Michiru Sushi Does "Crazy" in a Delicious Way
See more sushi creations and get a look behind the scenes in our slideshow.
Michiru Sushi is not the kind of place you go when you're craving a California roll and a bowl of miso soup. Looking over the restaurant's menu, you might not even notice the list of common sushi rolls that includes spicy tuna or Philadelphia. You probably won't register the teriyaki, curry or pad thai, either.
You'll be too busy ogling the culinary masterpieces traipsing out of the kitchen to spend too much time with your nose in the thick, extensive menu. As a waiter sets down an appetizer that resembles a colorful bird's nest or a little pink purse of a tuna dumpling at the table next to you, you'll be tempted to bust out the When Harry Met Sally ordering tactic: "I'll have what she's having."
The descriptions in the menu don't do justice to the complexity and beauty of the sushi rolls that are the stars of Michiru's daily show. From the moment I sat down for dinner, servers glided past me with plates of food that more closely resembled sculptures than anything you might find in a produce bin. It was a graceful ballet of plates bearing colorful modern artwork being lifted above diners' heads, then gently alighting before captivated and hungry diners.
The Ocean Nest appetizer indeed looks like a nest; it's composed of brightly colored strips of mango, cucumber, and raw tuna and salmon beneath a halo of crispy fried onions. An uni shooter is presented in a small glass, the different elements (uni, green onions, soy sauce, sake) layered to produce the effect of a sand painting or terrarium. And then, in a blink, they're gone, down the hatch, with only the savory, buttery essence of the uni and a hint of acid lingering on your tongue.
As magnificent as most of the appetizers at Michiru are in form and function, the sushi rolls, while intricate and beautiful, left something to be desired — something crunchy or bright or unexpected. After the dizzying array of colors and flavors that sent my friends and me into a state of bliss early on in the meal, the dishes grew progressively less interesting. They still resembled miniature culinary works of art, but textures muddled together and the flavors ceased to surprise or delight.
In a town rich with stellar Japanese restaurants, such as Kata Robata, the nationally recognized Uchi or even Soma, it can be difficult for a smaller and newer operation to set itself apart or rise above the rest. Michiru is getting there, thanks to the creativity and thought that go into each of the dishes, as well as its great prices. But it's not there yet.
The upscale Greenway Plaza strip center off 59 across from the constant hubbub that is the Lakewood megachurch is not where you'd expect to find the glamorous dining room or quality seafood of Michiru. This location opened about a year ago, and the owners have another location in Webster, which uses the same menu but has a slightly more casual atmosphere.
Not that Michiru is decidedly un-casual. During a lunch visit I sat at the bar next to two women in surgical scrubs enjoying a break from work at the nearby Methodist Emergency Care Center; on another occasion I noticed several couples dressed as if they were going on a hike rather than enjoying dinner in a smart, trendy restaurant. No one was out of place, but something about the alternately modish and zen design aesthetic, the chic blue lighting at the bar and the many stylish water features invites people to get a little gussied up for a fancy meal.
An air of sophistication permeates the restaurant's dining room and wraps around to the bar, which boasts 20 cold sakes and one warm sake, heated in a special machine that, the staff tells me, costs around $2,000. At the equally swanky sushi counter, dexterous chefs are constantly at work chopping, fileting and rolling some of the loveliest Asian cuisine in town. Seafood is delivered to that counter from all over the world every other day, then immediately incorporated into a regular menu item or prepared with a creative twist and added to the list of daily specials.
I encountered live scallops on one visit — though, as the server pointed out, they aren't alive when you eat them. Another dinner featured fresh uni, which our lively server produced seemingly out of thin air, because I couldn't find it on either the regular menu or the special list. It was some of the best uni I've ever tasted.
Helpful suggestions like these from the servers are part of what makes dining at Michiru so entertaining, though I've heard from a few sources that not all the wait staff are as knowledgeable as the gentleman who suggested my table try geoduck, another off-menu special. I highly recommend asking for whatever seems fun and exciting the day that you dine and seeing what your waiter and the talented chefs devise.
