board. Worth several thousand dollars, the tuna is a serious investment for the restaurant. Considered a more sustainable tuna, as opposed to the bluefin, it retails for up to $30 per pound.
What happens next, however, will make even a jaded culinary observer go slack-jawed. With a finely honed Japanese knife in one hand and a carefully placed wet towel bracing the fish in the other, Terashima butchers the tuna in minutes according to incredibly specific techniques he learned as a sushi chef for Masaharu Morimoto (of NYC’s Nobu, Napa’s Morimoto and, yes, “Iron Chef”). The whole thing looks terribly simple as he glides the knife along the lines of a mental map of the fish’s anatomy — leaving only a few slips of meat sticking to the bones. The only tell that this is actually brutally physical work are the tiny beads of sweat on the chef’s forehead, and a weightlifter’s tensed face as he lifts a huge hunk of fish to go into the restaurant’s blast freezer.
And though it would be far simpler to order presliced, preweighed fish from a restaurant supplier, Terashima makes a habit of regularly buying whole fish like Scottish salmon and ling cod. Cutting up the fish himself is cost-effective and more sustainable (all the fish is used, not just filets), and frankly, it just tastes a whole lot better.
The Reel Fish Shop & Grill opened in January, replacing Rossi’s 1906 on the outskirts of the town of Sonoma. The menu is a something-for-everyone mashup of sushi rolls, poke, fish and chips, seafood chowders and stews, along with Japanese curry, shrimp po-boys, fish tacos and for the seafood-challenged, even a burger and steak frites. The historic 100-plus year old roadhouse once again has destination-worthy food in addition to its still-great lineup of live music and massive outdoor patio.
One of the questions most often asked by restaurant-seekers in Sonoma County: Where can I get great seafood? And though many restaurants have one or two seafood items on the menu, Reel Fish Shop & Grill is one of only a handful that specialize in seafood. With a focus on helping to maintain rather than deplete ocean populations, it’s a solid choice when you’re craving a taste of the sea.
Grilled Salmon Salad ($16): What could be a ho-hum pile of greens goes the extra mile. A generous hunk of grilled salmon tops creamy dill dressing mixed with fresh greens, pickled cucumbers, red onions and oranges. We licked the bowl clean, and just looking at the pictures again makes us drool a little.
Fish & Chips ($16): Along with great clam chowder, every coastal adventure seems to culminate in a search for the ultimate fish and chips. And always ends in disappointment. This crispy beer-battered version uses ling cod, and is refreshingly light enough to actually dip in tartar sauce — something we dare not do with greasier, more dense versions.
Chef’s 2-Day Curry ($16): A slightly sweet Japanese style curry. Japanese curry? Adapted from Indian recipes, curry is actually a pretty common Japanese food, though it tends to be sweeter, often with apples added to the veggies. This version, with shrimp (you can sub steak, salmon, chicken or mushrooms) is offbeat, but delicious comfort food.
Fish Tacos ($10): Fish often feels like an afterthought in fish tacos — a fried filler of dubious origins. Gild the lily with the fried version, with salsa fresca and citrus creme.
Did we mention? The restaurant has a full bar, along with a happy hour with fish tacos, wings and fries for $3-$6. Live music Friday and Saturday nights, in addition to some Thursdays and Sundays.
Reel Fish Shop, 401 Grove St., Sonoma, 707-343-0044, thereelfishshop.com