Tag Archives: sushi

The Path to Dao

Dao, in the Chinese culture, means “way” or “path.” The path to the new Dao Restaurant in the Bannerman Crossings Shopping Center has its own special significance in Tallahassee, beginning decades ago, with local icon and entrepreneur Lucy Ho.

A pioneer of Chinese restaurants in Tallahassee, she opened her first venue, Lucy Ho’s Bamboo Garden, in 1970 and later launched Masa and Azu. Ho has retired, but her vision continues with Masa Nagashima, general manager of her restaurants for nearly 40 years, and Kenny Fan, the nephew of her late husband, who was a kitchen manager at Azu.

Nagashima, who is of Japanese heritage, and Fan, who is Taiwanese, are now both co-owners of Azu, on Apalachee Parkway, and Dao, which opened April 13 in the upscale Bannerman Crossings center.

If you’re a fan of Azu, you’ll be happy to have this outpost of the pan-Asian restaurant in the Northeast. The menu is the same as Azu’s except that some dishes are $1 or $2 more.

The setting
The setting is contemporary, desirable for a date night yet casual enough to bring the family. It’s spacious, with room for 209, but there’s warmth here, with lots of wood and subtle hues. Seating mixes tables and comfortable booths and there’s outdoor dining. Of special interest are the elegant displays of teapots from Taiwan. Dao has a room for private parties seating up to 24.

Dig In
Like many Asian restaurants, Dao has a huge menu so after two visits we’ve still only sampled a small portion of the choices available here. The restaurant offers plenty of appetizers, soups and salads if you just want to graze plus hot entrees and sushi, aiming to do justice to three cuisines — Chinese, Thai and Japanese.

As for starters, our four pan-seared pork dumplings (you can also order them steamed) were delicious, pan-fried to a golden brown, totally binge-worthy. We also liked the plate-size scallion pancake, crisp on the outside, chewy inside, pan-fired, and served with a dipping sauce of rich coconut curry. The fried oysters were coated with a light panko crust, and while not the best we’ve had, were tasty.

One of our favorite dishes at Dao was the coconut chicken curry, my husband’s go-to choice at most Thai restaurants. He was happy with Dao’s rendition, brimming with pieces of white chicken, green and red bell peppers and bamboo shoots in a lush sauce with a slight kick. All dishes come with steamed or fried rice.

Our friend raved about her Peking duck (she chose a half order), a generous serving of succulent, thinly sliced meat served alongside pieces of mouthwatering, crisp skin. You can slice open the accompanying doughy lotus pancakes and make a sandwich with the duck, skin and green onions.

The grouper filet was outstanding, a large piece of fish lightly breaded and fried, topped with bits of mapo tofu, a mix of ground pork and tofu in a perky sauce. On the side was perfectly cooked broccoli.

If you like beef, the shiitake steak was an eight-ounce rib-eye, which we ordered medium rare. The meat was tender, served with lots of shiitake and white button mushrooms in a soy-based sauce, and broccoli. It was much better than the beef tenderloin we ordered on our second visit to Dao. That tenderloin was overcooked and chewy — the saving grace was an array of just-firm sweet bell peppers, zucchini and mangoes.

Azu fans will also be happy to find Chinese classics like the salt-and-pepper soft shell crab, soy ginger cod, General Tso’s chicken, stir-fried eggplant, and Taiwanese-style rice noodles at Dao.

The menu offers six Japanese dinners, including teriyaki, tempura and panko-fried cutlets, which come with soup and salad. A friend ordered grilled chicken teriyaki, with green beans and some greenery (so you essentially get two salads). The chicken was moist and tender but it could have used a little more punch.

Dao has an extensive selection of sushi and sashimi, including dinners and a la carte choices, nigiri (leel, quail eggs with smelt roe, flying fish or squid), hand rolls (seaweed outside) and a list of more than three dozen rolls, including veggie rolls and picks such as the Philadelphia with smoked salmon, cream cheese and scallions, and the Dragon Fly, with eel, cream cheese, avocado, tuna, with eel and kimchi sauces.

