Delicate filets of barely pink red snapper coil together like a tiny rose. Coral colored salmon with light stripes rests on paper-thin slices of orange; fat slices of sunset-colored tuna and white escolar ("super white tuna") set off yellow wedges of sweet egg omelet.
But don't wait too long — served over lightly sweet, sticky sushi rice, Takumi's chirashi is as satisfying to eat as it is to look at. Among obligatory cream cheese-filled, deep fried daily specials, perfectly prepared sashimi is what Takumi chef Steven Cao does best.
Though it's not new, Takumi is something of a hidden gem, tucked into a strip mall near East Towne Mall since 2007. Nearby office dwellers come at lunch for a teriyaki bento box ($9.95) or two simple rolls ($9.95), crowding the small wood-paneled space.
Evening regulars include a mix of east siders and visitors to the city — there are more than a dozen hotels within a two-mile radius. Many travelers without context probably notice that Takumi is rated higher on Yelp than both Muramoto restaurants and decide to walk to dinner.
It seems oddly fitting for a Wisconsin sushi place that the word that came up most often in our descriptions of Takumi's fish was "buttery." It was true of the yellowtail in a simple negi hamachi roll ($6.95), salmon in that chirashi bowl ($17.50), escolar on a White Dragon Roll ($12.95).
Simply put, the fish tastes fresh. Owners Amanda Chen and Evan Ni, Chinese-born restaurateurs who launched both the State Street and west side locations of Takara before selling them to family, have small orders of ocean fish shipped in almost daily from Chicago-based distributors, Chen said.
"For most restaurants, they only deliver twice a week," Chen said. "We pay for overnight delivery … for sushi, it's very important, you need to keep (it) fresh."
That investment comes through in Takumi's best dishes. A sushi appetizer ($5.95) of tuna, salmon, yellowtail and escolar was pristine. Tuna tataki ($9.95), seared for just seconds, had an almost meaty texture, set off by tart ponzu (citrus soy sauce).
Cao has a sure hand with balance, too. His rice is less vinegary than some in town, but it's offset by spicy fresh ginger, sliced razor-thin and pickled, or the salty mineral pop of tobiko (flying fish roe).
The Red River Roll ($13.95), a combination of fish, avocado and cucumber rolled together in red soy paper, had just a touch of heat from a sweet/spicy kabayaki sauce. The king crab-stuffed Lake Side Roll ($12.95) looked almost painterly, topped with colored tobiko in black, green and red alongside the natural orange.
On the cooked side, dumplings, like quarter-sized shumai ($4.50) and tender pork gyoza ($5), were delectable, addictive little bites, the wrappings as tender as I've had anywhere.
Over several visits and one trip for takeout, the only real disappointments were a too-sweet teriyaki chicken and shrimp duo ($19.95) — surely an impossibility, for some — and a few of the fried rolls, where things got too complicated or mayo-laden for the fish to shine.
The Spicy Lover Roll ($11.95) was indeed spicy, but gloppy and heavy too. Shrimp tempura got gummy in the Alligator Roll ($12.95), though the avocado/mango wrap was a nice touch.
Busy or not, Takumi's waitstaff was perfunctory and efficient, a little slow to greet patrons waiting in the doorway but warm and affectionate with regulars. Excepting a very small L-shaped bar near the cash register, there's no room to wait if seats are full.
Unfortunately, while it does brisk takeout business even on a busy Saturday night, Takumi no longer offers delivery. A second Sun Prairie location closed two years ago, Ni said, due to staffing difficulties.
But Waunakee residents will get a combination of Takumi and Chen and Ni's other restaurant, a campus-area Asian fusion place called Fugu, late this summer. Ni's own Sage Point Construction has been remodeling a 6,000 square foot space at 107 Baker St. to be a sushi/hibachi/Szechuan restaurant, set to open in July or August.