Sushi joint Sekushi on the Beach in Clearwater offers hits and misses

The technique needs a little TLC.

click to enlarge Sushi joint Sekushi on the Beach in Clearwater offers hits and misses
Sekushi on the Beach

2 out of 5 stars

524 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater. Starters: $5-$16.75; entrees/sushi $1.50-$29; no desserts; beer/wine/sake: $6-$18. 


As you drive north from the traffic circle that embodies the congestion of entering Clearwater Beach, it’s amazing to see the crowds of tourists thin out. 

Barely 700 yards up, just past the Sandpearl Resort in the former home of Cork N Brew, is Sekushi, a sushi/dumpling/noodle bar with Las Vegas roots. We’re lucky to find street parking and walk up to the crowded patio only to encounter a chagrined family with three teens in tow (plus a toddler in a stroller) who were hoping for a Japanese steak house.

We snag a table inside and things start with a bang. Delightful pork dumplings are available fried, steamed, or pan-seared, which is our choice. I like the soft texture with the extra flavor from the caramelization in the hot wok. It’s the Goldilocks zone for me: Fried are usually too crisp, steamed are too soft, but pan-seared is just right. Add a chili-soy coulis to the well-seasoned pork and your palate is off to the races — especially if you take the time to pick up a few slices of crispy garlic, which is perfectly done and not allowed to get bitter.

The pork belly bao has a puffy white steamed bun, lush rich meat, and the balancing crunch of shredded carrots, daikon, and cucumber with bits of shishito pepper and cilantro. It’s a nice effort. The beef and broccoli skewer, however, tastes of old oil. It’s a distinct flavor that robs any freshness from the meat or the florets and indicates lazy technique. My taster spits it out.

On to sushi. I always opt for nigiri (with rice) over sashimi. When you’re trying to evaluate what comes out of the sushi kitchen, there’s nowhere to hide. You not only get to see the quality of the fish, but you can instantly see the elements of the rice. If you haven’t watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix, I urge you to tune in if you have any interest in technique. You learn that mastering sushi rice is a lifelong pursuit.

Though it’s pricey at $12 per piece, we can’t resist the lure of fatty tuna which we contrast with the affordable yellowtail, and maguro (lean tuna). The rice is, for me, bland. What makes sushi rice special is the perfect balance of rice vinegar, sugar and salt. It’s subtle, but the acidulation makes the fish come alive. And sushi masters add careful bits of wasabi or a light glaze that can make it thrilling. This is forgettable.

The Sand Key roll keeps it simple with salmon, avocado, and cucumber. It’s a common combo with clean flavors and great contrasting textures between the lush, fatty avocado and the crisp cucumber. But, again, the rice disappoints. It’s not only bland, but it falls apart when I pick it up with my chopsticks, so I’ve got to use my fingers for the next piece.

The steamed shrimp poke bowl is brightly colored with edamame, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumbers, unripe mango, black sesame, and poke sauce. But it’s listed with avocado and wakame, that lovely subtly sweet seaweed. They’re both absent and you really miss them. It’s complicated by the fact that the bowl also shows signs of old acrid oil. I’m not sure where the off flavors originate — perhaps a rancid drizzle, but the bowl is ruined.

The “shut the duck up” ramen (which is also offered with udon or rice noodles) looks great. There’s a leg quarter of crispy duck plus a floating enoki mushroom, and a slice of baby bok choy. But when I dip my Chinese spoon into the broth, it’s clear that not enough duck fat was rendered. It’s like sipping an oil slick. The duck meat is yummy and the ramen noodles are comfort food, but it’s hard to get past the fat.

I always look forward to the end of the meal, because I must confess to a sweet tooth. While my expectations are always low for the sweet finishes at most Asian restaurants, which are usually as restrained as the French (and Viennese) are absurdly decadent, I’ve learned to appreciate mochi. Dreamy matcha ice cream wrapped in soft rice paste has its own allure. So, I’m ready, but I don’t see mochi or any other dessert on the menu.

Our server breaks the bad news, “We don’t serve dessert yet.” Oh, my. My hopes are dashed.

There’s lots of potential here, but stale oil and bland rice are the ghouls in Jiro’s nightmares. Only time will tell if Sekushi can up its game.

CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system, or email him at [email protected].

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Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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