We skipped the more elaborate combos and opted for the simple spicy tuna roll and the shrimp tempura, with a piece of the fried shellfish poking out of a roll with mayo and a spring mix, both standards done very well here.

We didn’t have dessert but Dao offers several choices, including ice cream, sesame balls, crème brûlée, fried cheesecake, and “Peanut Butter Explosion.”

Servers are young, friendly and helpful. When we took home leftovers, we were given a new carton of rice, a nice touch.

The bar
Dao has a full bar, plus bottled and draft beer (including Japanese beers Sapporo and Kirin), a small but varied wine list and hot and cold sake.

Bottom line
We found mostly hits and a few misses at Dao, but overall it’s a pleasant dining experience with reasonable prices and a welcoming atmosphere.

When you go …
3425 Bannerman Rd., Unit A102, Tallahassee.

Starters $2.50 to $15, entrees $9 to $22 ($40 for a whole Peking duck), rolls $4 to $16, sushi and sashimi dinners $18 to $28, dessert $4 to $7.50.

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday to Thursday.


Tallahassee Table Rating
Worth a Drive

Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.





Appreciating sushi

We asked our son and daughter-in-law, who have become sushi fanatics since moving to New York, to share some of what they’ve learned. We hope this information can help you find the best sushi in the Capital City and beyond. – Rochelle Koff

By Davis Ward and Julia Zhang

For many people in the United States, going out for “sushi” means feasting on elaborate rolls of rice stuffed with raw fish — plus vegetables like avocado or cucumber, and covered in rich sauces such as spicy mayo, and filled with crunchy flakes or cream cheese.

But just as authentic Mexican or Chinese foods have little in common with their Americanized versions, a real sushi experience is quite different than what you get with a JB or California roll.

It’s something that took me a while to figure out. I remember first developing a taste for sushi in the late 90s when places serving it were popping up all over South Florida, where I grew up. I used to get those big, heavy rolls, then mix wasabi and soy sauce together, put ginger on top of the roll and mix it all together to make a scrambled, salty, spicy mess.

It was good. But that was not, as I learned later, the best way to do it.

When I moved to New York about 10 years ago, colleagues took me to sushi places that served up a more authentic experience, and I’ve become somewhat obsessed. OK, I’ve become really obsessed. Seeing the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and going to Japan a few years ago only fanned the flames.

Here are a few things I’ve come to learn and appreciate about what is my favorite food, in no particular order:

  • Sushi is actually an umbrella term for different combinations of raw-fish and rice.
  • Sushi rolls are called maki, but are usually simpler in Japan – just the seaweed nori wrapper, sushi rice, and usually one kind of fish.
  • Sashimi is just raw slices of fish, and is usually served as a warmup for nigiri, which are the raw pieces of fish on top of sushi rice. This is the main event in traditional omakase (chef’s choice) dinners.
  • Hand rolls are like maki but they’re often packed a bit more loosely, and are meant to be eaten – as you might guess – by hand, like a burrito, rather than as sliced pieces.
  • Finally, chirashi is a bowl of sushi rice with pieces of sashimi arranged on top; you can mix it together and eat how you’d like.
Different cuts of tuna nigiri at Sushi Nakazawa in NYC. - Julia Zhang
Different cuts of tuna nigiri at Sushi Nakazawa in NYC.
– Julia Zhang
Ikura - salmon roe nigiri at Sushi Nakazawa in New York. - Julia Zhang
Ikura – salmon roe nigiri at Sushi Nakazawa in New York. – Julia Zhang
Nigiri at Ichimura at Brushstroke in New York. - Julia Zhang
Nigiri at Ichimura at Brushstroke in New York. – Julia Zhang
Tuna bella and scallion maki. - Flickr, labeled for reuse
Tuna bella and scallion maki. – Flickr, labeled for reuse
Tuna hand roll at Sushi Nakazawa in New York. - Julia Zhang
Tuna hand roll at Sushi Nakazawa in New York. – Julia Zhang 
Chirashi. - Wikimedia commons
Chirashi. – Wikimedia commons

Fresh, local – or not

Sushi doesn’t necessarily have to be “fresh.” In fact, the best sushi places will serve fish that has actually been aged a few days. Just as a fine steakhouse will age beef (though for much longer than fish) to intensify the flavors, fish for sushi needs a few days for enzymes to break down and tenderize the meat.

