Food & Drink

Sushi Circus

Highly Tuned Design and Rolls with Lots of Stuff at Momiji

Sushi Circus

All Photos Kelly O

MOMIJI'S INTERIOR COURTYARD It's a bit crowded with Japanese-garden elements, but still: gorgeous. ("Momiji" means Japanese maple.)

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ROLLS WITH MORE STUFF! This is the El Diablo: shrimp tempura, shibazuke, and asparagus, topped with seared red crab legs, pico de gallo, soy glaze, and Gustavo's Devil Sauce.
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THE DINING ROOM Woven light by Yuri Kinoshita.
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Those giant-sized sushi rolls that are tempura-fried and/or sprayed with pink aioli and/or doused with jelly and/or lolling in pools of dark, sweet syrup always make me think of clowns. If a clown went out for sushi—this is an upscale clown, one whose tastes have evolved beyond Klown Kibble—these rolls are what the clown would order. The tobiko looks like tiny confetti! It's a sushi circus! When the rolls arrived, the clown would honk his nose.

There is so much for a clown to love at Capitol Hill's new Momiji. The swank Japanese restaurant—where Dawson Plumbing used to be on 12th between Pike and Pine—is brought to you by the team behind Belltown's Umi Sake House, which also (by way of awesomely named chef Billy Beach) spawned Japonessa. All three places have looong lists of specialty rolls that make lovers of friedness/mayo/sugar (and also just MORE STUFF) so, so happy. At Momiji, there are 40 such rolls, including: Baby Girl Roll, "crab & scallop mayo mix, avocado & bell pepper topped w/shrimp, kiwi & spicy strawberry habañero sauce & green onions," $14; Pretty in Pink, "crab-mayo mix, creamy scallops, tobiko & cucumber, wrapped in soy paper & topped w/avocado, sweet chili aioli & soy glaze," $14; and Tropical Paradise, "mango, strawberry, tobiko, cucumber & avocado topped w/tuna, salmon & spicy blueberry sauce," $12.

But if you prefer your mayo with fries, your jelly with toast, your syrup with pancakes, your sushi with just fish and rice, and your clowns far away, never fear: There is still much to love at Momiji. First off: the highly tuned design, including custom woodwork and an interior Japanese courtyard. "Momiji" means Japanese maple, and there are two of them—one squat and flaming scarlet, one stately and flaming gold—shivering and lovely in Momiji's secret autumnal landscape. (It's a bit crowded with Japanese-garden elements in there, like a gorgeous woman with too much jewelry, but, then, still, she is gorgeous.) There is also unexpected, eye-deceiving brickwork, and two hallways that make you want to just stand in them, and illuminated-from-within art in both the bar and the back room. (Prompted to speculate about the art in the bar, the bartender ventured, "A cloud? An albino hot dog?" As for the back room, the art looks like a bear and some salmon and maybe a UFO, and it is loud there, better for a party than a date.)

The nigiri sushi is pricey and worth it. Single pieces average $3 or $4, and a daily fresh list offers treasures. Mirugai (our phallic friend the geoduck) has the right snappy-but-not-chewy texture and the taste of the tidal zone—a little salty, a little fecund, a little sweet, but not a lot of anything except delicious ($5/piece). Uni, the rich and creamy sea urchin, tastes delicate but a little dirty, just like it should ($5.50/piece). All very good: wild white king salmon, hiramasa yellowtail, and wild aji ($4/piece). The sushi rice here is sweeter than average (more mirin, it seems); they also do not put a pad of wasabi in between the fish and the rice. The cuts of fish are neither scanty nor huge. They are pleasingly long and narrow, draping off both ends of the rice.

Unlike Mashiko in West Seattle or Sushi Kappo Tamura on Eastlake, there is no evident concern for whether fish is local at Momiji. A recent fresh list had selections from Japan, Australia, South America, California, and Alaska—only the mirugai ("Pacific NW") and the white salmon (Fraser River in British Columbia) were sourced nearby. And if you want to set fire to your Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch pocket guide and go straight to hell by way of mercury poisoning, the sushi prices at happy hour (4 to 6 p.m. in the restaurant, 4 to 7 in the bar) will get you there—four pieces of assorted nigiri for $6, five for $7, plus assorted rolls (clown and otherwise) and drinks for super-cheap. It is tempting to try to single-handedly empty the ocean.

