Japanese Fusion at Aji53

A beautiful assortment of sushi at Aji in Cobble Hill
Seared tuna tacos – fusion at its best

I have written before about my distaste for Japanese “fusion” restaurants, which are prone to offering dishes with half a dozen kinds of fish, sauces, and condiments – perhaps as a way to distract from having not the freshest of fish. That’s why I was surprised that I enjoyed Aji 53, a newcomer to Cobble Hill’s Smith Street scene, that serves inventive, yes, Japanese fusion dishes.

The key to Aji’s success is that it doesn’t sacrifice the fish’s freshness, and it’s dishes are focused, not overly complicated. These fusion dishes make use of inventive techniques to combine different flavors.  For example, a light wasabi-infused oil gave a tempura appetizer its kick; and scallops were bathed in a black bean sauce combined with miso.

Fusion cocktails were also surprisingly delicious, like an awesome sake-sangria that was far lighter than most wine-based varieties.

Aji’s best appetizer: yellowtail “shooters”
Sake trio

We started with a trio of sake glasses, deftly served on a banana leaf, and a good deal at only $7.  The unfiltered Kizakura Nikori sake was a nice addition.

Next, I really enjoyed a special of yellowtail “shooters,” served in little bowls and taken like a shot of tequila. Yellowtail is wrapped around white fish with a dose of yuzu and citrus, and sprinkled with wasabi.  Its best appetizer, this was a great example of Aji’s inventive, yet not over the top dishes. Just the right amount of citrus, yozu, and wasabi complimented the fresh yellowtail.

We also liked seared tuna with shrimp and yuzu, stuffed in crunchy tacos and drizzled with balsamic. An unlikely combination that actually worked, especially the contrast of textures.

Another inventive creation was Kuromame scallops  a dish of scallops with a black bean miso sauce and an assortment of mushrooms and asparagus. I wasn’t expecting to like the combination of black beans sauce and miso, but it actually worked. The scallops were nicely cooked too.

Another good choice was a delicate warm mushroom salad with sauteed daily-changing wild mushroom served on a bed of warm spinach and dressed with olive oil and truffle puree.

The “Aji Sandwich” perhaps went a bit too far, however. The presentation was great: beautifully layered tempura eggplant is topped with spicy lobster and then salmon, with a miso dressing and wasabi oil. There were maybe one too many layers to the sandwich, and the flavors didn’t come together as well as it could have. Perhaps the salmon could be done without or replaced with a milder fish like fluke.

Finally, onto the sushi: the nigiri was super fresh with long, healthy portions of fish draped over small balls of rice. Special rolls include the “Twister” with spicy lobster and grilled seabass inside, topped with a twist of tuna and avocado with drizzled wasabi oil.

The service was a step above most sushi places. Frequent plate changes and a sense of courses and meal pacing was appreciated.  The restaurant also sports a sleek decor and an aqua-themed bar, where free appetizers are on offer during happy hour.

Aji 53
170 Smith St,
Brooklyn, NY, 11201

Recommended dishes: Yellowtail “shooters,” tuna tacos, warm mushroom salad, Kuromame scallops, twister roll, sake sangria.

P.S. Aji also has two locations on Long Island, one in Smithtown and one in Bay Shore.

Aji 53 on UrbanspoonAji53 on UrbanspoonAji53 on Urbanspoon

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