Review of Milamodo

November 30, 2006 § Leave a comment

Rockingham Ridge Plaza
30 Farnham Gate Rd.
Halifax, NS
(902) 446 6888

In the grand tradition of terrific Asian restaurants in North America, Milamodo, Halifax’s best sushi restaurant, is located in an unassuming strip mall in Clayton Park. It’s not auspicious, nestled in there with all the Steak ‘n Steins and Golden Arches, but sushi here is an art, aspiring to the levels attained by high-end restaurants in Vancouver and Osaka, Japan.

We arrive on a damp, foggy Wednesday night. The seating policy isn’t immediately clear, but a waitress soon encourages us to choose our own table.

We’re not as comfortable ordering sushi as we are ordering Chinese or Vietnamese food, but I’ve just had a crash course with a sushi expert, so I’m in charge of ordering. One order of maki-sushi generally consists of two pieces, so I order five, with hopes that it will be enough. In addition to our appetizers and one more dish, it is.

My appetizer is the vegetable gyoza (dumplings), and my partner orders the softshell crab, and we’re both pleased withour choices. My dumplings are slightly crispy on the outside, and the filling is a savory mixture of vegetable and tofu. The crab is battered and fried, giving a satisfying crunch with each bite. Its flavor is light and delicate, and together with its sweet-and-briny dipping sauce, makes a fine beginning.

In this setting, I’m perfectly happy to let the chef decide in what order our dishes should come, and as it happens, the last thing ordered arrives first. It’s Tofu Steak, a Chef’s Special. Four pieces of silken tofu, tempura-battered and served in a citrusy-miso marinade. It’s delicious, but it requires some clever chopstickery.

Our sushi follows. Sushi is all about the rice— a special variety of short-grain rice. First in importance is texture: the rice must be just sticky enough to hold itself together, not tacky or pasty. After the rice is cooled to body temperature, it’s seasoned with a combination of rice vinegar, salt, sugar, kombu (a type of sea vegetable), and sometimes sake. While every chef makes his sushi rice with some combination of these ingredients, each recipe is unique to the man behind the sushi bar.

The rice here is lovely. It gives all Milamodo’s offerings a faint sweet-and-tangy background note. The sushi we’ve ordered are Inari, (a nigiri-sushi consisting of a mound of sushi rice surrounded by a sweetened-tofu skin), Ikura (salmon roe crowning a typical nori-wrapped maki-sushi), and Tai (red snapper nigiri-sushi, on another mound of sushi rice). The Ikura is oily and rich, the Tai is smooth, delicate, andfresh, while the Inari works as a foil to the other two. My partner thought that the salmon roe overpowered the other fish.

In Japan, of course, sushi is an art form. The more subtle, elegant, and difficult the dish’s execution, the more valuable and admirable it becomes. All of the senses should be engaged in a good piece of sushi. It’s important to appreciate the chef’s composition. Note the way the salmon roe glisten like tiny jewels on the sushi. Admire how the thin slices of fish are cut to offer a smooth layer of fish, with no bands of fat or muscle. Explore the contrasting textures in your mouth: nubbly rice, chewy nori, smooth fish. A chef spends years apprenticing to learn this art, so enjoy it!

Next is our sashimi, Sake (salmon). These are just pure, silky, slippery slices of fish. We dip them into our soya sauce and savor the taste, so different from either smoked or cooked salmon.

Last to come is our shrimp tempura maki. Maki is a whole roll of maki-sushi, so our order consists of six pieces, and they’re fabulous. The maki is filled with a tempura-fried shrimp, creamy slices of avocado and sushi rice. The flavors and textures complement each other just perfectly, and it’s easily my favorite.

Our dessert is our meal’s first wrong note. We both order bananas tempura, one with green tea ice cream, the other with red bean. The oil our bananas were fried in might have been too old. The bananas aren’t overcooked, but the smell of the oil overpowers. The green tea ice cream is subtle and sweet, with a grassy hint of green tea, while the red bean ice cream is actually studded with red beans. Both ice creams are good, but they don’t rise to the level of the rest of our meal on this occasion

Milamodo is well off the beaten track, and Clayton Park may not be the ideal spot to run a sushi restaurant. But the truth is sushi of this caliber is uncommon in the Maritimes. Five or six tables— plus the sushi bar— were filled while we were there, so this hideaway is no longer a secret, but if you haven’t been yet, try Milamodo when you’re in the mood for something extraordinary, and maybe outside of your comfort zone. Milamodo is truly a diamond in the rough.


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