If you were on a Japanese fishing boat, caught a tuna and filleted it and ate it right there, you’d be chewing on a relatively flavorless, chewy piece of flesh (not to mention ruining a fish that could sell for tens of thousand of dollars or more at the Japanese fish market).

Aging it for a few days at the sushi restaurant allows its delicate flavors to come out. Some dishes are even marinated – mackerel often in a vinegar marinade to mellow out its harsher flavors.

And it’s a food where local isn’t always better — better is just better. Chefs in NYC will fly in frozen fish from Japan because that’s where the best fish for sushi comes from. Few pieces of fish are served truly fresh – they’re deep-frozen on fishing vessels to kill bacteria and parasites and to preserve them, then thawed out and aged. The deep freezing is why the raw fish is safe to eat.

Before the invention of refrigeration, in fact, all sushi was deeply marinated in soy sauce or vinegar to preserve the food. The most traditional sushi in Japan is more marinated and salty-tasting than the fresher style you see in modern restaurants.

However, some dishes – shellfish like scallops or shrimp, for example – are best as fresh as possible. At Sushi Nakazawa in New York, the chef will often cut open a live scallop right in front of you, set it on the sushi rice, touch on a bit of yuzu citrus sauce, and serve it right there. It’s absolutely delicious, even as the scallop wriggles in your mouth. He does something similar with the botan ebi shrimp, a large, sweet prawn – often garnished with caviar – that is one of a sushi restaurant’s greatest pleasures.

Live scallop at Sushi Nakazawa in NYC - Julia Zhang
Live scallop at Sushi Nakazawa in NYC
– Julia Zhang
Botan shrimp at Nakazawa - Julia Zhang
Botan shrimp at Nakazawa
– Julia Zhang
Botan ebi with caviar - Julia Zhang
Botan ebi with caviar
– Julia Zhang

Rice is nice

The rice is critical. While having great quality fish – prepared in just the right way – is important to a great piece of sushi, so is the rice. It has to hold together without congealing into a formless blob, but you should be able to feel the individual pearls with your tongue as

 Grains of Sushi rice. - Food52.com
Grains of Sushi rice.
– Food52.com

you taste it. It should have its own, delicate flavor, but support and bring out the flavor of the fish. Making good sushi rice is an art form – you need to use a special grain, cook it with the right amount of vinegar, and serve it at just the right temperature, then mold it in just the right way. Rice is what distinguishes a great sushi restaurant from a merely good one.


A good sushi place will offer you a unique dessert: tamago. This is an elaborate omelet – eggs cooked with ground Japanese sweet potatoes, shrimp paste, and sugar. A decent version tastes like curiously, appealingly sweet eggs; a great version tastes like nothing else.

Tamago dessert at Sushi Nakazawa: - Julia Zhang
Tamago dessert at Sushi Nakazawa:
– Julia Zhang


Fresh wasabi and good pickled ginger make a difference. But at most good sushi places, you won’t really need to use soy sauce or wasabi – the chef puts on just the right amounts when making it. He may get insulted if you add more sauce or wasabi on your own, but will be happy to adjust on the next pieces if you ask. Great pickled ginger works as a palate cleanser between bites – the best versions are pale yellow, thick cut and sweet, not the pink, thin ribbons you often see.

Fresh wasabi horseradish - Wikipedia commons
Fresh wasabi horseradish
– Wikipedia commons

So where can you get this experience in the United States? Your best bets are going to be New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles – where sushi first came to America about 100 years ago. While there are other great sushi places around the country, these cities have high concentrations of Japanese immigrants and fantastic fish markets – with access to the best ingredients from around the world.

Find a traditional omakase place and sit at the bar. It’s the best kind of place to eat alone, focusing on the food, what the chef is doing in front of you and nothing else. Open your mind and put your trust in the chef’s hands.

Sushi chefs, artists of food - Julia Zhang
Sushi chefs, artists of food
– Julia Zhang
Julia Zhang and Davis Ward at a sushi-making class.
Julia Zhang and Davis Ward at a sushi-making class.