The e-mail came on a random Tuesday. The subject line: “In search of the perfect peppered tuna.”
I knew immediately who it was from. Several months ago, our friends Dale and Pam, and Grace, Brett and their daughter, Paige, had invited us to join them for their regular Friday night outing at Ginza, a sushi bar in Evans. The owner, Mr. Sung, was a close friend of theirs, and we dined sumptuously that night on fresh pink salmon nigiri, classic sushi rolls, and our friends’ favorite, peppered tuna – ruby red fish, fanned in slices, each edged in cracked black pepper and lounging in a shimmery pool of sauce, both sweet and tart.
A few months later, Ginza closed because of family issues, and the search for a new sushi favorite commenced. We sampled locations across Augusta – both individually and together – and while many had great sushi and inventive entrees, none met Dale and Pam’s strict criteria.
Grace was undeterred. Several of us hadn’t tried Miyako on Washington Road, so we set a date for a Friday night get-together. Our friends Connie and Jake (and their infant daughter Sophie) would also join us.
In the Kroger shopping center near Augusta National, Miyako is easily visible, with its large signs announcing “Steak House,” “Sushi Bar” and “Lounge.” More signs promote Monday to Wednesday specials and a free hibachi dinner for birthday guys and gals (in groups of five or more).
The restaurant’s interior is divided into several dining areas – a large hibachi room, where dextrous chefs prepare meals in front of you, making vegetables dance along the blazing hot griddles and juggling fried shrimp; a bar, aglow with multicolored lights; and a dining room with tables, separated from the bar by a bamboo divider.
Our waitress seated our table of 10 in the dining room as soon as we all arrived (Dale had also made reservations).
The menu was enormous, with hibachi dishes, bento boxes, tempura, sushi and two pages of specialty rolls, plus other Japanese specialties. (We also noted lunch specials.)
Dale quickly pointed out Miyako’s version of peppered tuna, so that was one dish down. Sean left the rest to me (the other husbands mimicked him), so the ladies talked through the sushi options. Typically, as a couple, we order a few nigiri and two or three rolls.
(For the uninitiated, nigiri come two to an order, and are fat ovals of sushi rice, dabbed with spicy green wasabi and draped with a slice of fish or seafood, often raw. Rolls usually include rice and black-seaweed paper wrapped around seafood and other fillings.)
Once our food arrived and the plates began to bump against one another, we realized we had ordered way too much. Plus, the rolls were huge, two-bite pieces, compared to the one-bite pieces we were used to.
The Pink Lady roll got Sean a lot of ribbing from the guys. Prettily displayed, each teardrop-shaped slice was wrapped in a delicate pink soybean paper, but stuffed fat with salmon, tuna, crab, eel, avocado and seaweed salad, drizzled with a rich sauce of Japanese mayonnaise, miso, wasabi and eel sauce. It was heavy and unctuous, with many flavors.
We also sampled the Red Blossom roll, a California-type cooked roll topped with a mound of lobster salad and served with eel sauce. The lobster salad had a slightly crisp exterior, as though it had been briefly broiled, and added richness to a typically light roll.
Our final selection, the Crouching Tiger roll, was spicy tuna draped in a variety of fish, and drizzled again with rich sauce.
I order the raw salmon nigiri every time I’m at a sushi bar, and it’s very easy to know whether it’s good: It’s either fresh or it isn’t. If it’s fresh, it’s oily and buttery, perfectly set off with the tang from the vinegary sushi rice and the touch of wasabi. Miyako’s was some of the freshest I’ve ever tasted. White tuna, and red surf clam (which Sean proclaimed as some of the best he’s ever had), rounded out our choices.
And the peppered tuna? It was an incredibly fresh, deep red. Heavy with cracked pepper, with a light soy-based sauce, it came with a swirl of shredded, pickled radish and carrots. We all excitedly took bites and compared. The sauce didn’t have the depth of Ginza’s, which made the fish seem a bit flat and too peppery at the same time. But, I discovered that if you ate a bite of it with the pickled vegetables, it perked up the flavor of the fish.
We left, more full than anyone had a right to be on a few bites of rice and fish. As for the peppered tuna, the search continues, but we’ll definitely enjoy the journey.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Miyako Hibachi, Sushi & Steak House, 2801 Washington Road
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
SECOND HELPING: (706) 755-2338