Four years ago, Nakama Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar opened on the corner of 17th and East Carson St. in the South Side. This past year, Pittsburgh Magazine named it the Best Overall Restaurant. How did the folks behind Nakama accomplish such a meteoric rise?
I don't know, since I'm just a food critic and not a businessman. But I do know that they serve some delectable sushi and impressive hibachi in one of the hippest joints in Pittsburgh.
It must be hip anyway, because it's always full. Crowds swelled outside the doors as my companion and I approached, and we feared we were in for a long wait. The hostess informed us that, although the hibachi tables were full, we could sit at the sushi bar immediately. Fantastic. We didn't want a hibachi spectacle anyway. (Note: if you are in the mood for a hibachi spectacle, they accept reservations on their website.)
As we pondered the enticing sushi menu, we noted the trendy exposed pipes and floating lamps. Every line in the building flowed horizontally, except for the glowing red lamps. The overall lighting level was low, and most of the surfaces were black, which gave me the impression that I was in New York City mingling with rich professionals or influential music executives or whoever it is that hangs out in hip New York City restaurants. It's a nice change from… well, Eat'n'Park.
We split the sashimi starter and the Nakama and Caterpillar rolls. The sashimi was the least exciting: two slices each of raw salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and snapper. I'm no raw fish connoisseur, but I found it neither the best nor the worst sashimi I've ever had. The yellowtail was particularly flavorful; the snapper somewhat less so.
The Nakama Maki Roll turned out to be a fine choice. Spicy tuna, crabstick, cucumber, avocado, and masago combined to make a salty and sweet roll worth naming a restaurant after. The Caterpillar Roll dazzled us. "Eel and cucumber topped with avocado" didn't sound like much, and we wondered where the name came from. Surprise: the roll looks like a caterpillar! The avocado with the sauce they drizzled along the top made it sweet, but not too sweet. Maybe it was just the presentation, but I thought it was the best thing I'd tasted in a long time.
The prices are reasonable, too! While most hibachi dinners cost between $20 and $30, a couple of them fall in the $15-20 range, and sushi rolls cost between $4 and $14. So it might be a bit of a splurge on a student budget, but this is the "best overall restaurant" in Pittsburgh we're talking about here. So if you're tired of sushi from the UC, or if you're in the mood for shrimp flipped into your mouth and a flaming onion volcano, try Nakama!
Restaurant type: Japanese sushi and hibachi
How to get there: Take a 54C or 59U to the South Side. It's on the corner of 17th St. and East Carson st.
Price for an entrée: $15-30
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