The Sushi Men

 

Sometimes fantastic food finds lurk in less-than-appetizing locales. And that's certainly true in the case of the newly opened Fish Market Sushi Bar (170 Brighton Avenue, Allston, 617.783.1268), a perfect cucumber-green snip of a modern sushi bar hiding in plain sight in the middle of a so-so block on Brighton Avenue. Honestly, I hate to tell you about it - it's that good. In fact, its Avocado Ball may be the most crave-able dish of 2010.

But the story behind Fish Market is just as enticing: two kids from Hong Kong meet up at Atlantic Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts. The friendship is instant, a natural pairing like peanut butter and jelly - or wasabi and fresh ginger. One of them, Kin Chan, was born to be a chef. He is the son of a chef, the nephew of five chefs, the grandson of chefs. His partner and BFF is Jackie Poon. Cooking runs in Poon's blood too, through his maternal DNA, but he is a chef more by association and best buddy-ship than by absolute destiny. Chan's path, on the other hand, is pre-ordained. At 16, knowing little English, Chan gets his first part-time job, working the deli line at a Star Market in Quincy. Poon comes too. Then Chan gets a second part-time job, this time at a restaurant, and Poon comes with again. By the time they've entered college at UMass Boston, the two have tag-teamed in restaurants from Quincy to Peabody and eaten at practically every sushi restaurant from New York to Boston. College isn't half as exciting as they'd hoped, especially when compared to the food world. By now, Chan has become a sushi master (although he advises that the correct term is "sushi man"), and Poon has mastered front-of-the-house charm, as well as teriyaki, teppanyaki, and tempura. (He likes French cooking, too.)

One night, the two best buds, now a shade over 20 years old, go to Oishii in Brookline, arguably the best sushi restaurant in town at the time. It's 9:30 p.m., closing time. The head chef turns to Chan, flicks his eyes up from the counter, and says, "Do you want to work here?" Chan is surprised. "Why me?" Chan recalls the chef's answer: "I see hundreds of people every day, and I know you can do the job. I see your passion." Two weeks later, Chan is working for Oishii. Poon comes too. After four years of apprenticeship, Chan is ready to craft his own dishes, and he has enough money saved for a modest venture. And of course, Poon is in, preparing cooked dishes and handling front-of-the-house and administrative matters. The itch to open a place of their own was as natural as their friendship.

Chan has a lust for fish, not to mention freshness, presentation, precision, and experimentation. It's mesmerizing to sit at one of the seven seats at the sushi bar as he composes each order. A rose-pink slice of tuna, a soupçon of black truffle butter, one nano-second with a blowtorch (just enough to liquefy the butter but not enough to cook the fish), and a sprinkle of tobiko - the exactitude is gorgeous. And that's one of the easy pieces to describe. I can't begin to deconstruct the Flaming Maki, though I watched its construction like a hungry hawk. Fish Market is sushi without the hype (and, alas, as of now, without the alcohol, though you can bring your own). It's the intimate sushi experience, the communion of chef and fish that brought me to sushi in the first place. Just say "Omakase" - chef's choice in Japanese - and let the Sushi Man seduce you.

- Louisa Kasdon
Louisa Kasdon can be reached at louisa@louisakasdon.com.