Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gami generous with the decor

Ambience as charming as food at strip mall sushi restaurant

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Chef Doeyeong Kang (left) and his wife Hyunhee Park with shrimp tempura and sunomono salad.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Chef Doeyeong Kang (left) and his wife Hyunhee Park with shrimp tempura and sunomono salad. Photo Store

Strip mall restaurants just aren't what they used to be. Not only are they home to more interesting cuisines, but those once austere interiors have been giving way to some that can actually boast of decor. A case in point is Gami Sushi, a surprisingly enchanting little place softly lit by Japanese lanterns and featuring leatherette booths topped by pale bamboo additions which create more privacy and are partially sheltered, as well, by dark brown wicker screens. There are accents of fresh, healthy greenery (including what I think is a rubber tree), a little vase of fresh daisies on every table and, on one wall, a delicate depiction of a branch of orange blossoms.

It doesn't take a fortune to make a place pretty -- just an artistic sensibility, something which is extended here to the presentation of the food, which is charming. More to the point though, none of the above would matter if the food wasn't good, but, as it happens, it is.

Tuna sashimi was generous, neatly sliced and fresh-tasting ($11.99), and the sushi are well prepared on properly seasoned rice, with generous toppings or fillings, among them some fanciful variations on the classics. Two pieces of seafood nigiri sushi cost from $4.25 for albacore tuna or sockeye salmon, to $5.25 for yellowtail; regular rolls from $4.25 for the California roll with fake crab meat to $6.99 for the Deluxe Cally -- the same roll with real crabmeat (in fact, real crabmeat turns up quite often in some of the other rolls); and vegetable rolls from $3.25 for cucumber to $9.25 for a sushi pizza of crispy rice with mushrooms, cucumber and avocado.

The house rolls range from $5.95 for barbecued salmon skin with cucumber, avocado and capelin roe to $14.95 for Spicy Mania, a huge and tongue-tingling combination of either tuna or salmon with cucumber and jalapenos over a spicy roll of real crabmeat, with a spicy sashimi salad on the side. Some other inventive creations include Lovely Salmon -- spicy salmon with avocado topped by grilled salmon, and Dancing Shrimp -- no, not that infamous dish of live baby shrimp that dance in your mouth as you eat them, but a barbecued eel and crabmeat roll topped by grilled shrimp.

There's also a creation I've never seen before: salmon sandwiches, which actually look like dainty tea sandwiches -- flat, layers of dense rice topped by smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber and, finally, by a tobiko-dabbed slice of processed cheese -- an odd addition that isn't mentioned in the description (it may sound wrong but it tastes right). Note, though: it tends to fall apart and makes for sloppy eating with chopsticks.

Nothing I tried was less than good, but some dishes were outstanding. The sunomono salad was not only one of the best and most generous I can remember, but also the prettiest. It was presented on a lovely triangular dish with marinated seaweed at one end, thinly sliced baby cucumbers at the other, and a heap of translucent bean-thread noodles in the middle, seasoned in a mild vinegar dressing. It comes with a choice of seafood. I prefer the nicely chewy little dabs of octupus, but shrimp or crabmeat are the other options ($4.95).

Some of the other top choices are listed in an A La Carte section, among them tuna goma ae, in which the cubes of tuna are combined with chunks of avocado instead of the more usual spinach, in a sensual dark sauce of black and white sesame seeds ($8.99). Another was tuna tataki, generous slices of lightly grilled tuna garnished with thin slivers of slightly sweet pickled onions ($14.99).

There are standouts among the hot dishes, too. The surface of the agedahi tofu was lacy and slightly crisp, but soft within ($3.99). Although its sauce was a tad too sweet for my taste, the don katsu of crisply fried and sliced breaded pork tenderloin was also one of the best ever -- available only as part of a mini-meal meal, combined with rice, some veggies and orange wedges prettily tucked into half an orange shell ($10.95). Shrimp tempura were wonderful, in a greaseless puff of crunchy batter (eight for $10.99). The addictively flavourful beef yaki noodles with slivered veggies and slices of grilled beef came in a massive serving that would easily have made a meal for two ($12.95).

There are bento boxes, from $9.95 to $14.95, as well as generous multi-sushi lunch specials for $7.99. In fact, generosity was a recurring theme here. It isn't mentioned on the menu, and I don't know if it's a permanent practice, but I've heard many reports of complimentary miso soup and salad with orders, and my own experiences have included, on one visit, miso soup (excellent, by the way) and a vegetarian spring roll, and on another, miso soup to start and shrimp nigiri sushi to end with.

Service is hard to predict, since there were few other customers present. Communication is limited, but the lone server and the sushi chef were so wonderfully warm, welcoming and accommodating there were no problems at all.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2013 C5

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Updated on Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 8:39 AM CST: adds map, adds photo

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