The dish that's stuck in my head is the seasonal mushroom batayaki ($9)—shiitakes, chanterelles, and oyster mushrooms sautéed in a nut-brown, outrageously buttery sauce (I drank the remains of it out of the bowl). It's a classic, and it was well executed, and it is so good on its own that Momiji's addition of wildly out-of-season asparagus was puzzling. Don't get me wrong—the asparagus tasted good, especially pushed through that sauce, but in this day and age, serving asparagus at an upscale restaurant in Seattle in November is perverse. "Hey," this seems to say, "that's what semitrucks are for!"

Momiji isn't striving to be a temple—so sue it. This isn't a place to worship a master at the sushi bar, behind which three or four people are working hard. This is a place to come with seven girlfriends and one guy, like a party there one night last week, and toast each other with sake (low end, $6 a glass; high, a $350 large-format bottle described as "symphonic, deep & brilliant, glorious") and gales of laughter and I-LOVE-YOU-GUYS!es. This is a place to order a big, steamy bowl of udon ($15), which comes with a pottery lid and is full of just-right noodles and dark-meat chicken and king-crab legs and scallops and shrimp and clams and a big mushroom cap and bok choy and nori and green onion and toasted black sesame seeds; the bowl has a little lip, so you may drink the rest of the broth before you excuse yourself to go therapeutically blow your nose. This is a place for soft-shell crab with just the right amount of batter, in a plentiful portion, with a side salad you actually want to eat ($11). This is a place for oyster shooters that have pico de gallo and tobiko in them, because why the hell not, which end up tasting like a Bloody Mary that Neptune would serve you at god-brunch ($3/each). Or, at the other end of the spectrum, an austere dish of house-made, meltingly silken tofu ($6) from the formal, multicourse kaiseki menu (listed, oddly, à la carte).

I also had a roll at Momiji from the specials sheet that seemed specially engineered for me: the I ♥ Roll. It was all my favorite things, no clown: uni, yellowtail, tobiko, and scallions ($10). It had softness and firmness, it was savory and lush, with the pop of the tobiko and the pepper of the scallions... I totally ♥'d it. Thank you, Momiji, and see you soon. recommended

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Comments (19) RSS

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I've been putting off going there despite my enduring love for sushi and the two minute walk. For one reason. And maybe it's vindictive. These guys were a little dickish to other local businesses during the overly long construction. And I don't mean just the crew. When we (a variety of neighbors) tried to contact them about some issues( parking, noise, or to simply get some information) phone calls were not returned and talking to people on site got us shrugs and a couple out-right insults. I'm willing to cut them a break as build outs are expensive and stressful. I'll be right over once I see they part of the community up here. It takes more than great food to succeed in this neighborhood.
Posted by tkc on November 17, 2011 at 11:50 AM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 2
it's my issue, and probably mines only ( maybe ),..but why is it that so many new-ish restaurants pour considerable time, money, and effort figuring out their brand, their demographic their decor, and then, once opened they leave the ambience to the likes of pandora.?
we went there and were blasted with the likes of journey, foreigner, hall & oates etc.
it was like eating at t.g.i.fridays
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on November 17, 2011 at 11:56 AM · Report this
Oh boy, just what Seattle needs, more clown sushi and a garish Japanese garden.
Posted by aiff on November 17, 2011 at 1:07 PM · Report this
zeebleoop 4

were you the guy on their facebook page bitching to them about their jack-hammer noise requesting they give you free food once they open?

"Todd K Christensen
Hey. You guys I'm a business owner across the street from this new location. Pretty excited for when construction is compete. Not only because I'm a huge sushi fan but also because right now for the last two weeks you all have been jack hammering the street and sidewalk making our agency miserable. So. Good neighbor policy? A free dinner? Whaddya say?"

that doesn't sound neighborly too me. sounds like some cheap asses trying to get free food. this was momiji's response:

"Momiji Seattle
HI Todd. Yeah, we hear that jackhammer in our sleep! Believe me, nobody is enjoying it. If we started "good neighboring" everyone effected by the noise, we'd be out of business in our first week."

construction happens. noise happens. especially in a city. put on your big boy pants and get over it. sounds like the only person being dickish is YOU.
Posted by zeebleoop on November 17, 2011 at 1:17 PM · Report this
stirwise 5
@2: this is why we call Anchovies and Olives "Anchovies and Buttrock," or just "buttrock" for short. Great food, great decor, shitty music. I think they've tamed it a bit, but for the first year they were open it was all Pandora, all the time.

I found Momiji to be tasty but poorly-executed in general. Would love for them to improve the acoustics (or at least have one quiet room) and go back for a full-on kaiseki meal.
Posted by stirwise on November 17, 2011 at 3:02 PM · Report this

Yes. That's me.

