Shiny happy sushi

Shigatsu a bright spot — literally - on N.W. dining scene

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I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am when a promising new restaurant opens up in my neck of the woods. Located just down the street from the 4th Spot on Fourth Street N.W. is a brand new sushi place called Shigatsu. Formerly Gunkan Sushi House, the restaurant has new owners and a completely renovated space.

Walking over on a quiet Tuesday night, my husband and I enter a glittering room pumping out the sounds of Japanese pop group Love Psychedelico. We can’t help but smile — sure, the baubled décor is a little over the top, but the spirit of the space is light and fun, and not at all what we expected.

Taking a seat at a bedazzled banquette, we open the menu to find a dedication to the owner’s wife and partner, April (Shigatsu is Japanese for April): “She makes everything young and beautiful. She is the reminder of good and evil. She brings passion into moments I cannot. She created my new beginning. My love, April.”

It’s a sweet touch — she sounds like a lucky (and feisty) lady.

The Shigatsu menu has a nice range of dishes, from a solid appetizer selection to sushi, tempura and entrees (like duck breast or milky red snapper), and just in case you’re wondering, there are no ramen or noodle dishes.

We start with one of the house specials — the Miso Nasu ($8.95), a platter of lightly fried eggplant topped with housemade miso. The eggplant is thinly cut and crisp, and the miso sauce is sweet. Garnished with a handful of finely chopped scallions, the overall effect is both sweet and savoury.

Our next appetizer is the Spicy Tofu ($6.95), a very basic dish consisting of golden cubes of fried tofu topped with globs of spicy mayo spiked with roe. (If you don’t like roe, I would steer clear.) The large dollops of sauce don’t make for the best presentation, but the dish itself is delicious. The tofu is silky and crisp and the mayo is creamy with decent heat and poppy bites of roe.

For our mains we decide to try Shigatsu’s sushi selection and order a variety of rolls. The first to arrive is the Yam Roll ($4.95). Rolled with black-and-white sesame seed studded rice, the resulting flavour is fresh and sweet.

Next is the Haru Fantasy ($11.95) from the house specials. Based on the price of this roll, I expect greatness and I’m happy to report I’m not disappointed. The core ingredients are smoked salmon, avocado, orange slices and roe. It’s then topped with scallop, shrimp, sweet mayo and green onions. It’s a fun roll to eat — bites vary from shrimp to scallop toppings with bursts of citrus along the way. My very minor criticism is that it is a little too creamy for my taste — I’ll ask them to tone it down a bit next time.

The same goes for the Spicy Tuna ($5.50). I love the roll but find it a little too creamy. Other than that, the fresh fish with cucumber and lettuce hits the spot.

Our last roll is the Negi Toro (tuna and green onion, $4.50). Like the others, the fish is great and the roll, in all its simple glory, is fantastic. I especially like the shredded fried yam served with this dish.

It’s also worth noting that Shigatsu is open for lunch. In an area starved for good sit-down lunch options, this is great news.

On our way out, my husband and I stop to have a look at Shigatsu’s colourful fish in a tank at the entrance. We ask our server how business has been thus far. She looks somewhat dismayed and replies, “People think we’re a massage parlour.”

I can assure you this is no Shiatsu clinic. I’m looking forward to seeing Shigatsu evolve. The kitchen team seems young, innovative and ready to offer new and unique takes on Japanese cuisine. That, and it’s only a 10-minute drive (20 by bike) from downtown.

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