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Press- Journal News

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It became one of the worst-kept secrets in Rockland: The sushi at Hiraku in Orangeburg was the county's best. Everyone from Chef Peter Kelly to my magazine friends talked up the raw fish. But now that owner Masao "Umi" Umezaki sold the restaurant to open a new one in Nyack, will Murasaki Japanese Restaurant inherit that title?

It appears so. Murasaki Shikibu was the author of The Tale of Genji, a Japanese novel more than a thousand years old, but Umi told me it's also slang for soy sauce in Japanese sushi bars. It's a fitting name for his restaurant, which eschews the trendy American-style Pan-Asian food and sticks strictly to classic dishes. The place looks traditional, too-blond wood, clean lines, varnished sushi bar-except for the posters of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, two of Umi's favorite sports heroes.

And there is sublime sushi-cut expertly with the long pass of Umi's knife. Try the tuna, salmon, or yellowtail and any will melt on your tongue. Or ask Umi what he wants to serve. He'll probably ask if you like chewy things, and if you do, he'll serve delectable octopus or clam. Other appetizers are also fabulous. Gyoza, those fluffy, half-moon-shaped dumplings, had a crispy outside crunch but were filled with soft, delicious meat. Hands-down, do not miss the eggplant. Sliced in half lengthwise, with the stem still on, it's glazed with honey, sake, mirin, and miso, giving the dish a beautiful glimmer. The halves of eggplant are then scored into bite-sized pieces, and each one tastes custardy, rich, and full of umami. I also adored the hirame oroshi-fluke with radish soup. It's made with a warm and earthy dashi broth, and the fluke is fried crisp and topped with daikon radish. If you want the essence of great balance in a dish, order this and marvel. And if you're bored with seared tuna-and really, who isn't?-you've got to try Umi's tuna steak special. He slices coin-sized medallions super-thin, then broils them with salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of sake. He serves them dressed with radish, sesame seeds, scallions, and garlic. It's a revelation.

As in most Japanese restaurants, desserts are a bit of an afterthought.
But when Umi slices pineapple as carefully as he does an expensive
piece of fish, you can't help but recognize that you're in the hands of
a true expert. And you understand why people keep saying he's the
best in the county.