Creativity and quality rolled up tight at Tahoe’s Sushi Pier
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
If you go
What: Sushi Pier
Where: 177 Lake Tahoe Blvd., Stateline
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 :30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Service: Personable, fun, quick
Price: $$, All-you-can-eat: lunch $19.95, dinner $26.95
The hours slug by. The punishing work day interrupted only by the sunshiney whispers of biking, hiking and river floats. It’s midweek and the light at labor’s end doesn’t even throw a ray of hope your way. This month’s rent check looks an awful lot like next week’s plane ticket to a Central American beach. You silently curse the archaic notion of a five-day work week that can somehow transform life in paradise into a regular old inferno.
Once the boss cuts you loose and you put your big-kid pants on, spirits take off once again. You tear up a trail, your best pawed pal a blur in the woods beside you. You remember your extraordinary existence and pity the suckers back from wherever you left behind. You’re high on endorphins when your pocket chimes an invitation to keep the good times rolling.
Soon, you’re sipping a cold Fresh Squeezed on the patio of Sushi Pier. The sun sets over glorious Lake Tahoe and throws its glow over quaking aspens and the friends around you. Harmony has been reestablished.
You aren’t the only ones who’ve been struck with the notion of gathering around the sushi bar, and that’s OK. After a half hour’s wait, seated in front of golf balls of wasabi and sweating carafes of house unfiltered sake, you crack open your chopsticks. Your chef tonight, Damon Hannum, has been with Sushi Pier the whole six years it’s been open. Though you could easily eat your fill for the $26.95, you let Damon spin as he pleases.
You start with the Moondog Stars; crab rangoon’s wild, promiscuous cousin with shrimp, crab, scallops and cream cheese. You’re barely through them when the baked mussels arrive. It’s not what’s in them that’s special, it’s the fact they’re cooked perfectly — tender instead of rubbery, large instead of shriveled.
Conversation and good vibes fill the modestly dressed restaurant. Simple light fixtures gently warm the dark wood and newly painted walls. The decor doesn’t need to scream because when the quality of the fish and the creativity of the menu speak, the clientele listens. This has been the Kim sisters’ approach to their sushi restaurants since the beginning. In the nineties, the three sisters took their family’s experience with other Reno restaurants and rolled with it to create Sushi Bar, Bamboo Garden, two Reno Sushi Piers and the Sushi Pier at Tahoe’s South Shore.
“Sushi” means vinegar rice, and you should want to it eat at whatever sushi place you frequent, but you often don’t. At Sushi Pier, though, the menacing threat Mr. Kim delivers on the back of the menu to “Eat all your Rice!” is unnecessary, the sticky grains are full of delight and flavor.
The nigiri sits pretty with generous slices of fresh raw fish. The hamachi (yellowtail) is thick and meaty, and the salmon practically dissolves like butter on your tongue.
The Sexy Beast hand roll is wrapped with yellow soy paper and has spicy fatty tuna, creamy avocado, tempura bell pepper, sweet potato and zucchini all the way to the cone’s tip. Next Damon delivers cooked scallops, seared on the outside, tenderly melting on the inside with seaweed pinching their centers and green onion sprinkled on top. To wash that down: a round of sweet and smooth oyster shooters.
Then the best thing that can happen in a restaurant happens to you. You try something you’ve never had before — the grilled hamachi cheek — and it blows your taste buds straight to Samadhi. At first, you politely and daintily pull the rich meat with your fork and savor each small bite. Soon though, your fingers are digging out every last oily yellowtail nugget to leave the bone all but licked clean.
The dinner rolls are massive, and Damon takes a torch to your “Sweet Spot” before dropping crunchy goodness all over the top. Though you didn’t look at the menu, any mildly adventurous person would be happy with the choices: Udon noodles, tempura plates, teriyaki chicken, beef and shrimp alongside sashimi plates. The experience itself is one of joie de vivre, but, you know, in Japanese.
As you push back from the sushi bar to take a deep breath, the Happy Ending arrives: a split tempura banana with whipped cream and fresh strawberry compote. Yeah, you’re happy. How could you not be? You’re in paradise.
Ashley A. Cooper is a freelance writer residing in Truckee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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