2016-07-02 / News

Sushi Grand Brings Taste of Japanese Cuisine to Mackinac Island

By Stephanie Fortino


Sushi Grand opened this season, as Grand Hotel’s newest restaurant offers Japanese cuisine to Mackinac Island visitors. The cooking staff is pictured, including Roderick Villano (from left), Chef Mamerto Embestro, Ragelio Ringor, and Rodolfo Agtina. Sushi Grand opened this season, as Grand Hotel’s newest restaurant offers Japanese cuisine to Mackinac Island visitors. The cooking staff is pictured, including Roderick Villano (from left), Chef Mamerto Embestro, Ragelio Ringor, and Rodolfo Agtina. Inside the new Sushi Grand restaurant, the space glows with gilded walls, an under-lit bar, and a sprawling mural across the ceiling. The small, 24-seat sushi bar is the newest culinary outfit for Grand Hotel that opened at the beginning of the season.

Establishing a sushi bar on Mackinac Island has long been on the wish list for Grand Hotel President R. Dan Musser III. Over the years, sushi has gained popularity in American culture, offering a new fine dining experience on Mackinac Island.

“This is the new steakhouse for the next generation, me included,” Mr. Musser said.

Sushi Grand is next to The Gate House restaurant, near Mahoney Avenue.


The presentation of sushi takes about as long as it does to make it, as chefs carefully place the food and garnishes on display. Here, sushi rolls line the outer ring as nagiri, with strips of seafood on top of rice, form the inner circle. A green tuft of carefully piped wasabi and pickled ginger fill the middle. The presentation of sushi takes about as long as it does to make it, as chefs carefully place the food and garnishes on display. Here, sushi rolls line the outer ring as nagiri, with strips of seafood on top of rice, form the inner circle. A green tuft of carefully piped wasabi and pickled ginger fill the middle. Chef Hans Burtscher oversees all the dining options offered by Grand Hotel. Travis Vartanian serves as the general manager for the Village Inn, The Gate House, and Sushi Grand restaurants. When explaining the concept of the sushi bar menu, Mr. Vartanian described it as a small sampling of fine sushi rolls, nagiri, and sashimi. The starter menu has a variety of salads, some with seaweed or spicy crab and mango, and soups, a large bowl of ramen noodles with seafood, aromatic vegetables, and a slow poached egg that takes an hour to cook at a low heat in an immersion cooker.


Sushi Grand was decorated by Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper and Company, featuring gold gilded walls, rice paddy-inspired lighting fixtures, and murals on the ceiling. Diners are shown enjoying their meals beyond the bar Tuesday, June 28. Sushi Grand was decorated by Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper and Company, featuring gold gilded walls, rice paddy-inspired lighting fixtures, and murals on the ceiling. Diners are shown enjoying their meals beyond the bar Tuesday, June 28. The fish used in the dishes at Sushi Grand is imported from Japan. It is stored near freezing, some at a cooler along the bar, prominently displayed for diners to see. The restaurant has the best quality seafood available, Mr. Vartanian said, including octopus, tuna, and salmon.

Grand Hotel has offered sushi at the Jockey Club restaurant, with Chef Mamerto Em- bestro overseeing the dishes. When planning for Sushi Grand, Chef Embestro recruited the help of Chef Rodolfo Agtina, with whom he had worked in the Phillippines. Mr. Agtina learned to make sushi from his brother, who studied in Japan. After working in Russia and Lebanon, Mr. Agtina is enjoying his first summer on Mackinac Island and noted the variety of customers.

Interacting with the customers at Sushi Grand is important to the dining experience, Chef Embestro said. People can watch as they carefully craft the sushi, forming the rice, cutting the fish, and assembling the dishes.

While the sushi bar has a small menu of regular items, each day a new list of specials offers different dishes that lets the chefs experiment and express their creativity, Mr. Vartanian said.

“It’s very exciting,” said Chef Embestro. “It’s very challenging.”

Providing quality and consistent dishes is of utmost impor- tance, Chef Embestro said. Beyond having the best fish available, the rice is essential to sushi. The cooks carefully follow Mr. Agtina’s recipe, carefully measuring the ingredients, even weighing the water, sometimes removing just a few grains of rice, and adding vinegar.

Part of the allure of sushi is trying new things, said Grand Hotel Vice President Ken Hayward. Personally, he never would have imagined liking or even trying eel, he said, and now the unagi avocado roll with broiled eel is his favorite.

Only sushi can be ordered in the restaurant, but Mr. Musser said people can order from the sushi menu and the Gate House menu at the bar.

Sushi Grand is becoming a favorite lunch spot for Island workers in its first season, Mr. Vartanian said. The restaurant also has ready-to-go sushi. And at the end of each day, the leftover rolls and nigiri are offered at discounted rates at The Gate House.

Dining in the restaurant provides a unique experience, as just as much attention is paid to plating the food as is paid to making it, Mr. Vartanian said. The chefs are creative with the presentation, often adding flowers handpicked each day from Amelia Musser’s garden. The chefs also showcase their knife skills with a flower-like arrangement made of carved fruits and vegetables as the centerpiece on the bar.

The restaurant was decorated by Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper and Company of New York. The opulent, luxurious setting has pendant lighting inspired by rice paddy hats, bamboo window coverings, red and black lacquered chairs, sparkling black granite tables, and twinkling lights in the ceiling, which highlight points of interest on the maps of Japan and Mackinac Island.

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