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    Categories: Eat & Drink

Dining Guide: Do-over Naked Fish becomes Ikigai

A reason to eat.

Yes. We will all miss the sushi. When restaurateur Johnny Kwon made the decision to shutter Naked Fish as a sushi bar, his wife Casey grieved along with the rest of us. But we all have to face Kwon’s re-concepting—there is no more Naked Fish. Now there is IKIGAI. It’s not a euphonious word, and has an unfortunate phonetic parallel in English, but the meaning is clear, once you look it up. It’s roughly equivalent to the French “raison d’etre” or “reason for being.”

Kwon’s was not a popular decision, especially since Naked Fish already had a clear ikigai that included excellent sushi.

But Ikigai has a definite ikigai too. I could just sum it up by saying: ramen carbonara katsuobushi.

A big part of the new direction is Chef David Hoppes, who now owns a piece of Ikigai. Hoppes is from Utah, worked for Kwon years ago, then left for San Francisco where he worked at Saison, one of the most lauded and expensive restaurants in the much lauded and expensive Bay Area scene.

“I was planning on being here a short while to help my dad,” says Hoppes. “But then Johnny and I started talking and I got excited about sharing a lot of what I learned in San Francisco. Salt Lake can be a little insular—people stay here, or when they leave, they don’t come back. We have so much cool food here—foraging, local farmers, local meat.”

For example, Hoppes gets third-generation wagyu beef from Yarmony Ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “They sell three cows a week,” says Hoppes, who takes his cuts and covers them with koji rice (the inoculated rice used to make sake) for three days. The treatment has an effect similar to long aging—it pulls moisture out of the meat to concentrate the flavor and begins the protein breakdown that fosters umami. Contrary to the sushi wisdom that the freshest fish is the best fish, Hoppes also ages fresh fish in traditional Japanese hinoki cypress (naturally antimicrobial) boxes.

Obviously, everything Hoppes does is part of his striving for flavor—which brings us back to the ramen carbonara. “I melt a wad of butter very gently so it doesn’t break and add freshly grated katsuobushi. The butterfat holds the flavor. I cook the ramen al dente and toss it in the butter with an egg yolk cured in miso. In Japan, they age eggs until they are rock hard—mine are just cured a couple of hours and used to thicken the sauce. Then we grate fresh katsuobushi over it.”

The result is probably the most umami-packed dish in Utah—that’s ikigai.

67 W. 100 South, SLC, 801-595-8888

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