Roll 'Er Derby, Part 2: Ian's sushi quest continues in Clayton and the Central West End

There's at least one upside to reviewing four sushi restaurants in three weeks (besides, that is, the nagging fear that my body contains more mercury than a barometer): I can now understand why the bluefin tuna is critically endangered.

I'd already eaten more than my share of bluefin tuna during the first half of this month's sushi expedition ("Roll 'Er Derby," October 9, 2008). But things spiraled out of control at Tani Sushi Bistro. Here I ate so much candy-pink maguro and dusky purple toro that even today I feel hung-over. It's an imaginary hangover, of course, but no less painful for that.

Tani opened in July at the Clayton address last occupied by Candicci's Italian restaurant. The space is longer than it is wide, with the sushi bar and bar tables in the front half and the dining room in the back. Both rooms have a laid-back lounge vibe, the bar very dark, the dining room brighter, with cushy banquettes. The service is friendly and efficient — a step above the usual new-restaurant hiccups.

Tani's Jessica Ho and the Oh My God roll.
Jennifer Silverberg
Tani's Jessica Ho and the Oh My God roll.

Location Info


Tani Sushi Bistro

16 S. Bemiston Ave.
Clayton, MO 63105

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Clayton

Tani Sushi Bistro
16 South Bemiston Avenue, Clayton; 314-727-8264.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Dinner 4:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 4:30-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. (Closed Sun.)
4949 West Pine Boulevard; 314-367-2020.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun.

The restaurant is owned by executive chef Jenny Eun Kyung Heckman and her husband, Eric Heckman. The menu features the expected selection of nigiri sushi, sashimi and rolls both familiar and unique, as well as a few appetizers and non-sushi entrées.

While I can be swayed by a unusually tasty roll, I tend to judge a sushi restaurant by its nigiri sushi, so on my first visit to Tani I ordered a selection of individual nigiri sushi. And, because I couldn't resist the name, the "Memoirs of a Geisha" roll.

First, I enjoyed a bowl of miso soup: rich, fragrant, not too salty. If nothing else, this month's sushi expedition has shown me that though miso soup will rarely knock your socks off, it's an underrated pleasure.

Then my sushi arrived, the precisely sliced fish arranged across an oblong plate: maguro, salmon, red snapper, hamachi. There was an additional piece, which I hadn't ordered; its shade of purple looked an awful lot like toro's. My server explained that this was bluefin tuna, a treat from the chef. I was grateful, if somewhat confused. Both maguro and toro come from the bluefin tuna; toro, which is further subdivided into chutoro and otoro, is the much sought-after fatty belly meat.

Later, I spoke with Eric Heckman by phone, and he explained that what the menu calls "bluefin tuna" is a better cut than maguro, but not quite as good as toro. This much was obvious during my lunch: The maguro and the other nigiri sushi I'd ordered were very good. The texture was supple, the rice was well seasoned and packed neither too loosely nor too tightly, and the wasabi was a hint rather than a bludgeon. But the bluefin tuna had that extra something — in this case, an especially buttery texture — that elevates a piece of sushi beyond "very good."

The "Memoirs of a Geisha" was impressive to behold. The roll is plump with tempura-fried soft-shell crab, and the pieces are topped with alternating colors of tobiko roe. Though it looked as though there was a lot happening with this roll, the delicate flavor of soft-shell crab shone through, with a definite edge of heat. Cream cheese, the bane of many a bland sushi roll, here provided a contrasting texture to the crunchy crab.

On my return visit, I tried two other rolls. Like the Geisha roll, the cucumber roulade had a striking presentation: a spiral slice of cucumber wrapped around cream cheese and salmon. The flavor didn't quite match the appearance, however, with each element competing to be the most mild. A traditional futomaki was more indulgent, pairing the sweetness of Japanese melon with the uncommon addition of sweet, savory crab meat.

Not yet knowing how the bluefin tuna compared to toro, I wanted to try them side by side. There was no bluefin tuna, our server explained as she set down our order, but the restaurant had just received fresh toro, so the chef had given us four pieces for the cost of two pieces of toro and two of the bluefin. A treat, especially as each piece of melt-in-your-mouth toro had a spike of flavor from a little sesame oil and two commas of chopped scallion.

I can still taste and feel that toro now. The memory might have to last me a while.

Kampai isn't a new sushi restaurant so much as a reinvention of the fairly well-known Sansui. This restaurant had two locations, the original on the ground floor of the Del Coronado building in the Central West End and a second location on Manchester Road in Rock Hill. The second location is now the home of Sansui's founder. The employees of the original Sansui bought the restaurant earlier this year and gave it a new name.

Regulars at the old Sansui might notice some cosmetic changes, but the restaurant looks more or less the same. The sushi bar occupies the center of the space. A bar is tucked into a corner to the right as you enter; tables and a few booths sit in front of and to the left of the bar.

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