If you’re going to dinner at Mint Sushi, plan on venturing beyond the California Roll.
OK, if you insist on the familiar, California rolls and other basics are still on the menu, but Mint Sushi, owned by sushi chef Batsaikhan Ariunbold (aka Chef Soy) rewards those willing to try something new. In fact, the restaurant’s specialty is not rolls at all—it’s an always-evolving menu of flavorful, unexpected seafood-forward tapas.
Chef Soy began his Utah career at the now-closed Rice Basil and started a couple of other sushi restaurants before opening the first Mint Sushi location in Sandy. From the beginning, Chef Soy wanted to expand the palettes of Utahns, which—no offense—he calls “bland.” “I wanted to bring in a new thing, so that’s when I started doing tapas,” he says. The menu of small plates and established classics caters to both “YOLO people”—Chef Soy’s term for more adventurous eaters—and those who’d prefer to stick to the standards.
Now, Mint has expanded to three locations in Salt Lake County. At his restaurant in Cottonwood Heights, Chef Soy prepares a weekly 10-course tasting menu of tapas for $70 a person. He changes the dishes every week, and the most successful small plates earn a permanent spot on the menu. At the tasting event I attended, highlights included hamachi with a spicy jalapeño sauce, a refreshing walu ceviche served with apple and green onion and, for dessert, a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream.
Chef Soy hopes to keep growing Mint Sushi. His third location, in Holladay, opened earlier this year, and he hopes to add a brunch menu and open more restaurants in the coming months. The sushi-making classes, though, will continue. Chef Soy has been giving Utahns a sushi education for almost a decade now, and though he admits teaching was not his favorite at first, he’s grown to appreciate it. “I really love teaching now,” he says. “It’s really fun.” Here are some basics to know before you start making your own sushi at home:
What’s in Wasabi?
While the spice of wasabi gives a necessary kick to many sushi rolls, the plant was not originally used for flavor at all. According to Chef Soy, the Japanese used wasabi wrapped with seaweed to kill bacteria in uncooked fish. The wasabi plant is in the same family as horseradish—the two are so closely related, in fact, that most of the time the wasabi you’re eating is actually a combination of horseradish and mustard. Chef Soy, though, evangelizes for “real wasabi,” which is more similar to relish. (This version of wasabi should dissolve immediately when mixed in soy sauce.) Side by side with the paste often served at sushi restaurants, you can tell the major difference: the relish has a sweeter, more delicate flavor that compliments the seafood beautifully. The next time you order sushi, ask your waiter to bring some of the real stuff.
Keep it Fresh
Quality ingredients are the essential foundation of any successful sushi dish. For ginger, look for the white root and avoid pink. Seaweed, called “nori” in Japanese, is the foundation of your roll. Buy it roasted, which is thicker, harder and has a better flavor. The most important part of your sushi is the fish. Your best bet is to avoid the supermarket entirely—even high-end grocery stores may have seafood sitting on ice for days or weeks before you purchase it. Soy recommends the downtown market Aquarius Fish, but whatever you do, look for sushi-grade fish and try to find the freshest product available.
Know What to Make at Home (And What to Buy)
Chef Soy’s eel sauce, a reduction of eel, soy sauce, sugar, fruits and veggies, takes eight hours to make. He wisely advises aspiring home sushi chefs to skip the process and buy sauce from their favorite sushi restaurant. Spicy mayo, another common sushi companion, is much easier to make on your own. Just combine one part sriracha and two parts mayonnaise, mix and serve.
Get Ready to Eat
Chef Soy says that Americans tend to drown sushi in soy sauce, overwhelming the food’s delicate, complex flavors. Try just dipping the end—and remember, most sauces you serve with sushi will already have soy. Well-balanced sushi features a combination of fat, acid and salt. For the perfect bite, combine avocado, ginger, just a bit of soy and enjoy.
Making a Hand Roll
In the class, Chef Soy teaches the step-by-step process of a few basic dishes—a shrimp tempura hand roll, salmon nigiri and a citrus roll. The hand roll, which is the easiest to make, only has a few ingredients and steps.
1. Even if you’re wearing gloves, coat your hands with a drop of sesame oil before preparing sushi. This prevents the rice from sticking to your hands.
2. Start with the seaweed laying flat, rough side up.
3. Form a golf ball-sized clump of rice and flatten it on the left side of the seaweed. Smear one grain of the rice on the opposite corner. This will act as an adhesive.
4. Quarter an avocado, peel and make small slices from the bottom of the section.
5. Lay tempura shrimp and avocado slices at an angle on the rice.
6. Fold the top left corner of the seaweed to the bottom right and roll like an ice cream cone.
Visit Mint Sushi
8391 S. 700 East, Sandy
3158 E. 6200 South,
4640 S. Holladay Village Plaza, Holladay
See more stories like this and all of our food and drink coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah.