Truckee’s MakiAli sushi spot gets a new owner and a fresh menu
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
If you go
Where:11357 Donner Pass Road, Truckee
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Service: Fun, friendly and knowledgeable
Atmosphere: Laid-back and social
Drinks: Finely selected beers, sake and wine.
Bonus: Look for the food truck at community events, lunch and happy hour specials
MakiAli is not just Java Sushi with a new name on the front. MakiAli is a new restaurant with a fresh vibe, and owner Alison “Ali” Fry is just getting started.
The restaurant serves, but doesn’t stop at, fresh, fantastic sushi. It’s also an izakaya, or Japanese pub. Izakayas are casual and present a slow, shared style of dining and drinking similar to Spanish tapas. Izakayas are popping up in larger cities like Sacramento and San Francisco, and the laid-back, social gathering places are catching on in every crowd.
MakiAli reflects this atmosphere, and the customers who have already discovered it are making it a regular stop. The music is mellow, the laughter is frequent and everyone stops to complement the chefs.
You may already know chefs Shane and Pete. Shane worked at Java Sushi several years ago, and he was the first person Ali sought out when she bought the location. Shane, who has been in the kitchen for 16 years and slicing sushi for nine, is happy to be back creating unique plates for both the trepidatious and the daring.
Pete recently returned from a culinary foray in Seattle kitchens after getting some serious training at PlumpJack. He excels with sharp knives and a stellar personality at the sushi bar, but what he’s creating in the back kitchen will leave you dreaming for weeks.
At the sushi bar they’re serving fish up raw, fried and torched, spicy, sweet, crunchy and with a touch of umami. All of the classics like tuna, sake salmo, and fish roe can be ordered as simple, clean nigiri or in creatively imagined sashimi, hand rolls, maki or bites. Whatever you decide, you’ll take the time to savor each mouthful.
Distinct spices, floral and fruit flavors are assertive, yet balance one another so each flavor peaks at its own time. Add an adult beverage from the carefully curated menu, and the effect is delectable. A perfect example is the hamachi sashimi with serranos and ponzu sauce with citrus and ginger notes that are perfectly complemented with the light and floral Ginjo Premium sake.
For the maki and hand rolls, there are the staple rainbows and caterpillars, but there are also a number of MakiAli’s own including ingredients like roasted garlic, pickled veggies and kaiware sprouts. Vegetarians will be especially pleased with the numerous intricate and diverse options to satiate their Asian food cravings.
The izakaya bites are fresh fish wrapped around rice and dressed up with something special like spicy scallops or crystal shrimp. They’re served in pairs and highlight the play of complex flavors and forward thinking that Shane and Pete are mastering.
Their expertise and inventiveness also come out in MakiAli’s sauces and specialty items, like the blackened ahi. The ahi ruby rare is boldly spiced and seared with a result that is just as meaty and pleasing as a dry-rubbed, porterhouse steak. Order the sashimi and leave it naked.
As for the sauces, they’re lovingly and patiently made in house. The tsume sauce, for example, simmers for two days with hamachi bone, green onion, sake, pineapple, garlic, soy sauce and more. The lemongrass broth takes 12 hours.
Which brings us to the other side of the menu. MakiAli has added bowls to their repertoire, and even if they weren’t affordable (at under $11) and even if you did love raw fish, they’d still lure you over to the cooked side.
The lemongrass shrimp and rice noodles are umami-licious. For the coconut milk-based broth, Pete has utilized his French culinary techniques, substituted wine for sake and thrown in fresh, flavorful herbs and spices. When you order it he heads back to the kitchen and tosses the shrimp, vegetables, noodles and broth into a 20-pound, cast-iron wok. The result is salivary heaven. The shrimp is so tender that it actually falls apart before melting on your tongue.
While the menu is extensive (and this article doesn’t even begin to touch on the salads, shared plates and starters), don’t be afraid to give your meal over to the impeccable visions of the men behind the sushi bar.
For dessert Ali recommends the Fresh Orange to cleanse your pallet. If serious indulgence is more your style, try the Curious George with coconut ice cream and bruleed bananas.
If it’s slow and you’re feeling a bit wild, quietly ask about the Culture Shock for dessert. It’s a game changer.
Ashley A. Cooper is a freelance writer residing in Truckee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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