I knew that eventually the concept of the “pop-up restaurant” was going to hit the area. For those that aren’t familiar with the pop-up concept, it’s basically a temporary restaurant, where a chef or kitchen team opens up in a temporary space or borrows another restaurant’s space for a night, serving their food and menu instead of the normal fare. It’s a good way for chefs to test out concepts or run limited restaurants, and they’ve been all the buzz the last few years. Indeed, one place I’ve reviewed here, Dock Kitchen in London, started as a pop-up. And like most any culinary fad, eventually it finds its way here to northern New England. In this case, the pop-up restaurant is a sushi place, Himitsu Sushi.
“Himitsu” actually means “secret”, and it’s a good name for a pop-up restaurants. Himitsu is run by a pair of Vermonters, Nate Kulchak and Megan Dolan. Kulchak, an experienced sushi chef, moved to Vermont from the Caribbean to be closer to family, and soon found themselves partnering with Kismet in Montpelier, who had a regular “visiting chef” series going. Next thing you know, their business was taking off, and now Himitsu Sushi is a four-night-a-week affair. But the catch is that every night they are in a different town, on a semi-regular rotation. As I write this, they are currently on a four-day schedule, with Mondays at The Bees Knees in Morrisville, Tuesdays at the Lareau Farm (aka “American Flatbread”) in Waitsfield, Wednesdays at Kismet in Montpelier, and Thursdays at the Green Goddess in Stowe. Right now I recommend checking out their Facebook page to verify their schedule and locations.
None of these locations are particularly convenient for us, but we decided that one of these weeks we’d check them out when they were in Montpelier. So last night after work, we hopped in the car and drove the hour up to Montpelier to check them out at Kismet. Alas, I left both good cameras at home, but managed to still get some decent shots.
Walking into Kismet, I was reminded of the fact that a pop-up restaurant ends up being a bit of a fusion of the guest chef and the host restaurant, both in ambiance (the overall feel of the place is pretty much the same as any other night) and in menu (since Himitsu makes use of the bar services of Kismet, so the drink menu is primarily that of Kismet). And I was also glad, from the generally busy state of things, that I had called ahead before leaving Hanover to place a restaurant. So obviously Kismet’s “Secret Sushi Night with Himitsu” has caught on. But we were both quickly seated, and sipping at our Kombuchatinis, a pleasant mixed cocktail based primarily on kombucha.
Moving on to the main Himitsu menu, they’ve got a rather nice mix of Japanese-style appetizers (including sushi standards like miso soup, edamame, and fried tofu), as well as a handful of more creative dishes, like a Japanese-inspired version of a tuna ceviche salad, and their “Karub Kuri”, which was a braised short rib served up with vegetables in a rich curry sauce. The rest of the menu was basically maki rolls, and this is where I immediately noticed something a bit unusual: almost every menu item on the sushi menu included avocado. Apparently the owners of Himitsu are either huge fans of avocado, or they found a really good supplier, since it seemed to be more present than nori as a wrapper on the menu. Personally, I found that a bit of a shame, since I’m generally not a fan of avocado, but a lot of other people love it, so I guess most people would groove with this.
We ended up deciding on two appetizers and two maki rolls for our meal, getting the abovementioned tuna ceviche and Karub Kuri as starters. The tuna ceviche was a great opening to the meal. Served up with red onion, cilantro, watermelon, jalapeno, and a coconut foam, this was a nice variation on a classic ceviche. While I’m not a great fan of watermelon, here it combined with the cilantro and jalapeno quite nicely, and the coconut foam actually added a nice soft and sweet note. The main ingredient, however, was the tuna, and it is obvious that even with the challenges involved in running a mobile sushi kitchen, Himitsu has a decent seafood supplier, since this was very rich and tender tuna.
The Karub Kuri was also very pleasant, with a perfectly braised and tender beef short rib delivered up on a bed of tiny fingerling potatoes with a topping of veggies and very rich Japanese-style curry sauce. This was a perfect little dish, with the tender shreds of beef combining nicely with the potatoes and curry sauce. I’d happily order the full entree version of this dish on our next visit.
For the main course, I was rather pleased with the two rolls we ordered. The first was the KB, which was a maki roll made with spicy salmon and tempura cilantro wrapped with mango and jalapeno. While the mango wrapper gave it the appearance of being wrapped in American cheese, it was actually a very pleasant (if slightly sweet) roll, with the crispy fried cilantro giving it a nice crunchy and bitter note, while the jalapeno gave it some nice bite (I’m rather a fan of paper-thin jalapeno in sushi dishes). I’d certainly get this again. Our other roll, the McManus, was a more basic rolls, basically a stadard maki roll with substantial portions of good salmon, tuna, and scallion roll.
Overall, we were very pleased with Himitsu Sushi. Vermont, by combination of its rural character and the lack of a seashore, doesn’t have a lot of sushi places (indeed, there’s only one other I’ve been to that I’d recommend at all, and that’s San Sai in Burlington), so Himitsu Sushi fills that niche very nicely. And they seem to leverage the pop-up concept well, partnering with quite a few nice restaurants to bring their product to several towns across Vermont. They won’t be a regular destination of ours (it’s hard, when only rarely does my path cross theirs), but I certainly wouldn’t mind another visit. Maybe next time with less avocado?