Food & Drink

Super Dave's Super Sushi

He's Got What You've Been Looking For

Super Dave's Super Sushi

KElly O

J SUSHI’S SUPER DAVE The thinking person’s sushi superhero.

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Note: Super Dave is no longer in the house at J Sushi. Look for him elsewhere.

If you love sushi and you live in Seattle, you've been a little lost lately. Saito closed his Belltown place last summer. Shiro isn't at Shiro's much anymore; he sold all but a minority interest a couple years ago. Even if you could afford it, Taichi Kitamura's $100-per-person prix fixe at Chiso Kappo is gone, too (though said to be reopening on Eastlake this summer). Who will be your sushi superhero now?

Super Dave to the rescue! Super Dave—also known as Dave Nakamura—works behind the sushi bar at J Sushi in the International District every Wednesday through Saturday. Super Dave's primary superpower is making super sushi, but he has a corollary superpower that's also extremely super: Super Dave is super friendly. Finally, after all those silent, stern-seeming sushi chefs, Super Dave is here for you. Prepare to be disarmed, charmed, and fed like a king of the sea.

Super Dave moved here from Hawaii when he was a teenager; he went to Garfield High School. His father was a sushi chef. His grandfather was a sushi chef. His uncle still has a sushi place in Tacoma called Fujiya, where Saito worked for 12 years before opening Saito's. Dave worked there, too, and at Oasis Cafe on Capitol Hill, and at Seastar in Bellevue, and at Fat Fish in L.A.

Super Dave's moved around a lot, but his fans have followed him. Dave knows the name of almost everyone who walks into J Sushi, and everyone's extremely happy to see him. "Oh-I-am-SO-EXCITED-for-Dave's-sushi!" says one woman taking a seat. She worked with Dave way back at Seastar; she's moved to California, but she's back visiting and made a beeline here, bringing her cousin along. A guy comes in and is visibly relieved to see Dave behind the counter. "No offense to this place," he says, "but you're the reason we come down here. You take care of us!" Another guy stops by to see whether Dave's made any of his special salmon soup. It's sinigang, the guy says, a Philippine soup made with lots of tamarind. Dave hasn't made any, but he writes a note on his hand in ballpoint pen to do so. A few people come in with a staggering toddler, just to say hi. Dave can't believe how big the baby's gotten. "OH MY GOODNESS!" he says. "Hi, boo boo!" The kid, who's wearing a pink hoodie with little ears, looks profoundly disinterested, and Dave laughs. "She's like, whatever!" he says.

The floor server will bring around a checklist and a pencil, but you'll want to put yourself in Super Dave's hands; plan to spend about $40 a person. To start, he might like to make you something from the specials board: an ahi tartare, with shreds of spicy green onion, the slight nuttiness of sesame oil, and a tart star-shape of thin apple slices underneath, all balancing out the fresh, oceanic (not fishy or metallic) tuna. On top is a raw quail egg: "Just mix it in," Dave urges. (If you've ever had a sushi chef admonish you about soy sauce, you'll like Dave's style—it's conspiratorial, like he knows you both want it to be completely awesome.) The tartare is the size of a can of grocery-store tuna; it costs $5.95. It gives your mouth a plush sensation, and it tastes fantastic.

Super Dave's nigiri belies his aloha attitude—it's thinking man's sushi, showing proper regard to tradition without unhealthy beholdenness to it. Here's albacore belly—"Filet mignon from the sea!" he says—with a sprinkling of dried shiso mixed ten to one with salt. "You don't wanna dip that one," he says. "Rock it!" For escolar, Dave gets out his mini-blowtorch, giving it an exacting sear, then a squeeze of lemon. The heat brings the fish's oil to the surface; it's all buttery purity, with its tart lemon kick. Dave takes local salmon and seat-belts it to rice with seaweed, adds a little sweet Walla Walla onion, then ponzu for citrus. Each piece is so good, you could eat 17 of them. If you say, "Dave, it's SO GOOD," he might say—momentarily serious, impressed with the fish rather than himself—"I know, CRAZY-good."

If you're asking questions, you're learning things—about fish, about Super Dave, about the city. If you like Uwajimaya, Dave says, you've got to go down to Georgetown to Maruta's—Maruta Shoten, a smaller but cheaper Japanese grocery that Dave loves. He'll write it down on a sticky note for you. If you let a seared piece of sushi sit for a few moments, he'll refresh it with a minute squeeze of lemon and approximately six grains of salt before you eat it. If you ask him why his fish is so good, you'll hear about how a lot of places use lower-grade fish. Not Dave: He gets the good stuff. Also, a lot of people think you can just make rice and stick fish on it and call it sushi. Not so, says Dave—he's solemn again for a second—you've got to understand the root. Then he might reward your curiosity with maguro yamakake, gleefully grating a gloopy white liquid ("I know what it looks like, right!") out of a Japanese mountain potato, then giving you a dishful with squares of tuna in it. If you like this, he says, you're truly Japanese. It's unequivocally gross; the mountain-potato glop coats the fish (which would've been so good!) with starchy, viscous snot. Dave thinks it's hilarious, and you will too. To make up for it, he'll give you the delicacy of seared hirame fin with a little daikon: "Japanese'll go apeshit over that!" And rightfully so.

