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November 13, 2008 at 12:04 PM

Kushibar: You been? Me neither, but I have chowed down at Flying Fish and Saito’s this week.

Monday, when things were looking pretty grim around the office, a pal and I decided to cut out for lunch. I couldn’t remember whether or not Kushibar was open during the day (it’s not — it opens at 4 p.m.) and had yet to read Jonathan Kauffman’s recent review of the place — or hear any first-hand info at all. In fact, last time I took a close look, the joint was still a work in progress:

Now the deck-area (on the left) is completely enclosed in glass and heated, so you can eat at fancified picnic benches while taking in the street scene and munching on “Japanese street food.” Anyway, we unexpectedly ended up having lunch at Flying Fish where we had an exceptional meal — and where, on our way out the door, we ran into chef Ludger Szmania and his wife Julie enjoying a busman’s holiday from their Magnolia restaurant. (They serve lunch at Szmania’s, too, but only on Fridays.)

Going out for lunch — especially at places like Flying Fish or Szmania’s — is one of those little luxuries that can also be construed as “a good deal” for folks who need a great-restaurant fix despite financial considerations. And it also makes me feel good about honoring longstanding restaurants that keep on keeping on during good times and bad.

We overdid it a bit, sharing this beautiful ahi tuna poke wearing a frizzy wig of fried wontons ($13.95), which has become a boring cliche on menus all over town and anything but at the Fish:

And that helps explain why Flying Fish is always at the top of my list when people ask me, “Where should we go for seafood?” But, why listen to me? I’ll let owner/chef Chris Keff illustrate my point:

After polishing off our appetizer we stuffed ourselves to the gills, so to speak, by digging into this crunchy, tender-fleshed, two-pound fried rockfish ($16.95/pound), served with rice paper pancakes, herbs and other Southeast-Asian-styled accoutrements, plus a pineapple anchovy dipping sauce. (That sassy salsa would have gone gangbusters at Chris Keff’s late, great, Latin-accented restaurant, Fandango):

It didn’t take us long to do justice to that bad boy. And I’ve got to say, having eaten this dish many, many times since the place opened, what — a dozen years ago? — it was perhaps the most memorable version I’ve had. By the way: with the poke as an app, that meal, which cost $32 each including tip, could have easily fed three people — if I didn’t have such a voracious appetite:

Anyway, I’m looking forward to going to Kushibar at a later date.

Meanwhile, having been away from Saito’s for far too long (I’m still furious they’ve discontinued lunch service!), I stopped in Tuesday night to pay a visit to my buddy Saito-san. His wife, Anita, was in the house lending a hand. She’s a real character who’s obsessed with the idea of raising Berkshire pigs, and with that Japanese delicacy live unagi:

Anita recently convinced her husband to move his sushi bar from one side of the room to another — again. In her dream of dreams (mine, too), they blow their skinny, too-big Belltown pop-stand, set up shop at a cozy little joint in the I.D. and cater to sushi maniacs like me while offering up little morsels like the ones pictured below from their new yakitori and kushiyaki menu:

That menu is proof that the folks over at Kushibar aren’t the only ones hawking Japanese street-food here in Belltown. You’re looking at (from the left): bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes, chicken skin (“heaven! I’m in heaven!), chicken balls (oh, stop!) and Kurobuta (aka Berkshire) pork with three kinds of Japanese salts for dipping, including my favorite — the smoked cherry salt in the middle. The menu’s pretty extensive with skewers of duck breast, bacon-wrapped pheasant, chicken hearts, beef and pork tongue, lobster with yuzu and shishito peppers, among others. Prices range from $2 (for two shiitake mushroom skewers) to $9 (for a single skewer of foie gras and asparagus wrapped in beef tenderloin).

It was Deadsville Tuesday night, and I was truly sorry to see that, but my dinner — which also included the sushi below — reminded me why Saito’s has long been my go-to joint when I’m downtown looking for superb Japanese food:

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