When Sushi Met Tacos

This chef knows his way around a knife. Portrait by Joshua Foo.

This chef knows his way around a knife. Portrait by Joshua Foo.

Some days are destined for greatness, and today may be one of them. It's Friday, finally sunny, Cinco de Mayo, the kick-off of the Dandelion season in downtown Omaha, and, I'm meeting my best friend,  Tony, whom I haven't seen in ages, for lunch.

It's the first time that either of us have ever tried Okinawan taco bowls, and I have a feeling we're starting from the top. Omaha-based chef Dave Utterback is already a legend in these parts for his sushi (he worked for the Flagship restaurant group for 13 years), and has also brought the art of omakase to Omaha. "I had a meal with Jiro Ono (the 85-year-old subject of the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, who is widely-believed to be the world's best sushi chef), and it changed my whole trajectory of how I wanted to cook."

Dave explains that sushi is best eaten within 30 seconds of being prepared, before the flavors melt into each other and it loses its freshness. "When I see people order those big sushi boats, it kind of breaks my heart. The first piece might be good, but the last one is going to taste terrible."

I will never be able to look a sushi boat in the eye again

I will never be able to look a sushi boat in the eye again

In omakase, the chef prepares each piece for the diner so that it is eaten at its peak. "It's the best way to experience high-end sushi," says Dave, who currently does pop-up omakase tables around town under the name of Ota, and is soon opening a bricks-and-mortar. "It’s kind of my happy place. I enjoy sitting and chatting with people, and every two or three minutes, I just hand them a piece of food."

Today at Dandelion will be a little different. "Whenever I go to Japan, I spend all my days going from food stall to food stall. This is going to be more like that."

He says that anyone who's ever been to Okinawa will have had taco rice, or takoraisu, which was first invented by a Japanese restaurant-owner hoping to attract American customers from Kidena Air Force Base in the 1960s. "It's basically an Okinawan walking taco. It's a super-Japanese thing, but very accessible: sushi rice, topped with taco toppings."

Also on the menu: Japanese curry rice, matcha lemonade and egg rolls made by Dave's mother. "I've never seen her take them to a party and they weren't devoured," he says.

As if he didn't have me at "homemade by my mom."

(See ya down there!)