Since moving to Rhode Island, I’ve developed a chronic condition. Every few weeks, I begin to feel a strangely urgent hollow. I begin to hunger. It’s not Thai in Garden Grove, or Indian in Artesia, or even the incomparable Pho from Westminster, though all of these sing to me from time to time. No, it’s raw flesh I require; I hear the siren song of sushi. It’s an impossible standard to match here on the East Coast, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy stuffing my face trying. It’s with that can-do attitude that we arrived at Miku Japanese Cuisine in Barrington.
Miku has a small-sized room made more intimate at night with dim mood lighting. No need for all that romance: sushi had me at hello. The eyes are drawn to a large wall of wine behind the sushi bar, and on the menu the sake dominates them. It was clear from the decor that the place was making a more upscale argument for itself without jacking up the prices. The service was the most persuasive part of that argument as, even in a small room and with some takeout going on, service was really efficient and prompt. Our baby means a booth, but even without the ability to suck up to the sushi chef, we were still treated to a freshly cut cucumber salad on the house and plenty of attention.
In keeping with normal protocol, I had a green tea ($1) and, completely against it, we ordered some cooked appetizers to test out the kitchen. Pork Gyoza ($5) and Beef Negimaki ($7.50) arrived speedily. The gyoza were arranged in a neat little row on a long rectangular plate, succulent on the inside and crisply wrapped without a hint of greasiness. Negimaki is a classic, as well as a refuge for your bewildered uncle who helpfully points out to you that sushi is raw fish. It is a perfect, simple dish when done right: thin-cut marinated beef complemented by the scallion it encircles.
We had three small salads. The free one, listed on the menu as the Kani Salad, was the most original and the best. Strands of soft crabmeat met crisp cucumber with a tobiko, or fish roe aioli, gluing the whole dish together. The Seaweed Salad ($5) was standard, but generous. Sushi places often use miserly lettuce to fluff up the pile – not so here. Our sushi entrée came with the typical green salad: crisp lettuce with the classic carrot-ginger dressing.
Finally, we come to the sushi. On the West Coast I might go all omakase, the Japanese word for “chef’s choice,” inviting nigiri and sashimi with reckless abandon and regretting only the bill. Here, we took the more conservative approach. In order of increasing culinary respectability for sushi snobs, we had a Fashion Roll ($14), a Rainbow Roll ($10), and finally their Triple Sushi entree ($19), which is a salmon avocado roll and tuna, yellowtail and salmon nigiri.
The Fashion Roll was a rare adventure into the dark arts of the special rolls. It was tasty, a medley of seared fish – yellowtail, salmon and tuna –around raw versions of the same, with the creaminess of the avocado and snap of asparagus. It was a little over-sauced for me, but that’s what you signed up for in this part of any sushi menu. What isn’t a matter of taste is the sushi craft. These were plump rolls filled tightly with fish and vegetables, and there was no padding the books with rice. Every roll we had was sharp and cleanly cut. The Rainbow Roll was a choice that you’d find anywhere, wrapping a comforting California Roll with a variety of raw fish. Not a ragged edge in sight.
The pick of the whole meal was the simplest: our nine pieces of nigiri. Nigiri is the perfect simplicity of slices of raw fish draped over a pressed ball of rice. There’s no hiding behind sauces or accompaniment here. The fish has to be fresh, and it was. The pieces were better cut and much larger than most places in Rhode Island, draped over and palming the pressed rice beneath, not just perching on top. Normally I find salmon the most forgiving of possible orders but the least rewarding; I was happy the yellowtail had it beaten here.
When I’m back in Barrington, my order will look just a bit closer to what it might be at some West Coast hole-in-the-wall, and that’s a compliment. The fish was fresh enough to warrant exploring the more expensive fatty toro cuts while giving the more elaborate and obfuscated rolls a miss. If this is your local sushi place, you’re in luck. If you share my condition, Miku won’t save the flight costs, but it might kick them down the road a little longer.