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Sushi on the Strip

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Scallops served with lime and salmon tobiko.
Photograph by Thom Thompson,
www.thomthompson.com

 

Masamoto Asian Grill & Sushi Bar
1810 Wilmington Pike, Suite 6
Glen Mills, Pa. (610) 358-5538
www.masamotosushi.com

Prices
Appetizers $3-$8, specialty rolls $6.50-$12, entrées $11-$20

Recommended dishes
Anything sushi, the Masamoto roll and volcano roll, the yellowtail carpaccio

 

When it comes to fish, Masamoto really shines.
by Pam George

Asian food traditionally appeals to the eye as well as the palate. The food is artfully crafted and beautifully presented in a pleasing environment.

Unfortunately, that approach is missing in many of the mom-and-pop shops that pepper the urban and suburban landscape. The emphasis locally is on inexpensive food and lots of it, which, in the case of Chinese restaurants, means a heavy dose of bok choy, carrots and crunchy broccoli. No matter the cuisine, you will get rice—by the bucket.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Indeed, if you want to feel like a New Yorker—namely Woody Allen in “Manhattan” or Miranda in “Sex and the City”—watch TV in bed, twirling your chopsticks in a container from the corner takeout.

Delawareans who want a more refined Asian experience, however, must go to the stylish Cultured Pearl, which has had more looks than Madonna, or Mikimotos, which appeals to both sushi-lovers and singles looking for love. Then there is Jasmine, whose lounge-like atmosphere is très chic for the suburbs.

Now there is another contender: Masamoto Asian Grill & Sushi Bar on U.S. 202 in Glen Mills, just over the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line.

Owned by Johnny Cai, formerly the executive sushi chef at Jasmine, Masamoto is smaller than its neighbors. The number of wait staff on our visits also seems on the small side. Until they ramp up on employees, don’t go for dinner if you have a time limit.

At least you needn’t wait for a drink, and this is Masamoto’s big advantage: It is a bring-your-own-bottle establishment. An Asian BYOB? Within close proximity to Wilmington? Could it get any better than that?

It can, and it does.

Like Jasmine and Mikimotos, Masamoto offers multiple Asian cuisines—primarily Japanese, Thai and Chinese. The sushi, though, is outstanding.


Hostess and co-owner Yuki Zheng presents the East
West sashimi appetizer. Photograph by Thom Thompson,
www.thomthompson.com

Try the refreshing Masamoto roll, a neat package of salmon, tuna and avocado wrapped in a thin strip of cucumber and adorned with crunchy caviar. Why, I wonder, don’t sushi chefs use cucumber as a cummerbund more often? It is so much lighter and easier to eat than a roll made with nori seaweed.

Then there’s the volcano roll, a fiery blend of minced crabmeat and spicy shrimp served on a square of crimped foil. The little morsels clearly spent some time in the toaster oven that glows red behind the sushi bar.

Because of Masamoto’s intimate layout, nearly everyone can view the sushi chefs at work, baseball hats pulled over their foreheads, hands a blur behind the clear case of gleaming fish.

The chefs continually rinse white towels in a stainless steel sink and scrub down the white bar, which looks pristine against the room’s richly colored walls—olive green, mustard yellow and terra cotta. Across the back wall is the word “Masamoto,” not only the restaurant’s name, but also the name of the famous Japanese sushi knife manufacturer.

The dining room is understated but fashionable. The floor is unadorned wood. Chopsticks come wrapped in white linen napkins on black-top tables, and art is sparingly placed. There are no shoji screens, Chinese lanterns or bamboo accents. In short, the theme is less ethnic, more upscale dining.

The presentations emphasize that fact. Picture paper-thin slivers of nearly transparent fluke draped on a mound of crushed ice. A container of ponzu sauce, worked into the mound’s peak, made the whole dish look like a glittering, icy volcano. I wished I’d brought vodka instead of white wine. Next time.


The mango shrimp is served with red and green bell peppers and
a mango sour sauce. Photograph by Thom Thompson,
www.thomthompson.com

Simultaneously sweet, soy and citrusy, the ponzu didn’t overwhelm the melt-in-your-mouth fish, which was so cold it occasionally made my teeth hurt. Still, I was thrilled with the dish, which like all Masamoto’s creations, employs amazingly fresh fish.

