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By Scott Millsop

The name comes from a form of traditional theater found in Korea and Japan. Kabuki Theater is very stylized and involves elaborate costumes, extravagant make-up and exaggerated movements. Actors strike a pose and hold it to express their character. Much is made of appearances and of the care and skill involved in staging. That is also a way to understand Sushi. It is complex and beautiful, crafted with expertise that is only learned through mastery of an art form. Richard Park and Mae Brown think of Sushi that way. Mae has owned the Kabuki restaurant on 48 in Centerville since 2008. Richard – who has background as a Sushi chef and Kitchen chef – is the new owner. Mae has owned restaurants for 36 years. “Now I need to retire,” she says, but she’s still here making sure that Richard understands and does things right.

Photos by Bobby Tewksbury

“When I was a little girl,” says Mae, “My grandmother was cooking, and she said ‘You need to know this’. And I said, ‘I don’t want to watch that.’ So my grandmother said, ‘I will give you a quarter to watch’. She paid me to watch her cook, and I remember. She was a great cook. She yelled too much, but I remember.”


Both Mae and Richard are from Seoul, South Korea, a place of great changes during our lifetime. Mae came to the U.S. as the bride of a serviceman in 1980. It was the time of the Democratization movement inSouth Korea, which was violently suppressed when a new dictator was installed. Mae recalls that time by saying “a lot of people were hungry.” In America she opened restaurants. A Chinese restaurant originally. Kabuki was a return to her Korean origins.


Language is a bit of a barrier at Kabuki, but enthusiasm is not. And the necessary simplicity reveals marvelous insights. For example, Richard came to America in 1998, another time of political transition. He says, “I love America. I have a dream.” He left his family behind in South Korea to pursue his dream. He says he wanted to be rich. When asked what it means to be rich he said, “Freedom. Democracy. Respect. Happiness.” It would be great if we all understood wealth that way. Asked about his goals, Richard said, “I make good food. Customer coming. Eating. Everybody happy.”


Mae Brown expands on that perspective. “This is not really food. It is art. It is food and people. I love people. Have a smile and a happy mind.” Her business plan is ancient: “You treat all the best you can. They keep coming.”


After much tasting and fumbling with chopsticks (Mae kindly offered us forks), we made an unexpected discovery. They make their own soy sauce at Kabuki! At first, we missed it, dipping into soy sauce with an Orange Sunshine roll with shrimp tempura, fiery wasabi and tangy pink pickled ginger, well there are a lot of flavors competing for attention. But when we learned the soy sauce was house made, we tasted it by itself and actually said “wow”. The flavor is somehow bigger, more impactful. In the winter they start the soy sauce.They make enough to last a year. It takes months. They cook soybeans and smash them. It sits for three months in vats which are opened often to allow for fresh air and sun. Then it is all boiled for hours. Maybe this devotion to authenticity is the best indication of what Kabuki is about.


The Sushi is delicious and beautiful. And subtle. Everything here is subtle. People do not necessarily know what to expect from other-culture cuisines. A lot of times it is hot and spicy. But that’s not necessarily the case here. Hot and spicy is available but be prepared for savory. It’s more “mmm-mmm” than “yaaaah oh whoa”.


There’s a dish called Dolsot Bibibod. It is a mix of beef, egg, rice, zucchini, radish, spinach, carrots and beansprouts served in a cast iron bowl that is very hot when presented. It is stirred and cooked at the table. Bulgogi is thinly sliced prime rib with scallions, sesame seeds in a sauce. The list of options is long and varied.


Seafood lovers take note, there are 12 different fish on the menu.


Kabuki in Centerville has a following. They are friends when they come in and then they spread the word. That’s what we’re doing at Ethnosh too.

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