Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood is quickly becoming the city's new Nihonmachi (Japantown), at least of the culinary kind. The past year has seen the opening of an izakaya, a ramen joint, and a restaurant that features Seattle's premiere soba noodle-maker. Add those places to the existing restaurants, and you have a serious boom of Japanese food in and around 45th Street. One of the older establishments is Musashi's, a restaurant that's been around as long as I've been in Seattle. And since I'd never been, I figured that now was time to visit this sushi institution.
While Musashi's serves cooked dishes like curry and teriyaki and sukiyaki, most people are there for the fish. The nigiri is reasonably priced, with everything but amaebi (raw sweet shrimp) under $2. But the most popular item is the Chirashizushi ($14.50). Say "chirashi" and you'll get a knowing nod from the server, as if it's the expected order in the restaurant.
Chirashi translates to "scattered," referring to the way that slices of sashimi and other seafood are spread on top of vinegared sushi rice. Given the Japanese sense of aesthetics, the fish is usually cut finely and consistently, and scattered in an orderly fashion. The fish at Musashi's is a little more rough-cut than you'll find at more elegant Japanese restaurants in Seattle, but the chirashizushi provides a generous portion for the price, which is one reason for the sustained popularity of this place.
Tell your server, and in almost no time at all, your order arrives. Tuck into the big bowl, and below the seafood you'll notice a sprinkling of nori strips and chopped green onion on the rice. As for the fish, the chirashizushi includes a few slices each of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and seared albacore. There's also some cooked ebi, eel, bay scallops, and flying fish roe. A tray of wasabi and pickled ginger come on the side. The fish is flavorful, particularly the salmon, though part of the joy of chirashizushi is enjoying the varied bounty of ingredients the bowl contains.
The crowds come to Musashi's for its value and efficiency. While there are inevitable lines—families when the restaurant opens at 5 p.m. for dinner, followed by a younger student crowd as the evening wears on—the food comes fast and the tables turn quickly. That's a good thing, as the small restaurant has just four seats at the sushi counter and a small "chirashi" of tables. There's very little interior space for waiting, so most people line up outside on the sidewalk, effectively advertising the restaurant's popularity. (You can also phone ahead and order your food to go.) I've had numerous friends tell me that Musashi's was their gateway restaurant for getting to know Japanese food, with many becoming regulars who find comfort, convenience, and satisfaction with every trip back.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.