First. That was my last interaction after we called four or five times with no call back. My partner and I on separate occasions walked over there about parking and just to get idea how much longer the jackhammering was going to go on and who we could talk to. And we were literally ignored. I was being a dick. I wasn't rude. I just asked a question.

My ONLY way of actually talking to them was via Facebook. Which is not something I really wanted to do. But I could find literally no other way to talk to anybody in charge. It was frustrating as hell. When they were less than responsive I dropped it.

Second. I was totally kidding about the free dinner. Maybe that didn't come through very well. Admittedly, I at least half expected them to go "Hey. We can't give anything free but how about a two for one" Something.

Is that so out of line? Seriously, it's not too much to ask after literally weeks of noise and disruption to at least get a "come on over, we'll make it up to you." If anything it's a HUGE missed marketing opportunity.

And BTW now that you stalked me down and outed me with my personal information (which is kinda uncool) at least paint a complete picture: did I argue with with anybody on that Facebook page? No. I left it as it was. I asked him one harmless question about something and that was it.

Do you work for them? Why are you so interested in what I do and how one person feels about a local restaurant? Who goes around memorizing or tracking down Facebook posts and shit? If you do work for them all I can say is this is terrible way to handle what was some very, very, mild criticism. God, I would be embarrassed for them if you do work there.
Posted by tkc on November 17, 2011 at 4:31 PM · Report this
Billy Beach/Japonessa has absolutely nothing to do with this place besides working at Umi once upon a time for a few months. Not sure why the only name you'd put in this article is that of an ex-employee/current competitor with zero stake in this venture. Weird.
Posted by oliviawolfe on November 17, 2011 at 5:08 PM · Report this
Also, am I being called a clown for liking the rolls just as they are at Momiji? BJC - I read all your reviews. This one is not your best work. You seem to like Momiji but the whole thing reads like a veiled insult to the people who go there (and to the restaurant too). What gives?
Posted by oliviawolfe on November 17, 2011 at 5:15 PM · Report this
biffp 9
@1 and @6, I am so sick of this pettiness in Seattle. How are you a good neighbor? Going on websites to bash them b/c they would not give you a free meal? Times are tough, and they're out there taking a risk. And here you are trying to sabotage their business for $20. You should grow up, and stop being so cheap.
Posted by biffp on November 17, 2011 at 6:57 PM · Report this
wow .. so much classic Seattle passive aggressiveness in one place, might make my brain explode. That said the whiners do have a point.

Dear Momji owners or anyone else embarking on a major construction project,

BEFORE construction has begun, but after your plans are approved and permitted, go talk to your neighbors, bring them flowers, a bottle of wine, or a gift certificate. Apologize in advance for the noise, dust and inevitable lack of parking ... these people will be your neighbors when you open or move in.

Sheesh, really, is this what it’s come to? Maybe the stranger needs an urban manners column?
Posted by olive oyl on November 17, 2011 at 7:16 PM · Report this
@9 Oh my god. This is like some absurd version of phone tag.

I didn't bash them. I said why I wasn't going over there. Yet. Did I say YOU shouldn't go? No. I'm unclear though on how I'm sabotaging a business simply posting on an open forum I'm not going there for my own (petty) reasons?

It's as valid a reason as anything. For fuck sake somebody else complained about the music channel and compared them to TGI Fridays. But I'm petty for enduring three weeks of jackhammers and three months of construction parking?

Okay. So be it. I am petty. Happy?

I may be petty, but I also eat a fuck-ton of sushi.

Eventually my hunger for sushi, my laziness, and my appreciation for great interior design will overcome my pettiness.

Yes. I will slink over there in a disguise and pay them my damn twenty dollars. No. More than that. Way more. Since they have a full bar and our office is filled with raging alcoholics.

If it weren't for you damn meddling kids I could have milked them for a Dragon Roll a day for a year. At least! Curse you, internet! And now thanks to you Mystery Machine sleuths I'll have to pay cash so I won't get my nigiri spat on. YOU WIN THIS TIME, MOMIJI!

Hey. They should give you and that other guy a two-for-one coupon for sticking up for them. That'd show me!

My pettiness aside I hope they make it. Times are tough. I really hope they make it. It's good for everybody if they make it.

I'm sure they will read this and be heartily amused. Or terrified. Since it seems they apparently inspire people to cyberstalk or exaggerate wildly any minor criticism.

