By Brett Ascarelli
For a sushi chef, Remington Cox has three things going against him. One: he's not Japanese. Two: he's extremely young (he graduated from St. Helena High School just five years ago). Three: he didn't go to cooking school.
Yet, Remington--staff refer to him by his first name--has pulled off his first restaurant, C.C. Blue, with aplomb. Turning what some would consider handicaps to his advantage, Remington presents a freer approach to sushi than a more seasoned chef might. He and his ex-business partner, Herman Chin, designed the restaurant to look like it's under water. Thus ensconced by the eatery's sea-green glass wall and pebble floor, diners are treated to the sensation of sitting inside an aquarium tank.
One recent Tuesday night, while a manager with the elocution of a stage-player attends to the weekday dinner crowd, Remington helms the sushi bar and chit-chats with a woman perched on a bar stool.
Remington majored in business and learned to prepare food through various restaurant stints, including one in Florence. Much like the chef's background, C.C. Blue's menu is also unexpected. An otherwise typical roll--hamachi (yellowtail), unagi (eel) and rice wrapped in seaweed--gets special treatment: the entire thing is battered and fried as tempura. The resulting "Godzilla" maki ($9), drizzled heavily with spicy sauce, yields a decidedly rewarding crunch. Likewise, the Ronnie maki ($14), filled with tempura soft-shell crab and unagi, has the savory fry of a fish stick, juxtaposed with the smoothness of avocado slices sitting atop the roll. But next to these inspired whimsies, the Rainbow maki ($13), though eye-catching and fresh, lacks Remington's creative pizzazz.
Several fusion dishes also accentuate the menu, from filet mignon with a miso mixed-green salad ($17) to stuffed shrimp with panko and Gruyère ($9) and hamachi carpaccio ($14). Here, again, Remington gives diners a textural treat: the noodles in the miso-based agee udon soup ($16; includes shrimp tempura for dipping) have the surprising chew of tapioca pearls.
With a hearty nod to tradition, Remington also supplies a thorough selection of raw fish. The escolar (snake mackerel) nigiri ($7.50) comes in two giant slices and are just as promised: buttery and succulent, though not as rich as deep-sea toro. On another plate, two sun-bright quail eggs lend a pleasing, custardlike quality to piles of vibrant tobiko (flying fish roe, $5) beneath them. Remington also stocks the hard-to-find uni (sea urchin, $8-$12.50) and toro (bluefin belly, $13-$30), but also the more common maguro (tuna, $5-$12.50).
Meanwhile, the manager's expert knowledge of sake and wine is evident, but he's flexible enough to open a bottle Shichi Hon Yari Junmai Ginjo ($28 for 300 mL) for an undecided couple. They give the thumbs up--it's like drinking chocolate and alcohol.
Speaking of chocolate, Remington, whose second love is dessert, has devised a fascinating bunch of fusion sweets, including chocolate sake mousse with wonton fritters ($10) and rice brûlée with sugar-coated tempura mango ($10).
A word of caution: Sushi restaurants notoriously serve small portions, at least according to many American palates. But there is no need to compensate by over-ordering at C.C. Blue, or you'll leave stuffed to the gills.
C.C. Blue Sushi Bar & Restaurant. Lunch, Tuesday-Sunday; dinner daily; late-night service, Friday and Saturday. 1148 Main St., St. Helena. 707.967.9100.
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