Former Employee Brings Back Beloved Japanese Restaurant Coeur d’Alene, Blending Old and New Traditions | Food News | Spokane | Interior of the Pacific Northwest
Jtalk about deja vu. When signs first appeared on a building on Lakeside Avenue in November 2020, noting that Takara Japanese Cuisine & Sushi was “opening soon,” longtime residents of Coeur d’Alene probably thought they were imagining things. After all, Takara closed its doors in 2010 after an 18-year run when the restaurant’s founder, Ryuhei Tanaka, retired.
During this period, however, Tanaka delighted diners, many of whom were likely new to Japanese cuisine, which was far less prevalent in the Inland Northwest than it is today. Additionally, Tanaka has trained and inspired several generations of young sushi chefs, including one of the new owners tasked with resurrecting the restaurant.
Kenta Nishimori was still in high school when he first worked at the original Takara, learning about and forming a lifelong bond with Tanaka, who retained ownership of the building after Takara closed. In the fall of 2020, Tanaka approached him about opening a restaurant, says Nishimori, who has worked and helped develop Japanese restaurants throughout the region, including Wave Sushi Island Grill in Spokane and Syringa Japanese Café & Sushi Bar in Heart. of Alene.
After delays that have become the norm for many construction projects over the past two years, on December 31, 2021, Nishimori, the restaurant’s executive chef and general manager; his wife, Shire; and his business partner Joshua Williams have officially relaunched Takara.
“I don’t know for sure, but I think [Ryuhei Tanaka] I wanted to know that I was going to carry on the traditions,” says Nishimori, who describes Tanaka as a mentor and father figure.
“A lot of the stuff we make here is original Takara,” he says, noting that he continues to revise the menu, especially since some ingredients have been hard to come by.
Look for a mix of traditional and modern dishes at Takara. To try nanbanzuke or fried smelt ($10), Sukiyaki or hot pot ($22) with beef, tofu, napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms and udon noodles, or tonkotsu ramen ($16) with pork belly, bamboo shoots, marinated poached egg, shallot and seaweed.
On the modern side, Takara serves American and Japanese wagyu beef. The Snake River rib eye ($68) comes from southern Idaho, while the A5 rib eye ($145) – A5 indicates the highest quality designation – comes from Japan and is served with rice and sautéed romanesco broccoli.
Rwhatever the origin or inspiration of the dish, says Nishimori, the focus is on the freshest ingredients and making everything from scratch. He makes his own tamago, or egg omelette, (as opposed to buying pre-made) for any of the 26 items on the nigiri/sashimi menu, which features mostly seafood.
Look for beautifully marbled toro or fatty tuna ($18), ama ebi or sweet raw shrimp ($9) and lightly seared salmon ($9), plus less common items like madai (red snapper; $8) and female dogo (albacore; $8).
“I want to focus on fish,” says Nishimori, whose experience includes seven years working with a Japanese seafood company that teaches seafood to importers, exporters and chefs in Los Angeles.
Now he’s applying that expertise to Takara, so much so that he’s quickly attracted other restaurants and people of Japanese descent who want to buy seafood from him.
Many chefs will say they get fresh fish, but often it’s frozen and maybe even pre-cut into sections, says Nishimori, who estimates he eats around 300 pounds of fresh fish a week, all shipped direct. at the restaurant.
The Spanish bluefin tuna, for example, arrives in a 4-foot-long box that takes two of Nishimori’s sushi chefs to lug it around the open kitchen. At around 100 pounds, that’s not even a quarter of the fish’s total weight. It takes about an hour for Nishimori to break down the fish into proper portions, including saku, or blocks, which can then be cut into sashimi.
Alongside him, the other chefs spend the three hours between lunch and dinner preparing mostly seafood, which is the focal point of Takara’s extensive sushi menu.
In in addition to the assortments chosen by the chef, also known as omakase ($19-$300), Takara serves traditional maki or rolls ($5-$8), in which ingredients – like cooked beef, pickled radishes and raw fish – are encased in sticky rice and seaweed.
More than three dozen variations of sushi rolls range from the more common spider roll with soft-shell crab ($12) and Philadelphia roll with smoked salmon and cream cheese ($10) to those that pay homage to Nishimori’s life.
The Momji ($19), for example, pays homage to Japanese restaurant Momiji Red Maple, where Nishimori got his first job at age 14, before working at the original Takara. The Hachimura roll is a nod to former Gonzaga University basketball star Rui Hachimura and features snow crab tempura, yellowtail tuna, and coconut salsa ($19). The Black Mamba ($24), meanwhile, pays homage to the late Kobe Bryant.
Nishimori’s weapon-building hobby is reflected in the AR-15 Roll ($18) with albacore, cream cheese, avocado, and spicy elements like sriracha and the Japanese Seven Spices. Takara also offers a 10% discount to customers in uniform or openly carrying a gun.
The Kimiko roll ($18), with salmon, scallions and cucumber honors her daughter, whom Tanaka’s mother helped name, Nishimori says.
There’s also a handful of fried rolls ($12-$14) on the menu, which cater more to Americanized expectations of sushi, like the Las Vegas roll ($14) with spicy tuna, snow crab, cheese with cream, avocado and eel sauce. .
In addition to its menu, Takara mixes traditional Japanese elements with more modern elements in the restaurant’s décor.
“My roots are from Osaka, so I wanted to bring that style,” says Nishimori, who explains how the black walls are a tribute to a castle he remembers visiting growing up in Japan.
Some of the ceramic tableware comes from his wife, Shiree, an artist. She also made a stamp of the kanji symbol for takarawhich means treasure, to be built into the new concrete and epoxy bar that surrounds the sushi counter.
Diners have the choice of dining at the sushi bar, main dining room, or multiple tatami rooms. These offer semi-private dining areas with low tables surrounded by benches, ideal for large groups and a more leisurely meal. ♦
Takara Japanese Cuisine & Sushi • 309 E. Lakeside, Coeur d’Alene • Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun 4pm-8pm • takarasushicda.com • 208-771-7233