I went to Sumile Tuesday night because I had heard that their Cherry Blossom menu had started, and I wanted to try it. Sadly, when I got there I found out that that it wasn’t actually scheduled to start until Wednesday. Since five of us had gone just for that menu, the restaurant decided they would do a preview of things to come for us, but were clear that the menu had not officially started and that what we would have was not necessarily exactly what the final menu would look like.
It all started with an olive oil, wasabi, and green apple custard, topped with American caviar. An interesting play of sweet, sour, and salty, I found it a good jump-off for a meal of Japanese flavors to come.
The first thing served from the actual Cherry Blossom menu was a Cherry blossom and lemongrass martini. Completely ignoring the fact that this drink neither contained gin nor a pretense of vermouth, and was therefore very poorly named a martini, it was the wrong cocktail for this meal. Comprised of vodka, the mentioned ingredients, and blood orange juice, it was way too strongly flavored for the lighter food that followed. In fact, I can’t fairly report on the first two courses because they were completely blown out by the drink. I mentioned this to the chef and bartender who both indicated it would probably be changed. If you go and this is the offering, I would suggest either skipping it or substituting the lychee martini (poorly named but good balance and far subtler) or, if you find the cherry blossom drink compelling, have it after desert.
The first course was Tataki of yellow fin maguro cherry blossom shoyu. There was a cool, bitter vegetal/nori bite to the primarily pepper dusting on the tuna that I imagine might have been interesting with whatever cherry blossom notes the soy sauce had picked up but, as I said, I had had the cocktail and was only really capable of appreciating this dish’s presentation and inspiration, both of which were good.
The second course consisted of Pressed Hawaiian kanpachi with cherry leaves and fresh wasabi. Kanpachi is young yellowtail – like cherry blossoms, a very spring ingredient -- and the wasabi was indeed real, the texture was great, and the fish was beautiful but, again, the effect of cherry blossom was hard to detect. My mouth still tasted more of lemongrass and blood OJ than anything else.
The third course was comprised of Charred octopus with cherry blossom pickle and shiso salad. The octopus had that great char that happens on the suckers with fast, high heat, and there was some semblance of a thin shell from a glaze adding a crunch to the outside. The pickles were well chosen to zing the differences between the greens and the octopus. A nice course, on the whole.
The fourth and final savory course was Cherry glazed white pekin duck with flag pond pickled ramps and smoked hon shimiji. A very good course. The duck, cooked sous-vide and then seared, had a wonderful soft bite of being long, slow cooked as well as the best part of duck breast, browned skin and fat. There was a bitterish, vegetal component to the green puree and a sweetness to the cherry sauce. The hon shimiji, which I think I know as enoki mushrooms, brought a light smokiness and the pickled ramp bottoms again brought a zing. I felt this dish represented a deft hand in maintaining balance amidst the number of types of flavor involved which could have skewed the dish in one favor or another, were it not for the chef’s skill.
Dessert was Sumile’s panna cotta in chilled cherry blossom tea. I suspect that more gelatin was used in this preparation than I am used to because it had a far more resilient bite than expected, neither good nor bad, just different but definitely less light as a result. The flavor was good for dessert, simple and not overpowering the meal that had preceded it.
The wine list was young and fairly priced, with a selection of sakes. We had a Chablis and a red Burgundy, nothing of consequence but very good with the food.
The room is small, long and narrow. There is a strange disparity in seat heights for the people sitting on what are basically low couches along the wall, as opposed to the chairs on the other side. On the whole, Sumile impressed me. The food was all very fresh and of good quality, the thought behind each dish was creative and the touch was subtle. I was not floored per se, but see enough merit to return at some point. I may even try the Cherry Blossom menu again, with a new cocktail.