PS. I will never stop being cheap.
Posted by tkc on November 17, 2011 at 7:51 PM · Report this
@10 How is it "passive" aggressive to actually walk over and directly try to take a problem head on? That technique is diametrically opposed to the Seattle Way.

It's weird. You either put up with bullshit situation and be a push-over like everybody else in this town. Or try and do something about and then be a whiner. Lose, lose.

My east coast partner just yelled "Enough with the fucking jackhammers! Shut the fuck up!" but that didn't really work. 'Cause, you know. Jackhammers is loud. I tried to beat up a backhoe but it had wicked footwork.
Posted by tkc on November 17, 2011 at 8:23 PM · Report this
oh tkc I wasn’t calling you passive aggressive ... it sounds like you did the best you could given the situation.

I was referring to the way everyone jumps all over each other for no apparent reason because it’s easy and they are anonymous .. esp the guy who “outed” you ... you nailed it w/ this "It's weird. You either put up with bullshit situation and be a push-over like everybody else in this town. Or try and do something about and then be a whiner. Lose, lose.”

Sorry if my sort of sticking up for you wasn’t clear enough .. I guess I knew what I meant. My point about talking to your neighbors and letting them know their lives are about to be disrupted and you’re sorry, before starting any construction process, was made to say yeah I agree the Momji owners should have spoken with all of their neighbors prior.
Posted by olive oyl on November 17, 2011 at 9:10 PM · Report this
you ALL should just shut the hell up and realize that you are what ruined this city a long time ago. but you won't cause you're idiots
Posted by fanta@ on November 17, 2011 at 10:39 PM · Report this
"It's weird. You either put up with bullshit situation and be a push-over like everybody else in this town. Or try and do something about and then be a whiner. Lose, lose.”

Amen to that. I've gotten the "you're just an unreasonable whiner" response many times when trying to talk to neighbors directly about noise complaints. Like I'm just supposed to put up with someone having band practice in the apartment above me at 11pm on a Monday night and if I complain, I'm some uptight yuppie. Um, I'm in a band, too. We have what's called a practice space.

Anyway, I do love this sushi place!
Posted by New Delicious Sushi Place on November 18, 2011 at 10:25 AM · Report this
@7/8: Billy Beach took the Umi rolls-with-lots-of-stuff ethos directly to Japonessa (adding a little more cilantro, maybe, and with a stop at Kushibar on the way). He's the figurehead for this style of sushi in Seattle—should I not mention him because he's a competitor?

And the clown thing, oliviawolfe, is meant as humor—like the part where the clown would honk its nose, ha ha? I'm sure you can tell that I'm more of a sushi purist, but I make it clear that there's lots for people like me to love at Momiji, too (the review says exactly that). If you like the big, loaded rolls, you are not alone by any means—eat what you like, enjoy! I would just recommend that you try some of the nigiri or sashimi from Momiji's fresh list, too, just to see what one amazing piece of fish can be like.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts, hope this helps. Now I am hungry!
Posted by Bethany Jean Clement on November 18, 2011 at 11:43 AM · Report this
And @everyone who likes sushi: Shiro has a new memoir out—Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer. It is quite lovely, with SO MANY beautiful photos, and he's doing a reading with a sushi demo and tasting at Wing Luke tomorrow—it says the deadline has passed for tickets, but this is not the case, you can still call. Should be great!…
Posted by Bethany Jean Clement on November 18, 2011 at 11:44 AM · Report this
Thanks for the reply, BJC!

I come from a restaurant family (in another state) and we experiment a lot, and have watched many cooks leave our kitchens and blatantly steal the unique things we do, they just change the name a bit. It doesn't feel like the sincerest form of flattery, it feels like getting stabbed in the back. From what I understand (gossip mill, and what's apparent on the menu), that's what Billy Beach did when he opened his place.

So how can he be the "figurehead" of a style he transparently ripped off from a kitchen that didn't want him? Regardless of how well he does it (and obviously there is a mighty lunch crowd each day who sing his praises) -- mentioning him in this article (and not one other name graced the column!), if I was the restaurant owner who he ripped off, would feel like getting my nose rubbed in shit all over again. I guess I'm sticking up for Momiji on this because I'm projecting. It's a sensitive issue for me.

Although you did use the word "spawned" which was a pretty good choice.

Thanks for allowing me the discourse. I still think the extended clown metaphor was a little steep. Full disclosure: I'm one of those people who hates clowns. So again, maybe I'm projecting. :)

Posted by oliviawolfe on November 18, 2011 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Barf! Shart!
Posted by Erok on November 19, 2011 at 8:50 PM · Report this

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