Opening last February in a tiny building on Wurzbach that has housed a number of businesses, most recently an auto inspection station, Yellowfish Sushi brother and sister owners Alex and Brenda Sarmiento have jumped in the swim with an urbane attitude and panache, delivering well-executed traditional and hybrid fare. Originally from Mexico City, the two got into the sushi biz at Sushi Zushi, and the influence shows from the spicy edamame to the use of fruit, cream cheese, and cooked fish in the rolls. But Yellowfish’s house style, which they call “Japamex,” adds welcome heat to some dishes and a bit of humor to the whole endeavor, a lightness enhanced by an interior done up in bright colors and sleek appointments.
Traditional hand rolls, rolled in cones with seaweed, are called Japanese tacos on the menu, which describes the Yellowfish “sushiology.” (Sushi chefs are of course, sushiologists.) But the fun is tempered with care for incredibly fresh ingredients — no fishy smells were discerned from the sashimi — joined with a concern for the environment. Chopsticks are reusable plastic utensils, rather than the usual throw-away wood variety, and the fish are carefully chosen, too. While uni, sea urchin, is a fashionable ingredient this season at New York restaurants, you won’t find it at Yellowfish, due to Alex Sarmiento’s concerns about sustainability. You will, however, find wild, not farmed, salmon and yellowtail (hamachi).
Before exploring the Japamex dishes, we checked for house quality in a place that second-rates can’t hide, the sashimi ($14). Named probaditas — literally, little tastes — the chunks of salmon, yellowfin tuna, yellowtail, and octopus were far from little; the 12 pieces added up to a hefty plate of soft protein; even the octopus, sliced, thankfully, in thinner pieces, avoided the rubberiness that is often its signature. A variant called Cevichimi ($17) is the sashimi sliced incredibly thin, to which is added cilantro, jalapeños, Sriracha sauce, and spicy ponzu sauce. Both dishes were more than good, and will be ordered on further visits.
Though I admit to having, for the most part, less than happy past experiences with many multi-culti fusion mixtures, we took the plunge and ordered several dishes recommended as Japamex, straight up. The Volcano ($12.50), a sliced roll filled with either crawfish or scallops (or both, diner’s choice), avocado, and kanikama (a blend of pureed fish used as imitation crab) is heated up with serrano chilies and topped with broiled seasoned crawfish and picante mayo. We found it to be too much of too many ingredients, each losing its identity in the melee.
But another much more complicated roll, the Frushi ($11), triumphed where we expected a hodge-podge. A heart of tempura-fried shrimp, cucumber, cream cheese, and masago caviar is topped with layers of avocado, plantains, crab, and strawberries, and drizzled with kiwi sauce. Rather than a debacle, it was a resounding success, or would have been if the rice had not been slightly undercooked. Also using tempura shrimp and cream cheese, the Urbano ($12) was enlivened with spicy Juma and sweet, black Anguila sauce, and paired nicely with the Frushi. The rice was, as in all the sushi, of the same al dente consistency, perhaps only underdone in the view of a purist. But to say the rice added texture would be making excuses; let’s hope they conform to tradition in the future, at least in this matter.
Best Bets Volcano and Frushi rolls, sashimi probadita
Hours 11:30am-10pm Mon-Thu, 11:30am-11pm Fri, 12:30-11pm Sat, 12:30-9pm Sun
The Skinny Japamex sushi adds spice and eco-concerns to fresh ingredients without, for the most part, getting lost in fusion illusions.