Thursday September 13, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- After the closing of Lenox’s much-loved Fin, the options for sushi in South County have narrowed.

Bizen has always been the big headliner, and I see it as the place of choice to entertain out-of-town friends or enjoy a romantic (or, a hopefully romantic) evening in a setting meant to evoke a chic, urban sushi mecca.

Shiro, though, is your friendly neighborhood sushi place in Southern Berkshire. (The location on North Street in Pittsfield is not included in this review.)

I’ve enjoyed Shiro as an after-work stop for weekend-greeting sake, the destination for a large dinner with friends, or as a place for a quiet bite by myself. The staff is friendly, and the environment is welcoming. It’s the kind of place where, when the owner asks you how you’re doing, it feels like an honest inquiry rather than an intrusion or forced formality.

It’s not the place to end your quest for the region’s greatest sushi, but the fare is tasty and affordable and the environment is tasteful.

It’s not unusual for an American-Japanese restaurant to have an enormous menu to give neophytes a safe ordering place while lovers of sushi and other more particular corners of the ethnic cuisine exploit the cache of raw fish.

But Shiro follows up a sushi and sashimi menu of favorites and basics with a full hibachi bar, and still leaves room for specialties like noodle or rice bowls.


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in addition to a round of entree fare like various permutations of teriyaki meat and tempura.

The layout of the restaurant, itself, seems to encourage a choose-your-own-adventure approach. As you enter, the small bar area on the left offers one place to sit for dinner or otherwise hang out. Forward lie twin hibachi bars on the left and on the right, each in an "L" shape, with room to sit and watch the chef prepare your sizzling dinner.

The sushi bar is in the rear, with the expected row of seating. To the left, is the cozy dining room, which seems de signed with ample room for large parties: There are several six-tops and most of the rest of the tables were ready for four.

Attractive partitions, meant to simulate a paper-lantern effect, insulate each milieu to create a sense of privacy.

When I visited, there was no piped-in Asian pop music, which I found refreshing. Even separated from the bar area by only one of the thin partitions, I could barely make out the very low rumble of a football game on one of the two televisions overhanging the bar.

I went on an off night, and noticed two women enjoying themselves at the bar near a father/daughter eating from noodle bowls.

The menu of warm and chilled sake seemed ample, especially for those interested in exploring some options. A flight of three cold varieties of sake is available for $6, or individual choices are served by the cup, ceramic tokkuri, or bottle. (Bottles ranged from $16 to $32.)

Helpfully, there were de scrip tions of the different varieties, which is not always the case. These are complemented by a handful of house cocktails, including a sake martini and the Samurai, a mixture of equal parts vodka and plum wine.

Monday and Tuesdays feature a menu of sushi rolls with the second roll offered at half price. By choosing two of these and a simple sushi order of striped bass (two pieces for $5.99, which was about average for the sushi menu), I had too much food for one person for about $30, including tip.

The Sexy Shira roll was a little concerto of complementary textures, with avocado and crispy, tempura-style eel top ped with king crab and variously colored tobiko.

It’s the sort of flashy roll you might offer to the sushi newbie, but this doesn’t detract from its sense-gratifying tastiness. The Sweet Averi roll was simpler and put the emphasis on the fish, with a basic roll of tuna and avocado topped by slices of mango.

Shiro manages to cover a lot of territory under the rubric of casual-but-elegant Japanese cuisine, while devoting similar amounts of care to each area. 

My meal on this visit was fully satisfying, but it’s a credit to the place that I’m eager to return and try something entirely different.