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[whitespace] Sushi Chef Dong Y. Shin
Photograph by Jeff Kearns

Delectable Art: Sushi Chef Dong Y. Shin, known by regulars as 'Mr. Shin,' shows off an order of Michi Special Sushi.

Sushi Supreme

Campbell's Michi demonstrates both flair and focus, using the freshest ingredients

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

YEARS AGO, when still in high school, a girl named Sheila Early once said about her diminutive boyfriend, Dave Marcelleno, "He might be small, but dynamite comes in little packages." These words came back to me the other night while dining at a little package called Michi. And to think I discovered this gem by accident. But I don't really believe in coincidence. I was meant to find this place.

The very first time I visited Michi, it was on a Monday and I was on my way to Komatsu. Komatsu was closed, but Michi wasn't. I was skeptical, but pulled into the lot anyway. I walked in, sat down and had dinner. That's all it took. Now, when I think of sushi, I think of Michi. It's first on my list.

At the helm is Chef Shin. He's Korean, not Japanese, but like the Japanese masters, he has studied long and hard and worked many years to achieve the exalted status of master. All the items I've sampled since coming here that first time have been turned out in beautiful form based on the freshest fish available. Each time I glimpse Shin at work with his knives, I witness the spirit of invention. I witness a man bursting with enthusiasm for the work he does--which is to make sushi. Though he strives to break free of the old, he never loses sight of tradition. He remains disciplined, practicing a technique he learned years ago from the Japanese.

Rolling at his side is Randy Musterer, a young man who has real talent, demonstrating both flair and focus in his work. As a teenager, Musterer lived in San Diego and labored as a deckhand on all-day fishing boats. Working with fish in this capacity gave him a keen knowledge of seafood and an ability to read freshness. Anybody who enjoys sushi knows that freshness is the key to success. Musterer has an acquired eye and, I am told, because of this he was hired by Shin and taken under his wing.

Together they make an explosive team. The place literally rocks when they're together making sushi at the bar, taking bold steps beyond the ordinary. Sushi standards are transformed into palate-awakening presentations. Proving the point was the Sashimi Combination ($12), glimmering under the dim lights like the robe of many colors. We had a veritable bounty of fresh fish including tuna, yellowtail, salmon, octopus, red snapper and halibut, arranged in fetching rows inside a bento box. It was almost too beautiful to eat, but we eventually forced ourselves to take up chopsticks. Each and every piece melted in the mouth.

Soon after came a whole hamachi (yellowtail), hot from the grill and drizzled with creamy wasabi sauce, plus a series of innovative rolls--including the RSM Unlimited (an assorted fish roll deep-fried tempura-style), and the spicy tuna--all mix and matching varieties of fish cloaked in sticky rice and streaked with more of that rich wasabi sauce. A dazzler that night was the Shinchester ($6.50), rolled with tenderized tuna, green onion and tokarashi paper and spiked with a homemade dressing full of lemon.

Each roll could have sufficed as an entree item in and of itself. All were rich and filling, full of color and flavor. The Kevin Roll ($6), named after a devoted customer, appeases those still shy at the thought of eating raw fish. Teriyaki chicken--not fish--is rolled with avocado and cucumber.

On the side we had a plate of Vegetable Tempura ($13.95) that combined a host of fresh vegetables like mushrooms and sweet yams in blonde, crispy jackets. Beef ($15.95) and Chicken Teriyaki ($13.95) have always been more than adequate, big on portion, and full of citrus and ginger in the teriyaki. They work especially well in combination with any of the sashimi selections.

Throughout our meal we sipped different types of sake, from cold and unfiltered to hot and clear to one spiked with Korean ginseng ($10 a shot) so potent I felt electric sensations from mouth to toes.

Most visits I choose to sit in the main dining room, which has recently been updated into a cozier space full of warming accents and neighborhood good cheer. Minimal decorations and soft filtered lighting invest the quarters with a sense of peace and tranquility. Though few, tables are usually available without waiting. There is a small sushi counter (slated for expansion soon) where solo diners can feel at home watching Shin and Marcherer work the knives. This latest visit, we removed our shoes and snuggled at a corner table in a tatami room, perfectly suited for romance and quiet conversation.

Being open on Monday was the reason I visited Michi the first time. Serving excellent sushi is the reason I keep coming back. Within the limited space of this floor plan, Shin stretches culinary boundaries, retooling the expected into something unexpected and delicious.

Address: 2220 S. Winchester Blvd., Campbell
Phone: 408.378.8000 or 378.0838
Hours: 11:30am-10pm Sun-Thu, 4-11 Fri-Sat
Cuisine: New Wave Sushi
Price Range: $6-$8

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From the August 16-22, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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