“We’d chosen old favorite Red Dragon Roll (scallop, scallions, topped with tuna), a half Yud Roll (eel, shrimp tempura, cucumber, wrapped in salmon), a half Spider Roll (softshell crab with vegetables)…” Rachel Wagner heads back to the scene of the crime where sushi in Israel first tickled her fancy.

There seems to be a sushi joint on every corner these days. In the way that Starbucks took over American cities corner by corner virtually overnight, so it is with the ubiquitous reasonably priced take out sushi joints. But like the now pedestrian grande latte, there was once a time when sushi wasn’t available to every Tom, Dick and Moshe.

Sushi was once an elite affair, relegated to elegant minimalist restaurants were sake was sipped, sashimi was dipped, and the wealthy reveled in exotica. Then the trend hit, and somewhat more attainable, far more hip sushi bars opened. Among them was Kyoto in Herziliya Pituach.

One of our favourties among the high-but-not-too-high end sushi bars, Idan and I were excited to pay a long overdue return visit. We took advantage of the last days of summer and sat in the stylish white front patio admiring the sleek look and 10 foot decorative stalks of bamboo. The restaurant’s interior is more in keeping with the menus: chic and black. Over multiple pages of chic blackness, an extensive array of Japanese cuisine is laid out.

We chose to take some of our waiter Roei’s recommendations and start with the spicy tofu instead of my usual favourite, agadashi, one miso soup, and the Sashimi New Style with salmon and tuna. The deep fried cubes of tofu were a tad firmer than I prefer, but once immersed in the slightly sweet and mildly spicy sauce they softened nicely and even tofu enemy Idan ate a few. The sahimi new style, attractively fanned out, consisted of thin slices of raw fish and, in addition to a large salad of shredded carrot and cucumber, was topped with generous amounts of fresh (as opposed to pickled) ginger and lemon juice. The fish was fresh and tasty, making me wish we’d also ordered some traditional sashimi.
Alas, we had not, but hungry we wouldn’t go with the extensive maki selection that arrived next, attractively displayed on the customary wooden block. We’d chosen old favorite Red Dragon Roll (scallop, scallions, topped with tuna), a half Yud Roll (eel, shrimp tempura, cucumber, wrapped in salmon), a half Spider Roll (softshell crab with vegetables), one eel nigiri, the Ebi Spicy Tuna handroll (tuna, avocado and shrimp tempura), one salmon inari, and finally, the Kyoto Cheese.

The rolls were all bigger than I remembered. Whether they had really grown or I’ve simply become accustomed to tiny cheapie maki I can’t say. All the rolls were to our liking: tasty, not overly sweet rice, and fresh fish. The tofu skin on the inari was nicely sweet (Idan seemed to like it before I told him it was sort of tofu), and the eel nigiri contained the largest chunk of eel I’ve ever seen on a nigiri. And now it’s time to discuss the Kyoto Cheese.

The other innovation at Kyoto (other than being hipper and more fun than an old school sushi bar) is that they also offer dishes that have been ‘adapted to the Western palate.’ I suppose that could be a somewhat accurate description for the 4 tempura battered and deep fried triangles of sushi rice, cooked salmon, avocado, and…wait for it….yellow cheese. I took a bite, I took another, I even took a third. And that was just about all the melted cheese I could handle at a sushi bar. Idan, my Israeli dinner companion tentatively took a bite. ‘Mmmm, delicious!’ he declared. ‘It’s very Israeli actually. That’s probably why you don’t like it. You know, like melted cheese toasts’. Melted cheese toasts he says. ‘I like grilled cheese as much as the next guy, just not in my sushi’ I retorted. At which point Idan happily gobbled the remaining 3 triangles. I then noticed 2 girls happily digging into their own order of Kyoto Cheese at the next table. So maybe it’s just me.

After polishing off the last of the tasty maki, we ordered a couple cocktails to wash it all down and wait for dessert – an interesting dish called Coco Manjo consisting of deep fried chocolate flavoured glutinous rice-flour balls served hot with ice cream. Though we were warned ‘they’re best when hot so eat up’, I went back for a pick once the last one had gone cold and discovered that, to my delight, they were actually even tastier cold and had condensed into what reminded me of a classic glutinous Chinese dessert.

‘Authentic’ or not, 10 years after opening, Kyoto has cornered the market on stylish young people eating stylish young sushi.

7 Arie Shenkar, Herziliya Pituach