Fine cuisine from a distant isle

Takashi and Kaori Asakawa of newly opened Shima restaurant with their daughter Ami. - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Takashi and Kaori Asakawa of newly opened Shima restaurant with their daughter Ami.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Authentic Japanese fare offered at Shima.

The entrance is easy to miss, even with the Japanese-style gateway before a garden-like alley.

But at the door of Shima, a cozy interior of warm wood beckons.

The beautiful grain of red cedar tables and countertops complement an antique-looking, dark pine floor. Lit Japanese paper screens peek through close-set vertical stems of bamboo. Windows are framed with a surface-torched wood, polished to accentuate the burned, raised wood grain.

From an opening to the kitchen above the counter, the chefs energetically greet visitors.

“Our image was of a strolling path to a Japanese hot springs spa,” said Takashi Asakawa, chef and owner of Shima with his wife Kaori. “We wanted to make a comfortable, settled place.”

Shima, which opened recently at the corner of Madison Avenue and Winslow Way, serves Japanese dishes made from organic ingredients in a highly evocative setting.

A chef by trade, Takashi was turned on to organic produce by the delicious vegetables cooked by his mother.

“I would like to gather ingredients that are close to their true flavor. Chemicals diminish the smell and flavor of the vegetable,” Takashi said. “I want guests to enjoy the taste of the ingredients, the original flavor.”

By the same token, Shima also uses wild – not farm-raised – fish as much as possible in its dishes, which range from the well-known sushi and tempura to those less-known in the U.S. such as fried pork cutlet and vegetarian sushi.

Baked vegetables pressed onto brown rice, vegetarian sushi looks like its raw fish cousins. A slice of tomato masquerades as “tuna”; a sliver of seaweed binds leek and avocado to a bit of morel mushroom; a bundle of the spindly enoki mushroom and a single green bean rest on a tongue of roasted red pepper.

Even a vegetarian miso soup is available, made from a seaweed kombu broth instead of the usual bonito fish shavings broth, ubiquitous in Japanese cooking.

The vegetarian selection is a considerate nod to customers.

“There are a lot of vegetarian people in the U.S.,” Kaori said. “Sometimes families have vegetarian and non-vegetarian members.”

Before settling in the U.S., both Takashi and Kaori were enamored of the U.S. lifestyle they see as free and relaxed compared to Japan’s comparatively cramped living quarters and long working hours.

Both lived briefly in the U.S. after high school, and Takashi’s relatives frequently traveled overseas.

The timing was right when, almost four years ago, Takashi was recruited from his position as chef in Fukuoka City at a Japanese kappou-style restaurant – one that serves a variety of Japanese cuisines – by an elementary school friend. The friend asked Takashi to join his Japanese restaurant in Silverdale; he did, followed by a couple of years at a Japanese restaurant in Seattle’s Belltown.

The Asakawas decided to open their own restaurant on Bainbridge Island, and moved their family here last July.

They called on three of Takashi’s former colleagues in Japan to help do the interiors of Shima – a Japanese homonym for “island.”

“There are many kappou-style restaurants in Japan,” Kaori said, “and we wanted to serve these dishes to delight people in America.”

* * * * *

Ocean grill

Shima is located at 112 Madison Ave. near the corner of Winslow Way. Open Monday through Saturday, lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner is served from 5:30-9 p.m. For more information, call 855-9400.

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