Bethany Clough

Dinner is a show at this new Fresno restaurant: There’s fire, dry ice and high-tech sushi

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They like to set things on fire at this restaurant.

At times, our interview at Nami Japanese Cuisine felt more like a special effects demonstration as the staff brought black fried rice to a table, doused it with vodka and sent flames skyrocketing.

They also showed our photographer and me how they tuck dry ice into sushi dishes so a billowing artsy concoction comes to your table.

And then there was something you don’t see too often around Fresno: A revolving sushi line.

It’s a little conveyor belt that runs between rows of booths, carrying plates of sushi like spicy tuna, even some Spam musubi. Customers can grab whatever looks appetizing to them without leaving their seat and eat it at their table. Readers, you can get a close-up view of this operation in our video at FresnoBee.com, where photographer John Walker put his camera on the conveyor belt for a fisheye-view recording of the sushi’s ride around the dining room.

The sushi dishes are covered and priced according to the color of the plate they’re on, between $3 and $6.

The high tech part? To ensure the sushi stays fresh, each plate has a tag on the bottom that is read by a sensor when the belt cycles back through the kitchen. Once two hours have passed and the sushi remains uneaten, it gets thrown out.

It’s proved quite popular.

“We already have lines for the revolving sushi,” said manager Ethan Tong.

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Nami is a Japanese restaurant under construction at Park Crossing shopping center in northeast Fresno. BARBARA ANDERSON banderson@fresnobee.com

The restaurant

Let’s back up and focus on some basics. Nami is at 8346 N. Fresno St. at Friant Road. It’s one of the new businesses at Park Crossing, the same shopping center that’s home to the new Trader Joe’s.

Nami has sushi, teppenyaki (where chefs put on a show with fire while cooking your food at your table), a regular Japanese food menu and a full bar.

Nami is Japanese for “wave” (not to be confused with the NAMI, the acronym for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is what comes up if you google the name).

The restaurant has been quietly open since early July but recently revamped its menu, held a ribbon-cutting Monday and is offering 10 percent off teppanyaki for the rest of the month.

Nami is owned by the people who run Little Fat Dumpling in the same shopping center. That restaurant specializes in Xiao Long Bao dumplings, little packets of dough with soup inside that take all day to make.

They are also planning a second location for Little Fat Dumpling, in the former Happy Star spot near Palm and Olive avenues in the Tower District. It was originally supposed to open early this year, but between delays and focusing on Nami, it’s going to take a while longer.

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Dry ice vapor flows over an island of sushi at Nami Japanese Cuisine. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

The menu

In addition to the revolving sushi line at Nami, you can also sit at the sushi bar and watch chefs work, or order sushi off the menu at your table.

Some of the sushi dishes come elaborately arranged, like the $24 sashimi regular dish, with 12 pieces of sashimi (raw fish), flowers, tiny umbrellas and dry ice spilling out from under it all.

The $58 Nami “love boat for two” comes in a large wooden boat, topped with various kinds of sashimi, sushi and a martini glass full of giant shrimp. The red palm trees sitting upright in a bowl of shredded daikon are actually an ice sculpture, made in a mold and dyed red.

Clouds pouring out of the boat made with dry ice give it a sailing-on-the-seas vibe.

It serves two to four people and don’t be surprised if every head in the room turns your way.

There are some less fishy options on the menu too, like the $24 Nami trio, which features chicken, black pepper steak and shrimp with veggies and bacon fried rice. It comes with a sushi appetizer and a cheesecake dessert. There’s a $14 lunch version without the appetizer and dessert.

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Nami Japanese Cuisine chef Tang sets fire to the Nami Special Fried Rice. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Fire

That dish they set on fire? That’s the $18 Nami special fried rice. It’s a variety of rice that’s black, stir-fried with bacon and ham and brought to your table in a metal mold. A few squirts of vodka and a lighter set it on fire, giving the exterior a crispy finish.

Several teppanyaki tables are wrapped-around grills where chefs entertain you as they cook your food.

Teppanyaki options include chicken, steak, salmon, scallops, lobster and more. Several lower-priced specials are available for teppanyaki at lunch.

One fun option, especially at the teppanyaki tables, is to order a drink called a sake bomb. It’s a glass of beer with chopsticks laid across the top and a shot of sake (Japanese alcohol made from rice) balanced atop them.

Drinking it is a bit of a show.

A worker yells “sake” and the customers respond by yelling “bomb,” three times and pounding the table. The pounding sends the shot falling into the glass of beer and then the customers drink it all up.

Nami has a full bar with Japanese beers on tap and cocktails like a saketini, made with vodka, sake and cherry.

Details: 8346 N. Fresno St. 559-878-2829.

Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.
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