St. Louis has slowly reached a comfortable number of sushi restaurants; fans of the style, and of Japanese cuisine, do not have to make a lengthy journey to eat well. It also means that little things can make one place stand out over another. Fin Japanese Cuisine, across Clarkson Road from Chesterfield Mall, welcomed us with a dining room that seemed warmer and nicely lighted, less spare than Japanese restaurants often are, and continued at that pleasant level throughout the evening.
And, as elaborate as sushi menus have become, we were pleased to see the explanations on the back of the menu; 27 “special maki” rolls, for instance, deserve their individual descriptions. Sitting at the bar, watching talented, speedy chefs at work, we saw plenty of those rolls, er, rolling out, and handsome they were, too, although we admit we sighed when we saw drizzles of mayonnaise being applied. Yes, it's used in Japan these days, but somehow, it just seems to adulterate the taste.
We prefer to have sushi as an appetizer and then go on to other parts of the menu, but sometimes it's tricky to accomplish. We ordered our whole meal at one time since we had another engagement, and although we indicated we wanted the sushi first, the octopus salad, a cup of miso soup and a green salad arrived almost immediately. We think this occurs, especially on busy evenings, because sushi preparation takes longer, and if it comes first, it slows down the entire meal and prevents turning tables as rapidly. The octopus salad had thin, tender slices of meat in a toasted sesame dressing; good balance and a very tasty dish. The green salad, mostly iceberg, had a teaspoon or so of a dressing made with minced ginger poured over the center. Not much flavor to the dressing, but at least the greens were fresh and crisp. Miso soup was more flavorful, more intense, than most versions we have been served. Its characteristic, salty flavor stood out, balanced by a few pieces of spinach waiting in the bowl with the tofu cubes. Nice and hot, we'd add.
Grilled smelt were another tasty dish. Three little fish, about six inches long, were cooked to perfection, crisp skin covering sweet flesh and a few crunchy bones. Each is good for about three bites (four if you like the heads), and they are definitely fish.
Then the sushi, the usual nigiri sushi, fish draped over perfectly cooked rice with fiery green wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce alongside. Delightful, fresh mackerel led the way, with almost-sweet flounder, slightly chewy octopus, tasty clam and succulent sea bass also perfectly trimmed and looking lovely. Salmon roe was a standout, the fish oil squirting into the mouth as teeth clamped down on the red-orange spheres. Slightly disappointing were two dishes billed as "spicy." A scallop hand roll, in a cone made of seaweed, filled with diced scallop in an orange sauce, had nice flavor but wasn't spicy to our taste. The same problem befell a yellowtail roll, though it stood out because there was just a bit of pickle running through it, adding crunch and a little tartness. The rice was moist, and just the correct almost-room temperature.
The soup and salad were included with the bento box. The Shogun brought a piece of grilled black cod brushed with miso sauce, four pieces of tempura (shrimp, broccoli, sweet potato and squash), and three pieces of sashimi, including some first-rate tuna. Everything, including the sashimi, was very close to room temperature, rendering the tempura soggy and what might have been a lovely piece of grilled fish quite mundane. The fact that our order arrived in a rather slap-dash fashion, soup and salad, followed by sushi and the bento box,may have contributed. We ate a lot of sushi, one of the better examples we've seen, which may have kept the final course sitting too long.
The room is marked by a long bar, one end of which serves cocktails and offers a lengthy sake list; beer remains our favorite accompaniment to Japanese meals. Servers were all extremely busy, but mostly managed well and with a nicely courteous note. As a side note, it was good to see several families with children, from stroller size up. The idea of young diners learning the pleasure of ethnic food beyond pizza fills us with smiles.
Fin Japanese Cuisine
1682 Clarkson Rd., Chesterfield
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner nightly
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good