Where good intentions seem to go slightly awry, however, is with the signature sushi rolls. Don't get me wrong: The fish is impeccable. The rice has the perfect chewy give and is correctly served at body temperature. The plating creates design masterpieces that could be pulled off of the walls of any contemporary art museum. It's the flavors and the textures (or lack thereof) that don't quite elevate the rolls beyond beautiful to utterly delicious.
They're satisfying, sure, in the way that a familiar California roll can be satisfying, but none of the rolls made me sit back, close my eyes and sigh in contentment. My dining companions described the Spicy Girl and Michiru rolls as mushy, even though the Michiru contains tempura and the Spicy Girl involves "crunch," which I believe is simply bits of fried tempura batter. The Triton roll, an off-menu special that is often available, consists of avocado, spicy kampachi (yellowtail) and blue marlin wrapped in rice, then topped with thin slivers of jalapeño and scallops. It was a definite improvement on the other rolls I tasted at Michiru, thanks in large part to the divine (and difficult to come by) blue marlin, but it was still lacking the complexity I crave from carefully devised sushi.
Finally, on one visit, I arrived at the Red Dragon roll. Admittedly, I ordered it because I had seen photos of it online, and I wanted a cute little sushi dragon of my own to gobble up. I've heard that the chef who opened Michiru and invented the roll is no longer at the restaurant, but whoever has taken over appears to have maintained the integrity of the dish, which is arranged with carefully sliced lemon and radish garnishes to resemble a traditional Chinese dragon (the lemon being the head and the roll the twisting body). The inside of the roll contains spicy tuna and that ubiquitous crunch, while the outside is draped in thin avocado slices, peppered tuna, a generous sprinkling of crunch and a smattering of scarlet-red tobiko (flying fish roe).
Of all the rolls I tried, this one was both the most adorable (it's a freaking dragon!) and the most balanced and interesting, and I found myself surprised and enchanted by the crunch of the tempura, the peppery spice of the tuna, the pop of the salty tobiko and the smooth finish of the ripe green avocado.
It's clear the ingredients in every roll are of the highest quality, but with the exception of several outstanding dishes — especially the Spicy Tuna Tartare and the Rainbow Salad of fresh-as-can-be sashimi with seaweed and spicy sauce in a bowl made of ice — something gets lost in translation between the whole fresh fish and the sushi that ends up on the plate. Fortunately, for me at least, Michiru more than makes up for a few disappointing rolls with the inventive plating, exquisite appetizers and servers so eager to please that they'll bring out creatures that aren't even on the menu.
It's almost too easy to order too much food at most Japanese restaurants, where roll after roll of sushi appears easily vanquished until, suddenly, you realize you cannot eat another bite. Michiru is no different. In fact, it might be even easier to order far too much at Michiru, because the prices are so fair and the sheer array of seafood makes you throw caution and calories to the wind in favor of trying everything.
Even the smaller lunchtime portions, such as the traditional bento box (about the size of a Styrofoam to-go container when ordered in Asia, but here as large as a cafeteria tray), could feed more than one person for an absurdly small amount of money. If you're looking for a seafood smorgasbord in which every dish is Instagram-worthy, Michiru is most definitely the place for you.
'I've had better sushi, but damn," my dining companion announced on the drive home after one evening meal. "That was a lot of crazy food."
My friend was right: Michiru does make crazy food, and a lot of it. Rather than attracting diners with perfectly prepared sashimi that allows the fish to speak for itself, the chefs have a little fun with everything they put out. I can imagine them, hidden away in the kitchen or connecting with the crowd from behind the sushi bar, knives in hand, mental wheels turning, dreaming up new ways to paint with sauce or sculpt with fish for the nightly spectacle that is dinner.
Michiru is certainly no Uchi, and it's no Kata Robata, and though it might do until MF Sushi reopens (God willing), it's no MF, either. Still, I'm bound to choose Michiru over most other sushi places in town because I know it's such a good value and because I love that it's doing its own funky thing with artistic sushi rolls, even if they don't always live up to expectations. And though some items can be hit or miss, I know the quality of ingredients and imagination behind every dish will never cease to tickle me just as pink as those phenomenal little tuna dumplings.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.