by Elissa Karg
45 E. 14 Mile Road, Clawson
Dinner for 2: $20-30
Eats: 4 stars
Experience: 3 stars
Handicap accessible (but crowded)
Noble Fish is one of the best sushi restaurants in metro Detroit, and one of the least pretentious. You get what you see: great fish in a small sushi bar at the rear of a Japanese grocery.
The freshness of the fish and the artful preparation make Noble Fish stand out; reasonable prices don’t hurt. As a distributor, the grocery/restaurant gets fish in fresh and delivers much of what you eat at other area sushi bars.
To begin your meal, I always recommend starting with a slice of ginger to cleanse the palate. You won’t want to miss Noble’s spider roll; it’s outstanding. You’ll see how it got its name as the slender cylinder of rice and nori (papery black seaweed) attempt to contain the tiny legs of fried soft shell crab. I also recommend the plum roll, a simple combination of ruby red tuna offset by slices of cucumber skin and plums that ever so slightly stain the rice with purple. Thumbs-up for Noble’s Michigan roll, an inside-out selection (nori on the inside, rice on the outside) filled with tuna, cucumber, avocado and a spicy sauce. It’s a combination I haven’t seen before, and it reconciled nicely the traditional Japanese restraint with the American tendency for excess.
To my surprise, Noble serves an array of Americanized rolls, mostly named by geography: Alaskan roll, California roll (with three variations) and Philadelphia roll — though you wonder why they don’t call sushi stuffed with cream cheese and lox a Jewish roll. The selections share one thing in common: no raw fish. Frankly, I think Americanized sushi is overrated, but it seems to appeal not only to locals but to the Japanese, as you can buy these rolls in Tokyo. At Noble, the Alaska roll is only a little more interesting with smoked salmon, avocado and masago (smelt roe).
Nigiri is fabulous at Noble. The squid, salmon, tuna and yellow tail have a buttery taste that you wish could go on and on. Smelt roe and salmon roe are favorites of mine; I love the moment when the egg bursts and the tiny hit of brine explodes on the tongue.
There is an artful quality to sushi that is accented at Noble. I find the squid nigiri a particularly lovely thing to look at. White rice accented with the white cephalopod, scored with precisely spaced knife cuts. The scoring makes the squid, often slightly tough, easier to chew, but also makes it more beautiful, as if the delicious, mysterious sea animal were striped. It’s a study in white on white. Yet beware, there is a good-sized dollop of wasabi under all that white purity.
Nigiri really cannot be shared, even by the most intimate of diners. When I saw the ika (squid) disappear down my co-diner’s gullet, I had to order one for myself.
A more adventurous selection is Hokkigai — red clam. I’ve given up trying to match the beautiful hokki of sushi bars with what I have witnessed on the beach or eaten at clam bars. Hokki does not look like a nebulous, primordial life form, but rather has a graceful, smooth shape. Now a sea urchin, that’s primordial. When the sushi chef dips a spoon into the urchin’s ochre-colored mass, it looks for all the world like caramel pudding.
Open lunch and dinner every day but Monday, Noble Fish’s little restaurant fills up fast and there is often a line that moves quickly — lots of people come for takeout. The dining is as informal as it gets — you check off what you want from the sushi menu and fill your Styrofoam cup with water or green tea from a communal pot. There’s a stash of packaged chopsticks on each table or you can slink up to get plastic forks and spoons. When Noble says dinner ends at 7 p.m., they mean it. You can linger, but you can’t order.
After you eat, explore the grocery store. We bought a little box of rice candy wrapped in edible paper. The store provides all kinds of Japanese snacks, treats and cooking products, as well as fish for home sushi preparation and for cooking, and even noodles, sushi rice and vinegar and cooking sauces.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.