BY MEGAN BETZ
When Roger Ge, 26, decided to buy and close Kiku Sushi and re-open the space as Gaza, his goal was to bring Japanese cuisine with a cosmopolitan-inspired dining experience to Bloomington. With elaborate place settings, complete with gold-plated knives and forks; intimate seating in plush, cream-colored chairs; and an emphasis on presentation and quality—including fresh seafood flown in three times a week—Ge’s new venture seems to be working.
At Gaza, 895 S. College Mall Road, guests are asked to come in, trust the chef, and take their time enjoying the dining experience. It’s easy to do, thanks to John Chen, a Japanese chef Ge met in New York City while developing the restaurant’s concept.
Chen pulls maximum flavor from delicate seafood dishes and strives to please all of the senses. One example is his tuna tataki, a delicate balancing act. Spice and sweetness from wasabi and charred scallion miso ensure the dish lights up each portion of the palate, while a light sear lets the buttery texture and rich structure of the big-eye tuna shine through.
Ge and Chen are passionate about modern Japanese cuisine and showcase more than the sushi and sashimi of coastal Japan. Small plates and soups let diners savor the comfort foods of Japan with Chen’s creative twist. The pork belly bun, while easily found at food trucks, sings when the salt and easy bite of the pork combine with a tart, crisp burst of apple.
Chen’s Japanese entrees are a refreshing change from typically heavy American fare. The A5 wagyu zabuton steak melts in your mouth, and rather than being weighed down by a baked potato, the dish is lifted with vegetables that maintain their crispness. Chilean seabass was the winning entree for our group of four, with a perfect bake and flavor that left us audibly enjoying every bite.
Each dish prioritizes its central ingredient without leaving it stranded. On our double date, we were impressed by the minimally sauced poke on its mound of greens. While poke has become the latest bowl-building trend, at Gaza the dish is stripped to its essence. Meanwhile, other dishes are built up to let the seafood shine. Classics like ramen and the ever-present California roll are made new by mounds of snow crab.
Our group opted for a deluxe cut-roll combo to see what the sushi counter had to offer. When multiple planks of sushi arrived at our table, we chuckled with surprise and excitement. Four to six pieces each of fluke, salmon, white tuna, big-eye tuna, striped sea bass, mackerel, and California roll enabled us to see what Gaza truly could do. Even a quick look at the cuts—still plump and rich with fat—spoke of the fish’s freshness, and the texture and flavor did not disappoint.
Gaza’s menu features omakase, which translates to “I will leave it to you.” Whether you go this route and let the chef make your dining decisions or do your own ordering, take the spirit of omakase to heart. Trust your chef, take your time, and savor the attention Chen pays to how one can relish a meal with all of the senses.
Hours are Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, noon to 12 a.m.; and Sunday noon to 10 p.m. For more information, visit gazacuisine.com.