Posted On: 03/01/2011
Fin Japanese Cuisine, 1682 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield, 636.536.4228, finstl.com
Fin Japanese Cuisine in Chesterfield has no wall-sized aquarium stocked with local river fish. It’s just as well; catfish sashimi sounds about as appetizing as chicken sashimi (although raw chicken is a delicacy in Japan, so who knows?).
Instead, owner Supatra Klum has created a comfortable and stylish space with visually pleasing touches like ceramic bottles for the soy sauces, sushi elegantly presented on Raku-like platters, a white-stone wall behind the bar and warm lighting emanating from hanging glass fixtures. It’s hard to imagine this is where locals used to grab an Einstein bagel and morning cuppa. The new ambiance would be almost temple-like calm, were it not for the two flat-screen televisions (blessedly silent) hanging behind the bar and Charlie Parker (nothing wrong with Bird) wafting from the sound system. But Fin ain’t no be-quiet-and-eat Zen sanctuary. Nor is it obnoxiously loud, as so many restaurants seem to be these days.
Despite advances in overnight delivery of supremely fresh fish, we in the Midwest aren’t going to get curiosities like saury, halfbeak or sweetfish. So while Fin may not be the place for local Japanophiles, it does offer capable, albeit mostly standard, Japanese fare, including sushi, lots of teriyaki, cute bento boxes and a number of noodle soups. The sushi menu is extensive, the fish fresh and clean tasting: generous slices of tuna, brilliant red as stained glass; creamy white scallops; chewy clams, each wrapped with a tidy band of seaweed. Alas, no otoro, the fattiest part of bluefin tuna, was available during my visits.
Thick pieces of gunkan (spelled “gunkwan” on the menu) sushi are like little tugboats (the name actually means “battleship”) of sticky rice wrapped with pressed seaweed (nori) and topped with ingredients like crunchy roe or, in our case, Japanese pepper spicing up the diced salmon and daikon radish slivers accenting the spicy tuna. Rice is the Polo shirt of Japanese cuisine; bland and predictable. But sushi rice is flavored with rice vinegar and other seasonings, though the rice supporting our sushi seemed anemic.
The condition carried over to other parts of the menu. Entrées, while satisfactory, are a bit boring, missing that “fifth taste” umami quality. Teriyaki, whether chicken, pork, beef or fish, is still teriyaki. The grilled “whole” squid is not as scary as what our brain imagines. Rather, about 13 large, sliced rings of properly grilled squid (meaning not rubbery) were fanned out on the plate and came with two dipping sauces: teriyaki and an orange-based sweet and spicy condiment. Squid’s neutrality demands some kind of sauce, but forgo the orange sauce; it’s almost too sweet and thick to complement the delicate cephalopod.
Bento sets are always fun, like little puzzle boxes of neatly arranged food. At Fin, they also are good values, mixing and matching a main protein with, depending on the set, a maki, gyoza (dumpling), tempura and selection of sashimi. Salad, rice and a better-than-average miso soup accompany each set. (It’s worth mentioning the salad’s dressing; slightly creamy and citrusy, think of a thinner, tarter Caesar or creamy Italian dressing. It is quite good, so good that one dining partner purchased a container to take home. You can too.) Our Ninja set consisted of grilled teriyaki saba (mackerel), three gyoza, and white and yellowtail tuna and salmon sashimi beautifully folded to appear like rose buds. For the uninitiated, mackerel surprises with its strong flavor and chewy texture, as another dining partner discovered. Here the sweet soy teriyaki glaze is a good foil to the saltiness of the fish.
Those bento boxes, along with the rice bowls and sushi combos, also make for some of the better quantity-to-price lunch values around. Nine bucks for two rolls or one roll and three nigiri is a deal. Same for a bento box that includes gyoza, salad, rice and soup. And don’t forget the rice tea, a subtle brew of loose green tea steeped with brown rice that is not as grainy or earthy as it may sound.
Several of the 27 special maki intrigued, notably the Fin and Shogun rolls, the former consisting of tuna and minty shiso leaf, breaded and then deep-fried for crunchy satisfaction. It is the Shogun, however, that will bring me back. Inside the nori wrapper, there’s chopped tuna, crispy masago (fish roe), scallions and a spicy sauce. On top sits a bit of sliced tuna and avocado. But wait, is that apple inside – cold and crisp – playing the contrapuntal role with taste and texture, adding sweet to the savory, crunch to the soft? It’s that type of out of the ordinary surprise Fin could use more of.
Where: Fin Japanese Cuisine, 1682 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield, 636.536.4228, finstl.com
When: Lunch: Mon. to Fri. – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Sun. to Thu. – 5 to 9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. –
5 to 10 p.m.
Don’t-Miss Dish: Shogun and Fin rolls, bento box lunch specials.
Vibe: Stylish and comfortable.
Entrée Prices: $15.95 to $21.95. Sushi: $2.50 to $4 per piece. Maki: $9 to $15.
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