As a journalist who writes about food and wine, I am often asked which Grand Cayman restaurant is my favourite. It’s a question I can’t answer.
Yes, there are technical aspects of cooking, service and ambiance of every restaurant that I can compare and contrast with other restaurants, but the best restaurant for a particular day often depends on my mood and various other experiential factors. Who am I with? What am I doing? Is it a celebratory meal? What do I feel like eating? And just how much money can I afford to spend? Depending on my answers to those questions, my favourite restaurant on any given day could be Blue by Eric Ripert or Sam’s Quality Jerk & More … or anything in between.
That said, I do have a shortlist of favourite restaurants that can generally satisfy my mood and experiential needs. One of those restaurants is Taikun at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. I am a big fan of Taikun not just because I love sushi and the sushi there is excellent. What makes Taikun one of my favourite restaurants is that when I go there, I have a culinary experience that I enjoy immensely.
It starts with the service. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s service level throughout all of its restaurants and bars is extremely high and it’s no different in Taikun.
Another aspect of Taikun that appeals to me is its authenticity, which is not found in kitschy Japanese-style décor or tableware, but in its effort to uphold the Japanese tradition of using only the highest quality, freshest fish for the preparation of its menu items.
Getting the best quality and freshest fish possible is the starting point for any great sushi restaurant and Taikun checks that box. Sashimi is simply slices of raw fish and the only thing that differentiates good sashimi from mediocre sashimi is quality and freshness.
However, when it comes to maki (also called rolls) or even nigiri (slices of fish on a shaped bed of rice), chefs can get creative. Two of Taikun’s special nigiri dishes show just how creative the chefs
The “Salmon Rice Foie Gras” combines fresh salmon with foie gras terrine and several other ingredients to create a memorable dish that pays tribute to the tuna foie gras dish served in Blue by Eric Ripert. The “Wagyu Beef Nigiri” contains no fish at all, but instead features a delectable piece of cooked wagyu beef. The hallmark of a good dish is one that you remember long after you eat it.
Once you eat either of these two dishes, you’ll remember them. In addition to many other sashimi and nigiri options, Taikun also offers a selection of 13 sushi rolls, including six on its “Signature Maki” menu. Favourites include the Volcano Ahi Poke Tuna and the Spicy Tuna Tataki Ahi Poke, both of which offer just the right about of heat.
To accompany sushi, most North American restaurants serve a the dollop of thick green paste they call “wasabi,” even though it usually contains little or no real wasabi and is instead made of horseradish, mustard seed and a green colouring agent.
At Taikun, guests are served freshly grated real wasabi stem from Japan. Real wasabi isn’t as spicy hot as fake wasabi powder, but it has more flavour. Depending on where the wasabi comes from on the stem — the top, bottom or middle — there are subtle differences in taste. For example, wasabi grated from the bottom of the stem has a more earthy flavour, while wasabi grated from the top of the stem has more heat.
Because the flavours of real wasabi are more delicate than those in fake wasabi, it’s recommended not to put the wasabi in the soy sauce, as is often done with paste wasabi, and instead using a bit directly on the fish, extenuating its flavour. Because wasabi stem draws in flavours from the utensil used to grate it, metal graters are not used. Instead, the wasabi is grated on a sharkskin paddle.
Another difference you’ll note at Taikun is that the pickled ginger accompaniment is white instead of the typical pink pickled ginger, which gets its colouring from dye.
Perhaps nothing screams “inauthentic” at a sushi restaurant than to be served hot sake. Some people still drink hot sake in Japan for much the same reason they would drink hot cocoa or mulled wine; because it’s cold outside. But like the wine in mulled wine, the sake used when it is served hot isn’t high quality. If all you’ve ever tried is hot sake, then you really haven’t tried sake.
Taikun has an impressive list of high-quality sakes, most of which have been imported from Japan.
The servers have been trained in sake and can explain exactly what it is — like that it’s a brewed beverage, not a rice wine as many think — as well as its characteristics and pairing suggestions.
Taikun also offers a flight of three different sakes, which includes a semi-sweet dessert sake. Like pretty much everything else at Taikun, a flight of sake is more than just a beverage choice; it’s an experience that will broaden your culinary horizons and it’s just one of the reasons Taikun is on my list of favourite restaurants.