50 Best Dishes: King Sushi’s Hoff Roll

By on March 28, 2018

In front of the board, King’s got the finest touch

The Hoff Roll, named after Tim Hoff, a frequent patron at King Sushi. Stay tuned for the Planet Jackson Hole Roll, wrapped in newsprint. (Helen Goelet)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – It’s no secret the Japanese take pride in tradition. Theirs is a refined, precise culture rooted in preservation and respect.

Like geishas and samurais, sushi chefs face lengthy instruction. The ultimate goal is to become itamae (in front of the board). They are responsible for a customer’s experience from start to finish.

Jason King, executive chef and owner of King Sushi, embarked on the journey in 2002 at Nikai in Jackson Hole. He learned from Chef Jared Schwartz, “the most influential chef I have ever worked with.”

King began there at square one: rice-making under Nikai’s Master Lee. “It’s all about the rice and its ratio to salt and vinegar,” King explained.

Indeed, every itamae has their own secret rice recipe. The rice is an essential complement to the fish without taking away from its flavor. 

After mastering the rice, the next step is to become a wakiita (beside the board). This apprenticeship is when pupils learn to handle fish and its accompanying ingredients. 

King claimed his position in front of the board following years of such apprenticeship and culinary education. And in 2014, he and his wife Kaylan opened King Sushi, aptly named for its location on King Street, its owners and its caliber of food.

His specialty? Making the ingredients stand out while keeping them light, fresh and clean. That’s why The Hoff Roll, containing unagi, avocado, soy paper, hamachi and a thin slice of lemon, is one of the best dishes in Jackson Hole.

While I am biased towards anything with unagi, i.e. freshwater eel, this roll exemplifies King’s ability to marry crisp, rich textures and flavors with potent yet delicate fish. No ingredient is lost in this dish, and the paper thin slice of lemon sets it over the top with its fresh, tart flavor cutting through the richness of the hamachi and smokey eel. 

Hamachi, a member of the tuna family, has a very distinct fish flavor. Due to its high fat content, its meat is soft and incredibly delicate. For $18, the roll is perfect for sharing or, let’s be honest, it might be best for one.

When you enter King Sushi, the warmth of the cabin’s stripped and stained log walls built in the early 20th century—a former home to metal workers—contrasts the silent dedication of the itamae with one of his two wakiita, George VanDercook and Alexander Chay, bent over their boards.

While King adheres to the Japanese’s dedication to charm and grace, he allows flexibility in flavor and presentation, offering everything from pork gyoza, scallop shooters, sashimi and house rolls.

Of course you can’t talk about King Sushi without discussing its excellent happy hour beginning at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. With half-off wine and beers and $5 hand and select rolls, it might be one of the best happy hours in town. Arrive early—most days there is a line at the door shortly after the restaurant opens.

While the specialty cocktails pair well with the food, I’m partial to the Tokyo Sour made with tangy-sweet yuzu and kaffir lime sour mix. Don’t forget to take a peek at the sake and wine offerings too. 

The author is partial to the Tokyo Sour, made with kaffir lime.

In addition to the regular menu items, King and his team display their creativity and finesse with daily food specials. These often include oysters, specialty fish, and if you’re lucky, melt-in-your-mouth uni (sea urchin) bringing the taste of the ocean to your tongue and the smell of a sea breeze to your face.

“We wanted to give customers a high-end, healthy dining experience with good, sustainable, line caught fish,” King explained. A novel and enviable concept in a landlocked state known for wild game and beef.

About Helen Goelet

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