The new Wasabi Japanese Steak House has added top-quality sushi to the Daniel Island mix of high-quality Italian, Chinese, and Mediterranean.
This Wasabi is the third location opened by owner John Tang, who also has restaurants downtown and out in Summerville. Don't expect the high-energy, nightclub vibe of the original Wasabi on State Street (motto: "Eat Sushi. Dance All Night Long"). The Daniel Island incarnation is a modern fine-dining restaurant, and both the décor and the menu reflect that.
It's a very stylish and upscale interior, with dark brown tables and white-leather booths. Long white curtains of spaghetti-like strings separate the various dining areas, while pendant lamps and a huge chandelier composed of dozens of red cylindrical shades cast a delicate glow over the place. Even the table settings are elegant.
The sushi at Wasabi is every bit as sophisticated as the décor. I've long felt that the proper way to get a real feel for a sushi restaurant is through the omakase, or chef's choice. At Wasabi, the 10-piece nigiri omakase is $28, and a 15-piece sashimi runs $35. Both give an excellent feel for the sushi bar's repertoire. At lesser restaurants they tend to give you just the most basic (and inexpensive) nigiri, and often in pairs, too, I assume to save the chef's time. All 10 pieces on the Wasabi selection are different and show a nice range of flavors.
In addition to a fine bowl of miso soup, the omakase the night I tried it included standard selections like salmon and rosy-red big eye tuna, but it also had some more adventurous items like madai — Japanese red snapper dotted with a speck of yuzu paste — and sea urchin roe. I added a quail egg to my selection, and the chef served it over the sea urchin roe as well as the salmon roe. The result is exquisite, especially for the salmon roe. The egg is creamy and soft, while the big globes of roe pop with salty sweetness as you bite through the roll.
All told, the quality of the fish in general seems very good, with both a slightly firm texture and crisp, fresh flavor. Do be warned: the selection is not politically correct. The menu prominently features not just bluefin tuna but also the poster-child of unsustainable seafood, Chilean sea bass. But, we're talking about a sushi restaurant here, with fish jetted halfway around the globe from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market, according to the menu.
While the omakase provides a representative sampling, the sushi bar's "specialty dishes" really let the chefs show their chops. Wasabi's include intriguing and exotic combinations like hirame usuzukuri (thin slices of flounder with ponzu sauce, $10), a monk fish pate ($7) made with steamed monk fish liver, and the madai (snapper) sashimi, which is garnished with the impressive-sounding "250 million-year-old Himalayan pink salt."
The kanpachi carppaccio ($12) is served on a stylish, rectangular white plate. Ten slices of young yellowtail are sliced paper-thin, and each is topped with a brilliant green dot of yuzu sauce, plus a sprinkling of fine yellow roe and a drizzle of a lemony white truffle oil. It's a very clean, fragrant, and beautiful dish, the delicate fish contrasting with the fiery yuzu pepper sauce and tangy oil, while a sprinkling of fine yellow roe adds little beads of texture. It's the kind of meal that leaves you feeling satisfied but light, not stuffed or about to burst.
If you're looking for bigger entrées, Wasabi has you covered. The menu includes broiled lobster tail ($30) with wilted spinach with miso butter and a Wagyu ribeye ($40) served with yam fries. And to crank things past upscale and into the realm of conspicuous excess, there's the toro aburi ($30): bluefin tuna marinated in black truffle soy sauce, lightly torched by the chef, and garnished with a foil of pure 24 karat gold.
Wasabi's head chef Johnny Chan trained in Japan, and he and his crew make everything from scratch, including the soy sauce and the wasabi paste, which they buy whole and grate themselves.
The effort shows. With an elegant décor, a devotion to freshness and quality, and a lineup of both standard sushi and specials that are intriguing and delicately delicious, the new Wasabi clearly stands among the best sushi restaurants in the Charleston area. Chalk up another victory for the increasingly impressive Daniel Island restaurant scene.