It was the chairs that piqued my interest — the spare, heavy, low-slung chairs that I’ve only seen in old-school, Japanese-owned sushi bars. So I sidled up to the bar at Taiko in Rockville Centre, ordered chirashi and proceeded to eavesdrop as the extravagantly tattooed sushi chef chatted with a regular customer.
My hunch proved correct. Taiko is one of the oldest-school sushi bars on Long Island, founded in 1979 by Hiro Ishikawa. Hiro is now a partner at Shiro of Japan in Carle Place. His son, Tat Ishikawa, presides over Taiko’s sushi bar and kitchen; his daughter Mariko handles the business end.
Tat (which is short for Tatsuya, not tattoo) told me that he had resisted the restaurant profession. Even though he was raised in the business and attended cooking school at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, he was considering a career in law enforcement before he visited Japan for the first time and fell in love with the uncompromising rigor of the traditional Japanese kitchen.
As head chef at Taiko, he shops at the New Fulton Fish Market in Hunts Point, the Bronx, a few times a week with his father (who buys the fish for Shiro). His menu balances tradition with innovation. He makes all his own sauces and broths and comes up with newfangled specials such as seared hamachi with crispy kale tempura or crispy tofu sliders with wasabi mashed potatoes.
My chirashi was very good, the fish cut perfectly, rice the correct temperature. Rockville Centre doesn’t want for sushi — three other Japanese restaurants are within two blocks of Taiko — but few sushi bars on Long Island can match Taiko for its culinary legacy.
Taiko is at 11 S. Village Ave., Rockville Centre, 516-678-6149.