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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Screaming Tuna's Compelling Asian Fusion

Sushi and starter courses alone warrant multiple visits

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Nanakusa, a Japanese restaurant with some exceptional and unusual sushi, recently closed its doors in the Third Ward. Fortunately, aficionados of Japanese food already have another quality option. A few blocks from Nanakusa's former spot is Screaming Tuna, located on the south bank of the Milwaukee River.

The setting is impressive at Screaming Tuna, situated on the ground floor of a large condominium building. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views of the Milwaukee River. The outdoor terrace affords a place to watch the area's many sea gulls.

Inside, you will find a bar for cocktails, a sushi bar, the main dining room and two private dining rooms. Orchid plants take center stage amid spare, simple décor.

Billed as a sushi bar and Asian bistro, Screaming Tuna's Asian fusion makes for a very interesting and compelling menu.

It is nearly impossible to move beyond the sushi and starter courses, as there are so many exceptional options. Those leery of raw fish should try the hot oil sashimi ($9). Small pieces of whitefish are doused in hot olive oil and served attractively on a pandanus leaf. The effect of the oil is to lightly poach the fish, which has a delicate flavor. Peppercorn tuna ($9) also demands attention. The tuna, dusted with ground black peppercorns and barely cooked, is served over threads of daikon radish with a shiso leaf. The shiso has hints of licorice flavor, and the tuna nearly melts in your mouth.

The ceviches here are marvels, combining Japanese and Mexican ingredients to create spectacular results. Tako ceviche ($9), served in a bowl on a plate, offers pieces of cooked octopus combined with avocado, pico de gallo and wasabi vinaigrette. The plate features a ring of thin cucumber slices, each with a dab of hot pepper sauce. The pico de gallo is used very sparingly, with only a few hints of tomato and red onion. The avocado is perfectly ripe, making this more like an octopus guacamole than a ceviche. The sake ceviche ($8) is even better. The avocado and pico de gallo are still there, but this time they are joined by a ponzu and wasabi sauce and tobiko. The raw salmon blends seamlessly with the other ingredients for a wondrous combination. The only scream here is one of delight.

Screaming Tuna is not all about raw fish. The entrees include kalbi filet mignon ($32), Kobe beef 3 ways ($80), teriyaki lamb ($30) and, curiously, a Brazilian churrasco platter ($42).

A meaty starter is yakitori ($9), which offers three skewers—one of chicken, a second of rib-eye beef and a third of fatty pork belly. The chicken skewer also has sweet red pepper and onion. The pork belly has licorice hints of star anise. Another option is a Thai beef salad ($9) with Japanese overtones. Tender pieces of beef are wrapped maki-style around cooked onions with garlic and roasted rice, and served over lettuce. The dressing, which arrives on the side, is very Thai—sweet and citrusy with a jolt of hot red pepper.

Lunches have a separate menu, although the entire dinner menu is also available. The maki sushi ($11.95) offers a fine value with a choice of three varieties adding up to a total of 18 pieces of sushi—enough to share. The selection is a bit limited and does not include any of the specialty rolls ($14-$18 a la carte). One of the choices is AKA, which is asparagus with cucumber and avocado. The asparagus is carefully peeled and the flavors gentle. Spicy scallop lives up to its name, with spicy mayonnaise and the crunch of tobiko. One called "The Screamer" combines tuna with Japanese mustard and wasabi. The quantity of spicy ingredients is just right, with an initial explosion of flavor that lasts for less than a minute. The maki sushis are all reverse rolls, featuring the rice on the outside with a few sesame seeds.

Some day I will have to move on to the entrees at Screaming Tuna, but for now there are still more appetizers to try. The service is pleasant and the food arrives at a proper, leisurely pace. The restaurant also provides a lovely setting with great river views. When the weather gets warmer, ask for one of the outdoor tables and sit back and watch the sea gulls.

Screaming Tuna

106 W. Seeboth St.

(414) 763-1637

$$ (lunch)

$$$-$$$$ (dinner)

Credit Cards: All Major

Handicap Accessible

Screamingtuna.com