photo credit: Natalie Schaefer
Steve Jobs famously wore the same boring outfit every day, reasoning that if he wasted even five minutes deciding what to wear, he wouldn’t have invented the device that leaves weird imprints on our jean pockets. Maybe he was a bit extreme. After all, if the Wright Brothers managed to get a hunk of metal in the sky while still finding time to maintain their waxed mustaches, then Steve probably could have spared a few minutes each morning to pick out some plaid.
If you go to Cafe Sushi on the edge of Harvard Square, though, you’ll see that he was on to something. There’s a lot about this place that’s as boring as Steve’s closet. It’s on the second floor of a dated retail complex, it’s lit as brightly as a cafeteria, and its name is the Boaty McBoatface of restaurant names. But, like Steve, there’s a reason Cafe Sushi doesn’t care about aesthetics. They’re focused on their product. And that product - incredible sushi - is the reason this place is packed nearly every night, both with people who’ve tried to ferment their own rice, and college kids who refuse to branch out from spicy crunchy tuna. Walking in here feels like stumbling upon a secret nigiri party, with food that’s way more exciting than the black turtleneck of a restaurant it’s served in.
There are two different ways of experiencing Cafe Sushi. The omakase nets you around 18 pieces of fish for about $100. It’s glorious - fantastic pieces of raw, pickled, and house-cured fish topped with everything from smoked salt to bourbon-soaked cherries. But while $100 is pretty reasonable for omakase that’s put together with more care than Taylor Swift’s public facing persona, we’re not going to pretend it’s an affordable night out.
The smarter Cafe Sushi experience is to order off the regular menu of rolls and assorted nigiri plates, but then tack on a few pieces from the “signature creations” section. A lot of these pieces do end up on the omakase menu itself, but they range from only $2.50 - $6.00. So you can follow your usual simple roll with things like house-pickled bluefish (which you don’t see on sushi menus a lot, even though New England waters are full of it), or Irish sea trout topped with hickory smoked caramelized onions and cured lemon peel.
So maybe Steve Jobs wasn’t being too extreme after all. Dress up every single day like a ’90s dad who does magic tricks, and you can focus on inventing a device that destroys our ability to keep our eyes on a movie for more than four minutes at a time. Dress up like a strip mall take-out place, and you can focus on making some of the best sushi in Boston.
Salmon marinated in lime and a sushi roll together at last. You might assume that mashing two things you already love together will always turn out great. But if, say, string cheese accompanied the salmon in this roll instead of avocado, it probably wouldn’t be as good.
It’s topped with aged balsamic, basil oil, and tomato. Those are three pretty basic salad ingredients, but this is miles better than anything you’ve ever had at Chop’t.
Cured tuna with a spicy kick. Don’t reach for the ginger too quickly after this one - you’re going to want the taste to linger.
Seared salmon and salmon roe together in one piece. It’s the sushi equivalent of a mother-son dance at a wedding, but way more tasty and way less awkward.
The people wielding giant knives behind the counter know sushi better than you do. Trust them.