Forty years ago in this country, sushi was exotic — a rarity sought out and enjoyed by a culinary intelligentsia. Today, you can buy it in plastic containers at your local supermarket, and in some ways, that’s good news. But there is more to sushi than fish with rice. It’s a legitimate culinary art form that requires talent as well as skill. And eating sushi can be an artful, unique dining experience.
That’s what it is at Jpan Restaurant & Sushi Bar, tucked away on the north side of Paradise Plaza. The menu delivers raw fish treated with respect in all the conventional guises and some uniquely Jpan ways. There are the expected Japanese classics, here called “kitchen entrées” — tempura, teriyaki, miso sea bass and more. The black-garbed servers are knowledgeable, efficient and pleasant, and the place manages to be simultaneously tranquil and lively. This is sushi-the-experience as well as sushi-the-food.
What gives Jpan a twist is the heritage of chef/proprietor Daniel Dokko, who was born and raised in Brazil.
“Sushi has a clean taste, so it goes really well with fruit,” he said.
He means tropical fruits — for the most part: kiwi, mango, strawberry and Asian pear. He says the idea is popular with customers. An example from the list of J Pan’s specialty rolls: Aloha Roll, made of shrimp tempura and cream cheese topped with mango and coconut. Other specialties include low-carb options such as Cucumber Delight, which consists of tuna, salmon, kani and asparagus wrapped in transparently thin cucumber.
In an economy that has been hostile to restaurants, Jpan is thriving. Just three months ago, Dokko doubled the size of his place so it now seats 90. The art of the food finds its match in a wall decorated by a collaborative effort of Professor DongHuy Kim, from Ringling College of Art and Design, and Dokko’s 3-year-old son, Dario.
Asked what he would recommend to a new customer visiting for the first time, Dokko’s appetizer choices included the Summer Breeze roll of white and regular tuna wrapped with rice paper, edamame puree and cherry tomatoes and tuna tataki (see recipe below). For a main course, he suggests traditional tempura and a combination sushi boat for three to four people. And for dessert, he suggests a tempura fig. His lunch recommendation is a lunch bento box priced from $8.99 to $12.99.
Dokko, 28, learned the restaurant business from the scullery up and has done virtually every job in the kitchen and the front of the house. At Amura, Orlando’s largest Japanese restaurant, he rose from chef to general manager. He came in 2008 to Sarasota and built a team including his right-hand man, Bao Kosai Tep, also 28, with whom he worked in Orlando and later recruited from Atlanta, and Victor Ahn, 21. The three chefs practice their art daily and create new masterpieces on a monthly basis.
IF YOU GO
Jpan Restaurant and Sushi Bar
3 Paradise Plaza
Owner: Daniel Dokko
Hours: Lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday
Dinner from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
The restaurant is closed on Sunday.
TUNA TATAKI JPAN
10 ounces fresh tuna
Chichimi pepper powder
Spring salad greens mix
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin
2 teaspoons sake
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon spicy sesame oil
Coat tuna with chichimi powder. Sear on all four sides in an extremely hot non-stick pan, about five seconds per side. Put tuna in an ice water bath to stop cooking and cool.
Put a handful of spring mix in the center of a plate, slice the tuna paper thin and arrange around the greens.
Combine remaining ingredient for sauce and pour over tuna.
• Block of tuna should be approximately 2 inches wide by 3 inches long and 1 inch tall.
• Chichimi powder is a blend of seven spices available in Oriental markets.
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