Raw or grilled, it’s always fresh!
SakiTumi was the brainchild of three friends who started the grill and sushi bar nine years ago. Along the way, one partner left for a new project and now, co-owners Larry Thompson and Dave Shaw and their staff of 25 keep SakiTumi fresh, creative and very responsive to the Midlands community they call home.
“Columbia is a great town in which to develop and introduce new cuisines,” says Thompson. Sushi had become very popular in other parts of the country, but was a bit slow to take off in Columbia. “Food is often like fashion,” he explained. “Trends come and go and folks love to return from their travels to find cuisine that is just as good as food they’ve had in bigger cities.”
SakiTumi has its share of loyal locals, as well as out-of-towners and midlands residents who frequently travel and like the sophisticated approach found at the Vista restaurant. The ambience is casual yet upscale. Music is top-40s eclectic. Artwork is fun and approachable.
“Our style of sushi is a bit different from what some folks expect,” Thompson explained. “Nothing is processed, and everything is very fresh. Our sushi plates are art for the eyes as well as the stomach. I like to tell a story with our food.”
The owners are very hands-on, frequently stopping by tables to explain a dish, and make sure all is perfection. “Food can be very alluring and our dishes are sexy. There is a psychology to producing a combination of food and atmosphere that draws people back.”
It’s not just the food that appeals. Their specialty drinks are legend, and if you’ve only tried basic saki, give it another try at SakiTumi. The sparkling saki is every bit as pleasing as a nice glass of Prosecco, or perhaps a taste of Cava. When it’s cold, the hot Gekkeikan Sake with a splash of pomegranate is a warming delight. And their specialty cocktails are just as good. (Look for their Ecstasy Martini in an upcoming issue.) There’s a good wine list as well – an advantage not always found in a restaurant specializing in sushi.
SakiTumi’s most popular dishes include Tumi Seared Tuna. Fresh fish, spiced, pan seared and placed on a bed of seaweed and greens. Divine. Another favorite is Stir-Crazed Hibachi, featuring stir-fried rice with egg, zucchini, squash, mushrooms and green onions. Keep it simple for vegetarians, and protein lovers can add chicken, shrimp or beef tenderloin. For the member of the party who resists sushi, these are dishes that will please the hesitant palate. (We’ve been told the Bankkok Crabcakes are addictive, bursting with lump crabmeat, and a Thai chili sauce.)
You’ll find familiar classics, including Sashimi (no rice) and Sushi (with rice), but try them and you’ll discover a twist. “I like to look at recipes and think of ways to enhance the flavor and presentation with something slightly unexpected,” says Thompson. Originally from Okinawa, he’s gained experience from international traveling that refined his own tastes and taught him to look at traditional dishes with a willingness to upgrade, enhance and break out of traditional molds.
Promotions and specials encourage diners to branch out from their usual fare and experiment a little bit.
“We’re not a Japanese restaurant,” he says. “We offer a mixture of cooking methods, and dishes, but always, the presentation is art, and the taste is just a touch unexpected.” As an independent restaurant, SakiTumi can test its own boundaries without abandoning the dishes that bring rave reviews.
They have a number of special events that benefit the community. Their Pink Party (Pink Bra/Pink Tie) benefits Alala Breast Cancer Society. The White Party celebrates the end of summer and the Blue Party focuses on autism. “We enjoy giving back to various causes within the community,” he says. “The parties are open to anyone, so while most of our diners will be wearing appropriate colors, others will wander in and join the party.”
And what about those first-time dinner guests who aren’t sure where to begin? The staff is more than willing to offer a taste of a dish or a sauce. More often than not, the taste turns into an order. Their sauces are homemade, contributing to the unique flavor profile in almost every dish.
At night, after 10pm, the restaurant becomes a bit more of a hangout, as all ages – but especially young professionals – wander by to enjoy the music, drinks and convivial atmosphere. And then there’s romance. “I’ve personally seen five wedding proposals here,” says Thompson. Business and casual parties can utilize the alcove around the corner for privacy without being shut off from the restaurant.
If you’ve never tried sushi, accompanied by excellent saki, give it a whirl. And, if you just don’t think it’s for you, go anyway. The dishes are excellent, with or without fresh seafood.
Looking for a unique experience? Gather a group of friends, or join a couples class and learn how to roll your own sushi. (Remember the episode in Sex and The City where Kim Cantrell covered herself with sushi in anticipation of a memorable evening?) That won’t happen at SakiTumi, but participants will learn the basics and have a wonderful time exploring one of the tastiest tapas you’ll ever find. The one-on-one training by the executive chef will help develop a skill that will expand your repertoire and give you a sure-fire party platter for your next gathering.
807 Gervais Street
Days and Hours:
Friday & Saturday, 5-until
After 10pm, Bar open late on Friday and Saturday