You may have heard all the fanfare surrounding Royal Sushi & Izakaya. It may be the three bells from Craig La Ban. Or perhaps it's all the talk about the heavenly late-night chirashi bowls served when city's chefs tend to get off work. Regardless, when the GF was out of town at a conference, I knew I had to pop on by Queen Village to finally check it out. I'm so glad I did because the praise is well-deserved.
Look for the red lantern and head through the door. You'll be treated to a dark izakaya where you'll find regulars and first-timers alike exchanging knowing looks - 'we've arrived and plan on staying for awhile.' I was there for one of two nightly omakase seatings so was led straight to the back room. The curtain was pulled back and I stepped into the quiet of Royal Sushi, where Chef Jesse Ito awaited.
Chef Ito is the son of Masaharu Ito, the venerable sushi chef at Fuji in Haddonfield, NJ. He and his son recently sold Fuji and became partners here with Stephen Simons & David Frank (of Khyber Pass Pub, Cantina Los Caballitos, Royal Tavern, and Triangle Tavern). And as I watched Chef Ito in action, I couldn't help but understand and feel that the torch has been passed from father to son. But I digress ... let's get on with the food!
Kiku Masamune Taru [$14 | $20 | $62]
As I was dining solo, I opted for just a carafe of the Masamune. A dry sake with a wonderful "cedar aged" aroma, I enjoyed the subtly sweet smoothness that had a crisp, clean finish. I also appreciated that it didn't distract from the omakase.
I can count on one hand the number of sushi restaurants in Philly that are well-known for omakase, so I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't know what it was. Essentially a sushi chef's tasting menu, it may feature some creative dishes with a subsequent gauntlet of sushi. Often, it ends with the tamago, or sweet egg omelet or perhaps some seasonal fruit. At Royal Sushi, Chef Ito focuses on just the sushi, and to great effect. You can opt for a mini omakase at $65, but trust me, go with the regular omakase. In fact, when I dined on this particular night, the folks that opted for the mini omakase ultimately ended up regretting their misstep.
Omakase [$125 pp]
Chef's choice of 18 pieces
|Clockwise from Top Right: Nibe - Red Drum | Itoyori - Golden Threaded Bream | Ishidai - Striped Beak Bream | |
Madai - Sea Bream | Kinmedai - Golden Eye Snapper | Kinki - Scorpion Fish
Chef Ito started off with a progression of bream and snapper sourced almost exclusively Japan. First off, the sushi rice is perfect. Individual grains are discernible, with just enough warmth and vinegar to complement the fish. Clean, sweet, with a wonderful texture, madai is an especially easy first step for the uninitiated to enjoy omakase. Without getting all Fifty Shades on you, Kinki had to be my favorite - possibly of the night. Extremely tender and fatty, I appreciated the light torch. This rendered a texture and taste I would liken to filet and ribeye, respectively. Almost ineffable, my recommendation is to order it if it's available and not part of your omakase.
|Clockwise from Top Right: Buri Toro - Yellowtail Belly | Shima Aji - Striped Jack | Aji - Horse Mackerel | |
Sayori - Needle Fish | Kohada - Gizzard Shad | Saba - Japanese Mackerel
From the lighter fare, Chef Ito moved on to a flavorful progression of amberjack as well as shinier and thus, oilier fish. As expected, the yellowtail belly was luscious, fatty, and delicious, with a wonderful mouthfeel. Sayori was dense, firm, yet clean and I loved the fry on the spine and tail - crisp and briny. Kohada's always a favorite - lightly cured in salt, with great chew. Saba was a standout with its mackerel essence shining through, but complemented by pairing of sesame oil and the bite of the green onion to cut through the richness.
|Clockwise from Top Right: | Aburi Sake - Torched Ora King Salmon | Akami - Bluefin Tuna | Chutoro - Medium Fatty Belly Otoro - Super Fatty Belly | Mirugai - Geoduck | Uni - Sea Urchin|
I often equate omakase to a symphony, with a crescendo leading to luxury. For those with my porcine predilection, you won't be disappointed by the torched king salmon, which renders the fat positively dripping off the nigiri. The trio of tuna always starts with akami, which is what one usually equates with most tuna rolls or nigiri you'd find at standard sushi joints. But of course here, you've got the quality of bluefin. From there, you'll experience my favorite, the chutoro or medium fatty belly, which is luscious, but still has some texture. Otoro is gilding the lily, with the Chef defty scoring and lightly torching to render some of the richness. Mirugai is phallically fabulous (look it up!), with great crunchy texture and lightness after all of the richness. And uni provides that satisfyingly sweet and creamy cleanse before the next masterpiece.
|Live Scallop with Truffle & Gold|
For my final bite and just cut from the shell, the scallop was tender and sweet, with the black truffle providing a rich earthiness. Definitely one of the best bites of the night for obvious reasons and clearly reason #1 you should be going for the full-on omakase.
|Hotate + Uni - Scallop + Sea Urchin [$12]|
At this point, you could sense the Chef relax and he casually asked if I was still hungry and wanted any additional bites. I couldn't help but want some more of that sweet scallop, but this time paired with the sweet, briny essence of the uni.
Beyond Chef Ito himself, who was engaging and clearly aware of your tastes and inquisitive about any dislikes, service was exceptional. My server Chrissie was always available, but never hovering. I definitely need to stop by the Izakaya for some late night eats as well as the chirashi bowl, which I assume features the "leftover" cuts of the fine fish served at Royal Sushi. Better yet, I need to bring back the GF to Royal Sushi so I have another excuse to experience Chef Ito's omakase once more.
Royal Sushi & Izakaya
780 S. 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147