Things are a-changin’ at IKA Sushi and Bento in Sammamish. Change in the form of James Kwak.
Kwak has been slicing and serving sushi since 1978, and his newest home is right in Sammamish at IKA. Just three weeks into his new job as chef, Kwak has already changed the menu, to feature rolls and dishes of his own creation.
The new menu is a combination of traditional Japanese fare as well fusion style, which mostly consists of various types of rolls.
Kwak makes most of his food without a recipe.
“Like a cocktail,” Kwak said. “Bartenders can make a drink. A good chef can make food.”
Much of the new menu, out this week, started from Kwak’s experiments, taking all the different elements from the art of sushi and combining them.
“It’s eating with the eye first,” Kwak said of his food. Much of his sushi is plated to look like its name.
One new item on the menu is the “9-11,” which Kwak said was inspired after seeing the devastation on Sept. 11. Kwak was living on the East Coast in 2001.
The 9-11 is a roll that includes spicy tuna, cucumber, Ika’s special purple wild rice, white tuna, avocado sauce and flying fish roe. The roll is arranged on the plate lengthwise with plenty of saucy embellishments, mimicking the fallen towers.
Another new item to the menu that Kwak created is the “Seahawks,” named in honor of the Seattle football team. The Seahawks is a roll with tempura, avocado, cucumber, scallops and spicy mayo sauce.
“I bring this on the menu,” Kwak said. “Now (are) Seahawks going to win (the) Superbowl.”
Kwak came to the United States in 1980, and has spent the past few decades making sushi around the country, and for some pretty famous names, including Hillary Clinton, Bill Cosby and Yo-Yo Ma just to name a few.
Bill Parcells used to live just up the street from one of Kwak’s many restaurants over the years and would often come in for a meal.
“When they come to my restaurant, they don’t look at the menu,” Kwak said. “They just say ‘whatever James say.’”
It takes a long time to become a skilled sushi chef Kwak said, about seven to eight years for true technique. It takes about four months just to learn to how to prepare rice.
The fish is also very important.
“You need thick slices of fish,” Kwak said. “It’s very important to have 50-50 rice to fish. Some places, it’s 70 percent rice. Not good.”
It’s his generous fish philosophy that has won Kwak several accolades over the years.
He’s been written up in the New York Times, and one of his favorites was in 2003 when his restaurant was given a four-star rating at its grand opening.
“I worry I am going to spoil Sammamish,” he joked.
IKA Sushi and Bento is located at 482 228th Ave. N.E., in the Sammamish Safeway shopping center.ginners