Hibachi, sushi, and other Asian delights at Englewood’s Ozu852

Chef’s inspiration sushi and sashimi combo

By Paula Johnson

Heavenly Sushi
On a recent Thursday evening, PIP (Palate In Progress) and I found ourselves in the mood for sushi. In truth, PIP is in the mood for sushi every day, and his interest was piqued when I suggested we try a place with an odd name up in Englewood I had heard about. We arrived to find the restaurant’s small dining room on the way to being filled. (As we ate, it did fill and we observed parties waiting to be seated.) Our server, Ann, answered the first of my many queries, that being the origin of the restaurant’s curious name, Ozu852. She explained, “Ozu is our word meaning to have God. It’s an expression of Christian faith.” The 852 refers to the street address on Union Boulevard. Ann was also able to explain a lot about the menu, which offers both Chinese and Japanese options, including Chinese American dishes like Moo Goo Gai Pan and Egg Foo Yong. On the Japanese side, Tempura, Teriyaki, and Hibachi are offered. I asked what she felt was the strongest dish on the menu. A big smile spread over her face. “You will want to try our sushi.” I did indeed, and so did PIP. We also added a Shrimp Hibachi ($13.95) dinner to round out our experience.

A Pearl of an Oyster
We began with a few appetizers, Yuzu Hamachi ($10.00), Tuna Tartar ($10.00), and one of the day’s special appetizers, Kumamoto Oysters ($3.00 each). Let’s start with these little guys, my absolute favorite oyster. They are tiny with deep-cupped shells, mildly briny, sweet with a honeydew flavor. Uzo852 added a few zingy elements to spice and accent the taste, and the result was delicious. Equally successful were the other two dishes. I love the citrusy zing of yuzu with its tangy lemon grapefruit lime taste, nicely paired with the sliced yellow tail, heightened with a drizzle of spicy oil. Bright in color and in flavor, it seemed to defy the dark raininess of an Ohio February evening. The minced mound of the Tuna Tartar held a welcome little surprise on top – yamamomo, or Japanese mountain peach. It’s a little berry with a stone center, slightly sweet with a backbone of tart flavor, something I’ve rarely come across outside of Japan. Cubes of avocado, herby micro sprouts, a bright smattering of salty roe, and the zest of ponzu sauce came together well with the fine texture of the fish. The inclusion of special treats like yamamomo and beautiful garnishes really say a lot about the care and artistry of the chef. All of the plates were aesthetically pleasing and artistically presented, not to mention superior in taste.

The Chef’s Inspiration Platter ($28.00 small size) was particularly gorgeous, a colorful variety of whatever fish is freshest for sushi – that evening’s choices included standards such as salmon, tuna, squid, and yellow tail. We added on two of the evening’s specials, Toro ($9.00) and Baby Kampachi ($6.50) at the instance of Ann, and couldn’t thank her enough for the recommendations. Both were outstanding; the toro, or fatty tuna, was a special treat. Taken from the underbelly of blue fin tuna, it’s recognized for its marbling and creamy taste and soft texture.

Adding It Up
This was some sushi, and it made me reflect on the concurrent simplicity and complexity of what was melting in my mouth. When I got home I turned to esteemed author and critic Mimi Sheraton for her take on sushi. Sheraton sums up experiencing the combination of those four elements perfectly: “When all goes right, which is usually dictated to some degree by the price, such a meal delivers the delectable and unparalleled experience of the cool fish, sweet and tangy rice, salty soy sauce, and the spark of wasabi, all in one bite,” she says in her book 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die. It would seem that good sushi is simple and easily created – just four things, right? Anyone who has had inferior sushi can attest to the range of quality that exists where sushi is concerned. So much depends upon the freshness and quality of the fish, how it is cut – against or with the grain depending upon the fish – and the rice. Correctly preparing sushi rice is exacting. A particular short grain variety is required, seasoned with salt, sugar, and rice vinegar. It’s then tossed in a wooden bowl before being shaped and paired with a fish slice. Uzo852 appears to have this pretty well figured out.

In Japanese, the word hibachi means “fire bowl,” and is a traditional charcoal heating device made of a round, open-topped container lined with a heatproof material. In North America, hibachi is what food cooked on an iron griddle, more accurately called a teppan, has come to mean. In any case this kind of cooking is dependably tasty and a good safe bet. Overall, Uzo852 did an acceptable job with a generous number of large shrimp, vegetables, and a smoky mound of accompanying fried rice, but I found the vegetables a bit overcooked and overall the sauce to be overly sweet.

I remarked to Ann (who I discovered after more chatting is the owner of Uzo852) about the size of the crowd, and she offered this pro tip as an explanation: Thursdays we fill up because it’s when we have a delivery of special fish. We get the best of what’s available that day and our regular customers know it and come in for it. PIP and I after one visit consider ourselves one of Ozu852’s regulars, so sushi Thursdays is now our thing, too!

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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