Known as usuzukuri, the fluke is listed as one of Masamoto’s omakase creations. Omakase, Japanese for “entrusting,” means “Let the chef decide.” I loved the yellowtail carpaccio, morsels of fish resting in a bronze-colored sauce made with shiro miso (white miso) and the spicy and somewhat fruity aji-amailio pepper, which comes from South America.

I initially wasn’t as keen on another ethnic fusion. The flatbread on the tuna pizza was burned black in spots. After bringing the scorch to our server’s attention, we received two fresh slices to replace the two we’d eaten.

The new slices displayed an intriguing mix of textures, flavors and temperatures: cool, velvety tuna, crisp flatbread, snappy cilantro and tingly jalapeño rings. The pizza, however, was missing the “chef’s special sauce.”

Along with the flatbread, there were two other flaws in execution, which can be easily remedied. The pretty Greenville roll—a dressed-up spider roll—was cold and mushy, perhaps owing to the addition of spicy tuna. Or maybe it just sat too long before greeting our table.

The whole red snapper looked downright scary. The fish, placed face up on the plate, had curled into itself so that it looked like something out of “Alien.” The golden crust was good, but there wasn’t enough meat on the fish’s bones to make picking worthwhile. There also wasn’t enough of the tang in the promised tangy sauce.


Chef and co-owner Johnny Cai tends the sushi bar.
Photograph by Thom Thompson,
www.thomthompson.com

We turned happy again when we sampled the salty-sweet Korean barbecued short ribs, which were sliced into squares and served with romaine leaves that could act as a tortilla. Add the accompanying kimchi to turn up the heat. The fermented vegetables, which look interestingly like pasta on the plate, offer a blast as addictive as wasabi.

Masamoto’s lettuce wrap is certainly equal to or exceeds the version made famous at a nearby chain. As with so many Asian dishes, the wrap demonstrates a blend of flavors and textures, from the cool crispness of the lettuce leaves to the sweet, salty and slightly spicy sauce that bathes the finely diced chicken.

I liked Masamoto’s kung pao chicken, a blend of golden-fried chicken nuggets and peanuts, but I wanted more of the chili sauce. I also appreciated the Peking duck, slivers of meat—some wearing a crackling skin—served alongside scallion ribbons. Alone, the meat was a tad dry. But that wasn’t an issue when I smeared it with hoisin sauce and tucked it into steamed buns that looked like alabaster pillows.

If these two dishes seem familiar, it’s because Masamoto seems to play it safe with its entrées. Selections including basil beef, green or red Thai curry and shrimp tempura dominate the list. Desserts are equally familiar. Think green tea, mochi or tempura ice cream, and tempura bananas.

Perhaps that is because Cai’s talents shine at the sushi bar, where he was stationed on one visit, dicing, slicing and assembling rolls alongside another chef.

Hopefully, Masamoto will get more creative with its entrées. Until then, I’m happy to sit back in a tasteful environment, sip wine brought from home and sample fresh seafood still fragrant with the scent of the sea.

 

 

 
Dana Herbert with a sugar sculpture of the Blue Hen and a couple of
his cakes. Photograph by Pat Crowe II, www.patcrowephotograph.com

Sugar Daddy
Dana Herbert lives in sugar and butter. 

The UD grad and Bear resident puts in 50 hours a week as pastry chef at the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott. The rest of his time is devoted to his Desserts by Dana bakeshop in Bear, where he crafts wedding cakes and mini-cheesecakes alongside his visually stunning sugar sculptures.

Herbert creates the showpieces for weddings and private events. While attending culinary school in Rhode Island, Herbert was drawn into the specialized world of pastry arts, where gum paste, pastillage and PVC tubing are part of the accoutrement.

“I found myself doing all the artsy stuff that a lot of people didn’t want to touch,” Herbert says. “Something kept calling me to the pastry side.”

Sugar sculptures can be more delicate than single-pane glass, so it’s taken years for Herbert to master the complicated relationship between sugar and temperature. An average showpiece takes eight painstaking hours to complete.

Herbert made a 6-foot sugar flower arrangement last year for the Philadelphia Flower Show, a Philly sports-themed piece for ESPN, sculptures for the Paris Gourmet and Cacao Noel Pastry Exhibition, and one pretty sharp Delaware-themed masterpiece.           
                         
—Matt Amis

 

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