Since its official opening on Friday, Dec. 30, Happy Fish has been bustling with sushi lovers, who are excited to dine at St. Johns only restaurant that serves sushi full-time.
Happy Fish owner Nate Kulchaks training and experience is evident in the extensive menu, food presentation and delicious combinations of fresh fish in the sushi that he creates.
Kulchak did a five-and-a-half-year apprenticeship under Japanese sushi chef Atsushi Nakano, and has managed three other sushi bars.
He credited his experience for his ability to offer such a large menu at low prices.
Its all a matter of experience, he said. Nothing goes to waste. When were done with a fish, pretty much all thats left is tendon, skin and bones.
If somebody is properly trained in sushi, they know how to utilize every part of the fish, Kulchak added.
With prices ranging from $4 to $13.50 per roll, one can have a dinner of fresh sushi for less than what a typical dinner costs at many other St. John restaurants.
I really want to appeal to the locals of St. John, said Kulchak. A lot of places charge higher prices because of tourism, but Im really trying to focus on locals.
Happy Fish attempts to preserve Japanese sushi tradition, but Kulchak acknowledged that he caters to some American tastes as well.
It is apparent when scanning the menu that cream cheese, an ingredient commonly found in sushi rolls served at American sushi restaurants, is not used at Happy Fish.
I draw the line at cream cheese, said Kulchak. I feel that cream cheese is over-Americanizing sushi.
Kulchak does give in when it comes to tempura, due to its popularity.
Sushi in general doesnt have tempura in the rolls, but you have to do tempura, he said.
Happy Fishs menu caters to non-sushi lovers as well, with entrées featuring American foods, such as chicken.
One of Kulchaks favorite sushi rolls is the uzura maki, which is a cucumber roll wrapped in shrimp, with four quail eggs on top. His favorite entrée is the thirashi, an assortment of raw fish served over a bed of rice.
In addition to a unique menu, Happy Fish offers a unique atmosphere. A wide range of music, from reggae to techno, plays over the speakers as kung fu movies are projected onto a wall.
I just want a fun place for people to come and eat, said Kulchak. I want everyone to have a good time.
Helping to ensure that patrons have a good time is the large martini and cocktail menu, which offers up everything from the typical Bushwacker and Painkiller, to the more decadent dessert martinis.
We wanted to be a little more upbeat than most places, said Kulchak. I think the bar is a good addition to the restaurant.
The restaurant owner admitted that things are still being worked out during the first few weeks of business.
Were still coming up with a system for service, he said. Im also trying to figure out how much fish I go through so that I dont run out, but at the same time keep it fresh.
The restaurant had to close a few times in the past week because it ran out of fish.
I look at that as a good thing, because Im not serving frozen fish and Im trying to keep everything as fresh as I possibly can, Kulchak said.
St. John residents dont seem to mind helping Happy Fish get past these initial speed bumps.
Business has been great, said Kulchak. Everybodys been loving it. Ive been seeing the same faces in here every night that weve been open.
Happy Fish, located on the second floor of The Marketplace, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 2 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 5 to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
The restaurant is currently accepting cash only, but will be accepting credit cards soon.