The Super Dave roll has too many elements for my taste—salmon, scallop, crab, tobiko, avocado—but Dave's hand rolls are truly super. His improvement on a spicy tuna roll is in cone form, with hamachi and toro mixed with a yuzu-pepper paste that's normally used as a marinade (he'll show you the jar). "Eat it fast!" he says, handing it to you; it breaks his heart to see hand rolls sit while the cone of nori gets soggy. The peppery heat has depth, the fish is glowingly fresh, the cone snaps crisply, and there are tiny bombs of salt in the form of tobiko. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there's Super Dave's Dessert Hand Roll, an unholy combination of tempura eel, a restrained amount of sweet unagi sauce, tamago, and cucumber for crunch. This is also known as the Chicken and Waffles. People at the bar ask for it first thing, then probably again last as well.

"Am I going too fast for you?" Dave will say. When you start to look satiated, he might tell you, "It's cool, it's cool—slow down, conversate, and breathe... and if you want more, holla." recommended

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Comments (14) RSS

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loe 1
Oh man J Sushi is so good! They play terrible music though! The first time I was there I was like, hey they already played this Coldplay song already. I realized the mix they were playing was on a loop, featuring Dave Matthews, Train, Coldplay, bleh. I didn't let it ruin the experience but the second time I went THE EXACT SAME MIX WAS PLAYING. Now I get my sushi to go.
Posted by loe on April 14, 2010 at 3:16 PM · Report this
Collin 2
Dave is Seattle's new king of sushi. His following is devoted and well-earned.
Posted by Collin on April 14, 2010 at 4:31 PM · Report this
Posted by RoseX on April 16, 2010 at 2:47 AM · Report this
Fujiya (Dave's uncle's place in Tacoma) is off the hook good. They have a number of non menu items like the 69 roll that are awesome (roll with tempura shrimp covered with raw scallop and finally flying fish roe). If Dave's from this clan I am soooo going to get my ass in here pronto!
Posted by Frieswitdat on April 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM · Report this
Very tasty, reasonably-priced food, and Dave really knows how to chat up the customers.
Posted by TheVripper on April 19, 2010 at 6:49 PM · Report this
zephsright 6
Had a pretty bad experience when I went there recently, but the fish was obviously super high quality so I'm willing to give them another chance. Could have been an off night. Also anyone know how to delete a restaurant review once you've posted it? I accidentally posted one twice for this place.
Posted by zephsright on April 21, 2010 at 11:57 AM · Report this
@4: Second that -- Fujiya is great! I'm definitely going to have to check out Super Dave's place now.
Posted by jsr1138 on April 21, 2010 at 12:46 PM · Report this
I just have to share because I'm so traumatized. WARNING: it has nothing to do with this article.
But the last time I had sushi at an UNNAMED place because I love these people and shit happens, there was a GIANT black,wiry hair in under and sticking up one of the pieces. It was the sweet egg one. I am having a hard time thinking about sushi now but I might check out SuperDave
Posted by ugh yikes on April 21, 2010 at 11:00 PM · Report this
@6: The webpersons will get your duplicate reader-review deleted. Sorry to hear about the disappointment—I'm guessing it might take Super Dave and the J-Sushiers a little while to adjust to having the sushi bar full plus tables to deal with, as the place was quite underpopulated every time I went in the course of writing this article. Go early and sit at the bar next time!
Posted by Bethany Jean Clement on April 22, 2010 at 10:17 AM · Report this
Sad to hear Shiro is getting out of the game. I sat at the bar with him working back in 2007 while visiting Seattle. He hooked it up and brought out the tastiest treats. Might have to checkout this new guy next time I'm in town.
Posted by smitty on April 28, 2010 at 10:02 AM · Report this
Equestrian 11
Super-Dave is unbeatable... In all my worldly travels tasting sushi, nothing comes close to Dave.
Posted by Equestrian on April 29, 2010 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Love to hear everyone is raving about "super-dave" but he is a thief! I have worked in the industry with him. The stranger should do more research on a featured chef! This article really disappointed me. The only reason I knew about this article is because other ex-coworkers/ex-friends were upset to see him. Honestly, I am suprised to see any restuarant wanting to work with him since he has burned so many bridges in this industry. Dave has questionable ethics. Don't let his aloha style deceive you!
Posted by fam6677 on June 14, 2010 at 10:51 PM · Report this
Try I love sushi on lake Bellevue you'll forget about super Dave. I had his sushi at seastar restaurant before and I thought some beginner amigo made it...he might be better now, but there are plenty of other great sushi chef in Wa.
Posted by Google_me on September 10, 2010 at 3:23 PM · Report this
Try I love sushi on lake Bellevue you'll forget about super Dave. I had his sushi at seastar restaurant before and I thought some beginner amigo made it...he might be better now, but there are plenty of other great sushi chef in Wa.
Posted by Google_me on September 10, 2010 at 3:37 PM · Report this

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