THREE STOPS ON YOUR SUSHI SOJOURN

I can remember the first time I ate sushi. It was about a dozen years ago when a friend took me to House of Hunan in Fairlawn. It was there I learned the ropes: navigating tiny dishes with chopsticks, gently stirring wasabi into soy sauce, “cleansing my palate” with small pieces of pickled ginger. Indulging in that first tuna roll changed me forever. It was as if I had been inducted into an elite club.

rolls_sushiYears later, I love to eat sushi whenever I can find someone game to do it with. At times, I definitely step out of my comfort zone: eel, octopus, roe, sashimi — some I’ve grown to like more than others, but thanks to some adventurous friends I’ve found it doesn’t hurt to try them all.

Surprisingly, Stark County has acquired a number of notable restaurants capable of fueling the sushi fetish in all of us, from casual to fine dining, Hibachi steakhouses, even a sushi drive-thru. Below is a small sampling of my favorites, along with a few other menu items that pair well. I purposefully highlighted varying levels on the sushi journey, from “beginner” to “hard core” (my husband’s term). If you’re still not sold, check out “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (a documentary on Netflix) to find some major life inspiration and learn more about what goes into the art of sushi making.

Jasmine Asian Bistro, located on 30th St. NW in Canton, is a must-try in Canton’s sushi world—having been voted Best Sushi in Stark County by both The Repository and About readers. Don’t be deceived by its plaza location; the interior is unexpectedly pleasant, with low lighting and just a hint of swank. Jasmine has a creative list of cocktails (lovingly prepared by bartender Bud) that complement rich sushi flavors. I recommend the Lychee Martini, since you won’t find one anywhere else in town. Lychee is a sweet white tropical fruit that makes a most tasty addition to vodka, peach schnapps and white cranberry juice.

If you’re looking to test the waters, Jasmine’s Unbelievable Roll is proof that eating good sushi need not involve raw fish.

It’s a great roll for sushi newbies: crab, cream cheese and rice, topped with tempura red snapper, spicy mayo, and chef’s special sauce. Beautiful presentation, light airy tempura, and the fun (albeit American) addition of cream cheese make for some great flavor combos. Not a seafoodie? Vegetarians will be delighted to find a slew of options, even on the sushi menu. My dinner date opted for the Vegetarian Combination, a trio consisting of the warm sweet potato roll, AAC roll (asparagus, avocado, and cucumber), and the shockingly good peanut avocado roll, packing a surprising salty crunch to offset the creamy avocado. And for dessert, don’t miss the green tea and mango mochi, a doughy, dreamy, chocolate-drizzled ice cream treat.

VOLCANO ROLL Basil’s take on a classic California roll is covered with sweet scallops and (mildly) spicy mayo and flash-broiled under an open flame.

VOLCANO ROLL Basil’s take on a classic California roll is covered with sweet scallops and (mildly) spicy mayo and flash-broiled under an open flame.

Next up, Basil Asian Bistro, relatively new to the Canton food scene, boasts a unique variety of artfully prepared fresh sushi, plus a selection of hot dishes inspired by Pacific and Southeast Asia. Located on Market Avenue N in the heart of downtown Canton, Basil has an atmosphere that is cool and urban, with two rooms: a large casual bar with a long run of seats and a half-dozen bar-height tables, and, beyond the bar, a more formal dining room with red-brick walls, black tablecloths, twinkling chandeliers, and enough tables to ensure that (First Fridays aside) you can get right in. But even on a Monday night, it is lively.

Basil offers a full bar, a long list of unique martinis and cocktails, and a fairly extensive beer and sake list. When asked what would pair well with sushi, our attentive server was quick to recommend the Enlightened Martini, described as having a strong citrus flavor but “not too sweet.” A mix of cranberry and citrus vodka, triple sec, and a splash of lime and white cranberry juice, the martini arrived at the table bubbly and, well, steaming. (Another bonus for sushi eaters: theatrics at every turn!)

Basil’s Volcano Roll, part of the “House Rolls” sushi menu is a classic California roll—cucumber, crab and avocado—covered with sweet scallops and topped with (mildly) spicy mayo. What makes this roll special is its preparation: The entire dish is flash-broiled under an open flame and delivered to the table warm and gently browned. The result?

Scallops that are melt-in-your-mouth fantastic, and when met with a slight nudge of heat from the sauce, this just may be my favorite way to eat scallops. (Sorry, bacon.)

TUNA DUMPLING Nothing short of spectacular and not for the faint of heart, the exterior is crafted with tuna and filled with spicy tuna and tempura, and perched on thin avocado.

TUNA DUMPLING Nothing short of spectacular and not for the faint of heart, the exterior is crafted with tuna and filled with spicy tuna and tempura, and perched on thin avocado.

Finally, Li Asian Cuisine, on Dressler Road NW in Belden Village, offers a beautiful array of sushi creations in addition to Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Mongolian dishes. Li has a good-size sushi bar for chef-side dining in an atmosphere that is clean and bright, with décor that is decidedly authentic. For the more-seasoned sushi enthusiast, the Tuna Dumpling is nothing short of spectacular.

This dish is artfully prepared and painstakingly assembled. Instead of incorporating sticky rice and seaweed wrap like traditional sushi rolls, the exterior “shell” is created with tuna, pounded until it is thin and pliable. It is then stretched around the filling: a generous portion of spicy tuna that has been hand mixed with tempura, and then perched upon thin slices of avocado. Once the dumpling has been formed, the plate is literally painted with colorful spicy and wasabi mayo, and then topped with two kinds of roe and bean sprouts.

Not for the faint of heart, the spicy tuna combined with the mayo bring substantial heat to this dish. While the volume of sauce is a bit more than required for the amount of sushi involved, it is a small sacrifice for the beautiful preparation.

The dumpling is a sight to behold. I recommend stopping in on a Thursday night for half-price sake to pair with this spicy masterpiece.

So there you have it: three sushi rolls to elevate your sushi journey. Now, go forth and eat beautifully.

JASMINE ASIAN BISTRO
Jasmine Asian Bistro

1122 30th St. NW, Canton
330-493-3331
www.jasmineasianbistro.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Jasmine Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

BASIL ASIAN BISTRO
Basil Asian Bistro

585 Market Ave. N, Jackson Twp.
330-452-3888
www.basilcanton.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.
Basil Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

LI ASIAN CUISINE
Li Asian Cuisine

4695 Dressler Rd. NW, Canton
330-453-9767
www.liasiancuisinecanton.com
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Li asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon