Yozo Natsui is the real sushi deal.
Born and trained in the art of sushi in his native Japan, he came to South Florida more than 15 years ago to help his brother open a Japanese restaurant in Miami.
Ten years ago, he opened his first Bluefin Sushi in Boca Raton. In 2008, he and a partner opened a second location in Parkland. Along the way, Natsui has become the go-to person for anyone opening a sushi restaurant. He has consulted on more than 20 restaurants, from South Miami all the way to Atlanta.
No wonder his Bluefin Sushi took top the best sushi award in the latest Sun Sentinel Best of South Florida series.
“I am happy,” said Natsui … “Thank you very much.”
Les Arouh, Natsui’s partner in the Parkland restaurant, says their key to success is the chef’s personality and prowess.
“Yozo is a very special chef,” Arouh says. “He never wanted to be a big shot, he’s never full of himself. I used to eat at the restaurant in Boca every day. I had a shopping center in Parkland that I was wanting to have a sushi restaurant in and I asked Yozo to become a partner.”
At either restaurant, diners are impressed with both service and atmosphere. This isn’t a mom and pop sushi spot. It’s more like a comfortable American tavern that happens to serve the best sushi in the region. While most staff members are Thai, they know the Japanese side of the menu as well as the Thai dishes.
In Parkland, both the wine and sake menus have recently been expanded.
Yozo insists on upholding what he learned about sushi making in Japan: proper presentation, freshness and cleanliness. At the same time, he has a knack for translating the flavors of Japan for the American palate. One of his most popular rolls, for instance, is the Lobster Bomb: lobster tempura, avocado, asparagus, scallions and roe. It’s topped with spicy tiger sauce. Likewise, the Dragon Roll is a bestseller with lightly tempura-battered shrimp, avocado, asparagus, cream cheese, roe and spicy mayo with avocado eel sauce.
Yozo’s next big challenge will see him translating Asian flavors into a fusion restaurant called Shaka Sushi and Robata Grill in Coconut Creek. There will be sushi, of course, but also a robata or charcoal grill on which much of the food will be cooked. It’s much more healthful than frying, which is a popular Japanese cooking method.
“Robata is real Japanese cooking,” says Natsui, 53. “Plus I’ll be doing fusion cooking. Since I came to Florida, I’ve met chefs from many other countries —Thailand, China and realized that each country has something. Living in Japan, of course, my main cooking is Japanese. I’m trying to set up a new fusion menu sourcing ingredients from other countries. It’s a good challenge for me.”
John Tanasychuk can be reached at jtanasychuk@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him Twitter.com @FloridaEats.