Kai Sushi in Everett is lifelong raw fish consumer’s new favorite

Glen Watanabe, of Lake Stevens, tries a piece of tuna sashimi at Kai Sushi in Everett. (Ben Watanabe / The Herald)

Glen Watanabe, of Lake Stevens, tries a piece of tuna sashimi at Kai Sushi in Everett. (Ben Watanabe / The Herald)

There’s a new sushi spot to enjoy in Snohomish County — Kai Sushi in downtown Everett.

It was the latest to receive the stamp of approval from my father, a second generation Japanese-American, lifelong Seattle-area resident and sushi savant. Salmon, tuna, shrimp, octopus, squid, roe, all of it is fair fare for him.

Sushi is part and parcel of family life in the Watanabe household. It’s there on the dining table next to the Christmas ham, Thanksgiving turkey, green bean casserole, birthday cake, and especially for my dad’s recent voluntary layoff from Boeing after a 43-year-career.

When he offered to meet for a weekday lunch, I recommended grabbing a table at downtown Everett’s newest place to get raw fish without hesitation. I went to Kai Sushi before with a friend from Seattle, and we had feasted like sharks. He said it was as good as one of his Eastlake staples (and less expensive).

My father is always on the lookout for a worthy sushi place in Snohomish County. He’s got his favorite, conveniently located near Boeing in Mukilteo, where he and his friends and co-workers could visit for lunch. Previously, we were fans of the now-closed Cherry Blossom in Everett and Mukilteo. Kai Sushi seems to be poised to fill that sushi roll-shaped hole in our lives.

We went on a Wednesday just before noon, and several tables were occupied by seemingly appeased diners. Dad took less than a minute to look at the menu before declaring his pick, “Sashimi sampler.” Two pieces each of albacore, salmon, tuna and yellowtail ($17.50). He was pleased with the presentation of the dish, bright pink, orange, red and white slices abed leafy greens and a bed of ice to hold the texture and temperature.

“It was possibly the best sashimi that I’ve had in the area,” he said.

Dad was vexed as to where his rice was. He was accustomed to getting a small bowl of steamed rice to accompany his sashimi. Ordering one was a simple matter and it was served almost immediately, to his deep satisfaction.

His tastes were less pleased with the fried batter balls of diced octopus, tako yaki ($6.95). His criticism was less about the dish itself and more a reflection of his preference. For one, it had a little spice to it, and he wants his food as neutral as that steamed rice, maybe with some savory or umami in there, too. The other reason he didn’t take to the diced octopus, normally one of his favored seafood types, was that if he is in the mood for octopus, he wants it unadulterated. I could almost imagine him sliding into one of those stools at the sushi counter, with the chef asking him what he’d like, and his response would be, “Octopus, neat.”

“I like to taste whatever I’m eating,” he said. “I don’t like to taste breading or anything like that.”

The tako yaki was a repeat order for me. During my previous indulgence at Kai Sushi, my friend and I devoured the fried balls of octopus and batter with the mildly spicy drizzle of sauce. We also luxuriated in the sake offerings in that prior visit, opting once for a bottle of nigori (unfiltered, sweet) sake and once for a bottle of dry sake on the recommendation of our waitress. With my father, it was a working lunch, sort of, so no sake for us.

On this visit, I ordered the salmon scallop specialty roll ($12.95). The roll included spicy scallop and cucumber rolled in rice, with salmon on top and a spicy mayo sauce drizzled over it. It was excellent. The spice of the scallop and sauce balanced the slightly tart taste of the sushi rice (white rice soaked in rice vinegar, sugar and salt) and the always enjoyable taste of salmon.

Like all great sushi bars, Kai Sushi has its sushi chefs do the final preparation in view of the guests. Seeing the precision of the cut is like watching a great painter or sculptor at work.

“I could see that that place could get really packed,” my dad said. “It’s located right in downtown Everett, not very many seats in there, and good price.”

He is in the majority opinion, at least on Yelp, where the restaurant has four and a half stars based on 44 reviews.

I’m not a formally trained sushi eater, but a lifetime of consuming it feels like at least a foodie’s equivalent to a GED in raw fish. For me, the mark of any great eatery is if I recommend it to people. And this is a sushi bar I recommend to everyone who will listen. Kai Sushi received similar praise from my father, who said he plans on going back.

“I’d probably get the same thing. You get a good thing, you stick with it,” said my dad, a man who worked for the same company for more than four decades.

Even for someone who favors the known as much as he does, the new sushi bar unseated his previous favorite in Mukilteo. If it has that kind of appeal, maybe it can even convince people to add it to their Christmas meal, too.

If you go

What: Sushi bar and Japanese food with several different bottles and styles of sake.

Where: Kai Sushi, 2811 Colby Ave. Ste. A, Everett, near El Paraiso and Major League Pizza, on the east side of the road and on the north end between Hewitt Avenue and California Street.

How much: from $3.95 for edamame (steamed soy bean) to $29.50 for the sashimi omakase (two pieces each of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, albacore, escolar, octopus and scallop).

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