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Classic sushi at Taka in Westbury

At Taka Sushi in Westbury, aji (Spanish mackerel)

At Taka Sushi in Westbury, aji (Spanish mackerel) sushi is topped with ginger and scallions, June 19, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus

As sushi has gained popularity in the United States, it has also lost touch with its Japanese roots. What was once a venerable tradition highlighting the freshness of fish and the sushi chef’s knife skills has morphed into a carnival of crazy rolls and baroque platings.

Some local sushi restaurants try to stick to the tradition, and among them is Taka, located in a nondescript strip mall in Westbury. Chef-owner Taka Yamaguchi presides over the place from behind the sushi bar. He’s the strong, silent type, not given over to effusive greetings or friendly banter. He concentrates on his work.

This is not the place to go if you want spicy tuna rolls or anything splattered with mango sauce. Instead, settle in at the sushi bar and ask for the omakase. “Omakase,” loosely translated as “trust me,” empowers the chef to serve whatever he pleases. That’s what we did recently and, over the course of 90 minutes, we were treated to a pristine piscatorial parade.

First up, a little bowl of marinated strips of hopping-fresh mackerel, then three briny oysters (from British Columbia) topped with some delicious, slightly spicy sauce, then tuna sushi. I thought the next piece of sushi was salmon and I prepared myself to be bored, but it turned out to be Arctic char, sweet and less flabby than salmon. A diamond of aji (Spanish mackerel) had been crosshatched through its shimmery skin and topped with ginger and scallion. Next: yellowtail sushi with its own little belt of shiso leaf, followed by fluke, toro (belly tuna) so fatty it was pink and, finally, raw sweet shrimp.

The meal wasn’t cheap, but at $50 each, it was an affordable luxury. Taka also has an extensive list of Japanese beers and sake which, if I had indulged, would certainly have upped the bill. But I wanted a clear head to appreciate the chef’s artistry, and so green tea fit the bill.

Taka is at 821 Carman Ave., Westbury, 516-876-0033.

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