Akebono 515 continues Des Moines’ sushi roll8/28/2013
The last 10 years brought a sushi renaissance to Des Moines. I realized the depth of our town’s craving for raw fish and rice at a food court this summer. A child who looked to be about 4 years old was throwing a full-fledged tantrum, pushing things over and kicking other things while yelling, “No, no, no! I want sushi!”
Housed in a handsome corner bay of the Davis Brown Tower, Akebono 515 completes a chapter in local sushi history. Its owners were also the main players when Taki opened in 2002, bringing the metro its first full sushi bar. That previous endeavor, later sold to a Minnesotan, hedged its pioneering bet by attaching its sushi bar to a teppanyaki house. Like its minimalist urban ambiance, Akebono’s menu is concisely tailored for sushi lovers, period. Raw fish is the main course here.
Thirteen appetizer choices ($4-$9) included: edamame, both buttered and salted; dumplings, both pan fried and deep fried; agedashi tofu, which was fried and served in fish broth; scallops with cauliflower puree; shrimp, both tempura style and in cream sauce; one burger; chicken donburi (rice bowls); assorted mushrooms; and one ramen. Skewers ($3-$5) were also offered with a choice of zucchini, two kinds of chicken, pork belly, shrimp and scallops. Bento boxes ($10-$12) delivered chicken, shrimp or salmon with a choice between sushi rolls and salads. That’s the entire non-sushi menu.
Among the opening choices, ramen starred. In a brown stock made with both chicken and pork bones, noodles and greens swam with marvelous pieces of pork belly, some braised shoulder, fish cakes and a perfectly poached egg. Salty, golden tempura, pan-fried dumplings and edamame were all by the book and well executed. Skewers were better, perfectly seared and still moist.
The serious eating here came from the sushi menu, which included a section titled “Fresh from Hawaii.” Those carried only a slightly higher price than their counterparts from other sources and proved to be well worth it. Hawaiian maguro, for instance, looked brighter and carried deeper flavors than other maguro. Similarly, Tasmania shrimp and salmon tasted almost like different species. Sunfish, marlin and two kinds of mackerel were marvelous. Those were presented with thinly sliced apple and seaweed as well as pickled ginger and wasabi. Japanese horse mackerel were served nigiri style, with a piece of nori rope tying a lemon slice to them, a sprig of clover laid on top of that. We also tried these fish in a kitchen special in which they were filleted, grilled lightly and served on strings of daikon and scallions with a bowl of gingery soy and citrus sauce. Their heads were crisply fried. Uni nigiri included generous amounts of unctuous sea urchin eggs. Tasmanian shrimp nigiri were served raw on rice with deep-fried heads attached providing some crunch to complement the deep flavors of raw flesh. An off-menu special delivered scallop salad set in a wrapper of thinly sliced cucumber. An order of seaweed salad included a cooked, splayed shrimp and tobiko (flying fish roe). Rolls were similarly stylish and mostly traditional. Among 20, I only spied one usage of cream cheese or other condescensions to American tastes.
After sampling the best fish in the house, bento box sushi rolls were a relative disappointment. Sunomono (Korean-style pickled cucumbers) was a delightful salad alternative in those, though. Japanese ice creams were coated in sticky rice paste, giving them a contrast of textures. Cinnamon and green tea syrups accompanied the ice creams. Eight sakes ($10-$26 per bottle) included an unfiltered choice. A short wine list ranged $26-$70.
Side Dishes La Pizza House opened last week in its new venue on Maury Street, a block north and a block east of its home since the 1950s. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.