Shiro: Sushi reflects the city's expansion

Thursday May 27, 2010

PITTSFIELD - "People have to loosen up their mind and not be afraid of sushi," says Harry Yu. Of course, he's biased. After a decade of running Shiro Sushi and Hibachi in Great Barrington, Yu opened a Shiro restaurant on North Street in Pittsfield at the end of 2009.

"My home is in Pittsfield," Yu said, "and I've kept my eye open waiting to see when Pittsfield's economy would come back. Pittsfield 10 years ago was not like today. The Colonial and Barrington Stage Company opened and brought a lot of activity to North Street. When the Beacon Cinema was about to open, I knew it was going to be a great thing."

Yu feels Pittsfield today is back to being a big city with a large population, lots of attractions and great business.

Having worked at restaurants in places like New York City before moving to the Berkshires, Yu decided to open his own place.

"As a new immigrant," he esplained, "it seemed like a restaurant was the natural idea."

After Shiro's decade of success in Great Barrington, Yu decided to open a second location in Pittsfield. "I'm very happy where I am right now," he said. "It's the right idea to start a small restaurant. I've learned that a big restaurant has a big overhead. And when it's not crowded, you don't want to go to a large space and feel lonely or isolated. I like having a small, comfortable restaurant on North Street. Often friends catch up with friends in the restaurant who haven't seen each other all day. I'm very happy, and think I've made the right decision."

Indeed, though Shiro's North Street location can comfortably seat a few dozen people, it was small enough to not feel empty on a Sunday night when only a few tables were occupied. There is a little sushi bar at the back, which enticed me to order some sushi.

"When I started in Pittsfield," Yu said, "The major Japanese fish distributor wouldn't deliver because they had no business established there. I had to convince them; Japanese food depends a lot on the ingredients, because the flavor all comes from everything being fresh. Healthy, light food is why I wanted a Japanese restaurant."

Indeed, many of the appetizers seem to fall into this category, from the simple Miso or Suimono soups ($ 3) to the plates of edamame beans ($5.50). I had a green seaweed salad, which came in a nicely sized pile on a square plate and was tangy and chewy just as it should be and had just enough oil and vinegar to accent the flavor without being overwhelming. Dinners all come with a soup or salad. I had the salad, a little asymmetrical bowl of lettuce topped by a ginger dressing with the thick consistency of a coulis. Various sushi options are available, ranging from the $5 a la carte menu to the $100 giant party boat. I went with the regular sushi platter ($ 19), which consisted of tuna, salmon, mackerel and yellowtail, as well as a California roll. The California roll was perfect, and the slices of fish were nicely thick atop smaller rice balls.

"Sushi is more than raw fish," Yu explained.

He was eager to offer smoked salmon or vegetable rolls to those who might object to the idea of eating raw fish.

But those people would be missing out, as the sushi at Shiro is tender and practically melts in your mouth the way good sushi should.

Dinner options include vegetable, chicken, beef, and seafood in all forms, ranging from tempura ($14-23) to teriyaki ($ 18- 26), grilled, broiled, or fried. Udon or Soba noodles can be ordered sauteed with chicken ($14), or in a soup with shrimp tempura ($17).

Donburi, a small menu of rice dishes served in porcelain bowls, caught my eye, so I ordered the Oyako Ju ($16). An unassuming little bowl of rice was topped with onions, mushrooms, chicken, and egg, but somehow managed to taste better than it had any right to. The onions were sweet, the mushrooms tender, and the sauce and egg that seeped into the rice tied the whole dish together.

Shiro is definitely worth a repeat visit.


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