Bursting With Flavor

Sushi Restaurants Offer New Twist on Traditional Japanese Cuisine

Deanna Devey | Photos by Kevin Kiernan Mar 15, 2019
food in bowl
Trout crudo from Tona
green sushi roll
Crunchy Tuna roll from Tona

If you feel like a fish out of water when it comes to trying sushi, you’re not alone. Many people are intimidated to try it, says restaurant owner Frank Ciccone, owner of Kaiju Sushi and Spirits in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Ciccone opened Kaiju Sushi and Spirits four years ago to meet the growing demand for sushi in Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s delicious,” he says. “I think a lot of people up until recently haven’t been exposed to it, but once they are, they say, ‘Oh, wow, this is something I could enjoy.’”

One of the best aspects of the cuisine is how customizable it is, particularly when you take a seat at a sushi bar.

“You get intimate one-on-one time with your own personal chef,” says Richard Romney, general manager of Takashi in Salt Lake City. “It creates a dialogue between you and the chef where they can figure out exactly what type of food you’re looking for and whether you want to be adventurous.”

Having your best sushi experience, however, depends on the quality of the ingredients. Look for crowded restaurants that serve fresh fish.

“If they’re busy all the time that means they’re cycling through that fish on a daily basis,” Romney says.

While there are many tasty sushi restaurants that fit the bill, here are a few worth trying.

Ceviche roll from Takashi
Summit roll from Takashi
Zions Bank roll from Takashi


One of the most popular restaurants in Salt Lake City, Takashi is almost always bustling with people. Even though it’s in landlocked Utah, some claim the restaurant is better than sushi places found in big cities along the coast.

“We get a lot of people saying we’re the best sushi restaurant they’ve been to anywhere, let alone just in Utah,” Romney says.

What makes Takashi unique is the influence of both Japanese and Peruvian food, a result of restaurant owner Takashi Gibo’s Japanese heritage and childhood in Peru.  

“We hear a lot about the creativity and the different ingredients Takashi uses in his rolls that people don’t see anywhere else,” Romney says. “The combination of flavors he uses is reflective of his Peruvian upbringing.”

Romney recommends trying the sablefish, a nigiri order with creamy butterfish lightly seared and topped with garlic and green onion. Another option, and one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, is the ceviche roll.

“Takashi takes the idea of Peruvian ceviche and turns it into a Japanese sushi roll,” Romney says. 

There’s even a Zions Bank roll: a combination of spicy tuna and avocado on the inside and sliced tuna, hamachi, salmon and avocado on top.

“What sets us apart is Takashi’s creativity and the passion he puts in everything,” Romney says.

The Grinch roll from Tona
Green Globe from Tona
Blackjack roll from Tona

Tona Sushi Bar and Grill

Celebrating 15 years in business, Tona Sushi Bar and Grill in Ogden offers creative, customized sushi dishes.

“We like to do something different than the norm,” says owner and executive chef Tony Chen.

In fact, one of Tona’s most popular dishes, the green globe, was inspired by a couple who asked for something with avocado. Rather than a standard sushi roll, Chen made a ball of avocado, spicy tuna and snow crab topped with tobiko caviar.

Another specialty is the crudo, a sashimi dish with seasonings, soy, sea salt, olive oil and fresh seasonal fruits on raw fish.

If you’re dining at Tona’s for the first time, the chef might ask what you like and don’t like so he can customize the meal for you.

“You can put any of your favorite ingredients in it,” Chen says. “It does not necessarily have to be raw fish. The more information we collect, the better dining experience you’re going to have.”

Hedorah roll from Kaiju Sushi and Spirits
Photo courtesy of Kaiju Sushi and Spirits
Gamera roll from Kaiju Sushi and Spirits
Photo courtesy of Kaiju Sushi and Spirits

Kaiju Sushi and Spirits

Ciccone says the name of his Coeur d’Alene restaurant, Kaiju, has a double meaning. In Japanese, the word means monster or strange beast, but for his cuisine it symbolizes creativity with new flavor combinations.

“I wanted to focus on traditional Japanese, but I also wanted to break the mold,” he says.

For example, he’ll make a sushi roll out of Fuji apples, cold smoked salmon, fried feta cheese and huckleberry honey. Another roll has cream cheese and jalapeno served with filet mignon on top. Ciccone also uses unexpected ingredients like aioli, curry and sweet chili sauce. 

“These are all original ideas that push the envelope but aren’t too crazy,” Ciccone says.

You’ll also find traditional Japanese cuisine, including maki rolls, nigiri and sashimi.

“If you sit down at the sushi bar and talk with your sushi chef, the sky’s the limit,” Ciccone says. “That’s what makes it fun and unique.”

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