Thursday, August 9, 2007
Youth, low lights, and pop music. That’s Pink Tuna, a new Japanese restaurant with the personality of a night club. The music isn’t loud and in the way, and the scene is fashionable, as might be expected from a place with Pink in the name.
The aura is young, though baby boomers and older Gen Xers were well represented on my recent visits. Anyone who appreciates sleek, modern design, sexy hostesses, a late-night feel, and music videos featuring the likes of Beyoncé, John Legend, Ciara, and Bob Sinclair might enter Pink Tuna into their PDA’s address book.
Pink Tuna brings a new urban sushi house to Monterey. Black wood furniture, a cement floor, and a black granite sushi bar borrow from Japanese tradition—Japanese design was about simplicity long before it became the defining influence on 1990s minimalism—as well as trendier design.
Lacquered, colorful fish adorn one wall in the spacious dining room. A school of small metal fish on another wall change color under a revolving rainbow of light. A private room looks like an ideal party place for a small group with its two couches, a table that seats 10, and a plasma screen.
The beer and wine license kicks in on Monday, Aug. 13, so it’s been an extra-soft opening at Pink Tuna. In all fairness, I got a perfectly good buzz from the green tea. Diners can anticipate bottles of cold sake ($10.95), glasses of hot sake ($3.95-$5.95), and fruit-flavored sakes by the glass or bottle. A few quality sakes exist that are meant to be served slightly warm, but in general, good sake should be served slightly chilled (not cold). Mondavi wines and Dom Perignon or Cristal champagne will also be available.
We tried three simple starters. A good soup or salad is often worthy for what it doesn’t have—too much salt or too much dressing, respectively. Here the miso soup ($3.95) was high on flavor and pleasantly light on sodium. The Ocean Salad ($5.95) with three seaweeds was very tasty, with the right amount of the piquant sesame oil-soy-citrus dressing. Sunomono cucumber salad ($2.95) is simply cukes with vinegar and it performed as expected: it was fresh and nutritious.
With the notion of consuming sustainable seafood, I carefully selected some nigiri sushi. Pink’s menu asterisks items not always available and I was unsuccessful with halibut (hirami), Spanish mackerel (aji), and squid (ika). So I tried yellowtail, which is not sustainable, and albacore tuna, which, like halibut, is good if some criteria is met, such as location and fishing method. All of the intellectual fretting aside, both were melt-in-my-mouth fresh.
Pink Tuna’s menu consists primarily of maki (rolls). In addition to maki, sushi, and sashimi, there are about eight hot entrees, including charbroiled salmon, filet mignon, ahi tuna, teriyaki chicken, and even a cheeseburger and fries ($8.95-$24.95). Lovely bento boxes give diners a choice of two main items to accompany a California roll, salad, miso soup and rice ($19.95).
Two aspects of the maki menu are notable: There are a high number of items with cooked fish and a high number of items with a boatload of ingredients. Owner/chef Troy Mishey said he wants to cater to sushi veterans as well as sushi novices. He hopes to delight both with unusual ingredients like cilantro, mango, cashews, and caramelized red onions.
Sushi has always appealed to me for its purity. Tasting too many ingredients is like listening to several songs at the same time. Therefore, I selected mostly single-seafood maki, and my sustainable intentions were put aside with all but the Calamari Roll—a succulent cooked squid steak with avocado ($6.95).
The maki I recommend are: the Presto Roll ($7.95), in which hamachi flirts with the flavors of fresh garlic, basil and macadamia nuts; the Landshark ($9.95)—the only two-fish roll I tried and a lesson in maintaining an open mind—with grilled hamachi, unagi, avocado, lemon, macadamia nuts and shiso leaf; the Spicy Tuna Long Roll ($6.95), which has ahi tuna, green onion, cucumber, togarashi (a spice blend), tobiko and Pink’s house sauce; and the Pink Cadillac ($7.95), grilled hamachi, avocado and macadamia nuts, wrapped in soy paper with mango basil cream sauce.
In an after-dinner conversation with Mishey, he said the most popular item by far is the Hand Grenade ($5.95), two baked butterflied prawns stuffed with Dungeness crab and topped with a spicy red pepper sauce. As for the maki, every roll had fresh seafood, tender seaweed, and moist rice. Well done, Pink Tuna.
Add a sweet note with San Francisco’s well-known Bud’s ice cream—green tea or coconut, regular or deep-fried; or Japanese mochi balls ($3.95-$4.95).
Pink Tuna may not be the place for purists, but that is not a diss. The inventors of pizza in Napoli never imagined what Americans would do with the pie, and the Sonorans never imagined what we’d do with their small, single-ingredient burritos. Authentic isn’t everything. Good food is good food.
500 Tyler St., Monterey • 11:30am-10pm Mon-Sat; 5-11pm Sun • 373-8862