Artistry is evident in plain sight and in subtle display at Sayachi Sushi and Oyster Bar. The sushi restaurant, from owners Carlos Falcon and Sayaka Gushi Falcon, officially opened this week in Brookside. The Japanese character iki – an aesthetic sense of seeming simplicity balanced by details of subtle complexity – is painted on a wall near the kitchen, and underscores the spirit of Sayachi.
The location bears no trace of Domo, a sushi restaurant under separate ownership that occupied the space for more than a decade. Against the neutral gray walls, artist Socorro Reyes painted a stylized cherry blossom tree, Japanese maple tree and a kingyo (a Japanese goldfish) that adds colorful, fanciful flair to the dining room and bar’s minimalist décor. An illustrated woman in a kimono and a samurai warrior respectively grace walls in the women’s and men’s restrooms. Reyes’ style might seem familiar to diners; she also painted mural-sized aquatic creatures on the exterior of Jarocho, the Falcons’ first seafood-based restaurant based in Kansas City, Kansas.
Carlos and Sayaka, a native of Japan, first introduced the concept of omakase to Kansas City in 2015 at Jarocho, later opening a second location in Leawood. The Japanese style of dining takes its name from the term makaseru, which loosely translates as “to fully entrust.” Rather than ordering from a menu, the diner entrusts the chef to select and prepare successive offerings of seasonal, artistic dishes made with the finest ingredients. On select occasions at Jarocho, Carlos serves fresh seafood omakase-style, marrying influences from his coastal Mexican roots and Sayaka’s Japanese heritage.
Similarly, the identity and vision of Sayachi is shaped by the couple's travels to famed fish markets and sushi restaurants in Japan, and their in-depth knowledge of seafood. With two Jarocho locations to operate, the Falcons have brought on sushi chef Miyoshi Yamada, better known as chef Yama, to help launch Sayachi.
Originally from Akita, Japan, Yama has worked at restaurants in Japan, Chicago and New York. Thirty years ago, he moved from the U.S. and returned to Tokyo to work at Kyubey, one of the city’s most famous Edomae-style sushi establishments. Yama spent 15 years in Tokyo learning and perfecting Edomae-style sushi, a style that originated in the 1820s in Edo (the former name of Tokyo), before working at a few Japanese restaurants based on the west coast. Most recently, Yama was the executive sushi chef at Kaiseki, a high-end restaurant in Minnesota. The Falcons recruited him to execute their version of Edomae-style sushi and omakase at Sayachi.
Unlike other styles of contemporary sushi featuring colorful rolls and elaborate sauces, Edomae-style sushi is based on simplicity. With that in mind, Sayachi's approach differs from what diners will find at many other sushi restaurants in the region.
During omakase (available by reservation), Yama prepares and serves a single dish for each guest before fashioning the next course. He places each serving on a slate, or a small assortment on a plate, atop the wood rail. Guests pluck the offering from the slate. This exchange purposely slows the pace so that diners can fully concentrate on the texture, flavor and sensory experience of each bite. Seated at the 10-seat bar, guests are able to observe Yama’s elegant, precise knifework over a low wood railing.
Sayachi also serves sushi rolls, temaki (cone-shaped rolls), traditional Japanese dishes, oysters and other seafood. Diners may order a piece of maguro (bluefin tuna) with options for akami (lean), chutoro (medium fatty) and otoro (fatty). Other refinements include soy-cured bluefin tuna and kobujimi, kelp-cured white fish. Curing fish between layers of konbu preserves and infuses it with umami. Wagyu nigiri features a slice of certified Japanese wagyu with a buttery texture and the merest hint of beef flavor atop vinegared rice. Vegetarians might opt for a yamaimo roll made with Japanese mountain yam or ume shiso, prepared with pickled plum and shiso mint. Overall, Sayachi elevates and expands sushi in Kansas City as a sensory experience based on fine ingredients prepared well.
At Sayachi’s soft opening, Yama crafted perfect bite-size portions of horse mackerel, red snapper, Artic char topped with a translucent film of seaweed, abalone, a slice of scallop dotted with yuzu, barracuda, succulent lightly-seared king salmon belly, lean tuna, eel and sweet tamago. He used the rear lower corner of his knife blade to deftly score rectangular slices of octopus, then applied citrus-laced salt and a dab of Japanese citrus juice. Blink at the bar and you’d miss Yama’s tenderizing technique, which enables additional flavors to fully permeate the octopus.
Other details stand out to those with a watchful eye. Yama uses a sharkskin-lined grater to produce wasabi from knobs of fresh, whole Japanese horseradish. Oils from the wasabi darken the sharkskin with a brown tint over time. Yama sources premium-grade rice from Hokkaido and cooks each batch of rice into fluffy grains rather than rely on a steamer. Fish is sourced from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market and purveyors in Ensenada, Mexico. Much like the soy sauce he prepares from scratch, chef Yama’s Edomae-style sushi honors the artistry and tradition of his craft. Desserts, such as matcha mousse, are prepared by Yama's wife, Yayoi Yamada, who also graciously offers polite tips to guests on how to navigate omakase and sushi customs.
Matsumoto Mari, formerly of Waldo Thai Place, oversees Sayachi's bar program. A native of Miyazaki who was raised in Chiba, near Tokyo, Mari contributes a thoughtful cocktail program grounded in iki. “I’m inspired by chef Yama-San. I work with only ingredients he has in his kitchen, making our whole program as fresh as possible,” she says. “We both put our love and culture into our craft. We work together on flavors to make sure the program marries well together.”
Citrusy and refreshing, Matcha Green Tea Chuhai blends Japanese green tea with shochu, a Japanese distilled liquor, soda water and lemon served over crushed ice. Kyoto Capital City features Lifted Spirits jasmine vodka enhanced with citrusy yuzu, honey and bitter Campari, and crowned with jasmine and wasabi foam. Miyazaki celebrates Matsumoto’s hometown. She begins with J. Rieger & Co. gin combined with butterfly pea tea that develops a vivid purple color when it comes into contact with citric acid. Umeboshi, a salted preserved plum, and lime contribute tartness tempered by Japanese ginger syrup for balance.
Sayachi’s debut offers plenty to behold, but the Falcons have more plans in store. Next year, Carlos plans to convert a section of the restaurant’s basement into a tachinomi, or Japanese standing bar traditionally designed as a place for workers to stop and unwind at the end of the day. Until then, Sayachi will likely be the talk of the town for months to come.
Sayachi Sushi and Oyster Bar, 6322 Brookside Plaza, Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.437.7513, facebook.com/sayachikc