Had my last delicious sushi at Kamitori last night, on Chef Masa Itai’s last night before the joint closes for personal health reasons. Since it’s summer, I had to nibble on eggplant tempura, and I opted for the chef’s choice and a side of rather glorious silvery aji (horse mackerel) whose name I remember from a Japanese friend swooning about it: aji wa aji (horse mackerel is tasty)!
The chef has been battling hand problems for quite some time that make it very hard to press and turn sushi. Without hesitation, I agree that he’s making the right decision, but it’s such a loss for Eugene it’s hard not to mourn.
The good news is that he’s decided to reopen after some rest and reconfiguration of the space as a coffee shop featuring Japanese breakfast pastries. The planned opening is in the second week of July. This, too, is sure to be excellent. Masa has been trained in a number of cuisines and stations, so be sure to sample his wares. The location next to the bus station at 11th and Willamette will prove to be advantageous for morning commuters, I think. He’ll be open in the morning and afternoons six days a week. Try the Kamitori website soon for more information (nothing’s up yet).
I’m deeply grateful for the quality and purist style of sushi Masa brought to town. It was a wake-up call for many of us that Eugene can have nice things, and that there are enough people in town to appreciate excellent quality and simple and traditional Japanese food, and restaurateurs who forge forward with their principles for good clean high-quality food, even though it’s not the moneymaker of the masses.
Masa taught many new diners how much different sushi can be if we just experience the flavors of the sea and hold back on the garish rainbow rolls with fried bits and sweet sauce, but he also taught more experienced sushi lovers how to appreciate rice that didn’t have the compacted life squeezed out of it and soup that was freshly made from real ingredients. I’ve sampled his homemade pickles and herbs and we’ve chatted many times about Japanese preservation and particular kinds of special fish that he endeavored to bring to the restaurant. I’ll miss it very much and hope someone will come to fill the niche, even if they won’t be able to fill his shoes!
Masa did mention to me that he’s thinking of occasionally — perhaps monthly — hosting sushi nights once his hand has a chance to heal a bit. So for those of you who are fans of mackerel, firefly squid, cod milt, and all the squirmy bits have no fear.
Good luck and thanks for everything, Chef!