Sushi restaurants are everywhere, a common feature along our strip-mall lined streets, whereas a decade ago they were but a rarity. For lover's of raw fish and rice, the abundance of options means you never need to wander for from home for a good meal. And the First Coast region does indeed have its fair share of really good, even great, little sushi joints. But an unfortunate consequence of this surplus of options is that finding an extraordinary sushi restaurant can be quite difficult, particularly with the impetus to skimp on the quality in favor of economy like the rest of the competition.
Once upon a time there was a restaurant called Botan that was conveniently situated on my way home from work. For a great many months, my co-workers and I would frequently stop in and order horrendous amounts of sushi. This, of course, led to us directly interacting with the Sushi chefs whom, as anyone who ever visited Botan in its heyday can attest, were masters of their craft and would surprise us with unique culinary creations that were nowhere to be found on the menu. Sadly, due to differences between the owners, Botan was quite suddenly sold off and became a shell of its former self.
About a year later, Mas, former Botan sushi chef and consummate culinary artist, resurfaced again with a new restaurant: Pacific Asian Bistro. Located down in Palencia Village near the northern edge of St. Augustine, Pacific serves up all the typical Chinese and Japanese influenced fusion dishes we've come to expect from Asian bistros but at a much higher standard. From the familiar hibachi plates to the common Chinese restaurant fare, the names of the menu items are the same but the taste, presentation, and overall quality stretch far beyond what you've come to expect.
Additionally there are a lot of uncommon items. Delectable lamb chops were on offer on our recent visit. These succulent morsels, which even the chef admitted were not up to his standards, were far more delicious than any I've had the pleasure of tasting at some of Jacksonville's better known fine-dining establishments. Another treat was some monkfish liver: a musky, creamy (and slightly controversial) delicacy popular in upscale sushi bars.
But it's really in the sushi department where Pacific delivers unparalleled excellence. Every piece of sashimi, every roll, every gourmet creation is flawless. You will find a lot of the standards here, from simple rolls and sashimi to decadent, sculptured tempura monsters. These are all exceptionally crafted using fresh, flavorful ingredients. There are even some incredibly novel and equally delicious special rolls that are part art, all flavor. But if you want to treat yourself to something extraordinary, take a seat at the sushi bar and ask for a surprise.
The menu at Pacific is a suggestion, a guide for those who need to know exactly what to expect. For the more adventurous, for those with high culinary standards, the real trick is to leave your meal up to the chef. Perhaps you can go as far as suggesting what you like and maybe what you'd prefer to avoid, but trusting Mas with the final decision on what you're going to eat is the best course of action. I can't begin to tell you the names of the items I ate as they don't seem to be on the menu, but every single plate was incredible. You probably won't get exactly what you were expecting and if you'd see the item before you on the menu, chances are that you wouldn't have selected it, but the end result is always more than satisfactory.
At Pacific you will find the best sushi North Florida has to offer and I limit it to this region only because it's where I have the most experience. The prices are a bit higher than most of the other sushi restaurants around but well worth the cost and certainly not as expensive as comparable, upscale establishments. After all, what's a few extra dollars and miles when the food is this extraordinary?
Pacific Asian Bistro
159 Palencia Village Drive
St. Augustine, FL 32095