Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wasabi Blast from the Past

At my second visit to the newish local sushi joint, I did something I haven't done in a long time: I ordered a preset assortment, a "sushi deluxe" if you will. See, ever since I got truly hooked on sushi years ago, I've been an à-la-carte'r -- an uni here, an amaebi sashimi there, maybe a nice fluffy bed of tobiko that crunches and pops when I put it in my mouth. I've also been interested in avoiding the dull boiled shrimp and inexplicable fake crab that pad so many sushi sets.

But lately I've been more willing to go back to the basics. There's almost nothing I won't eat at a sushi place, and since I wanted to be more economical -- Margy and I have sometimes spent twice as much as our companions as we choose exactly what we want, and plenty of it -- I threw caution to the wind and ordered nine pieces of unspecified nigiri sushi and a tuna roll. Let's rock.

I expected to reacquaint myself with oily mackerel, to gnaw on a bit of chewy squid, to maybe even gain a new appreciation for a fanned-out boiled shrimp on top of a mound of rice. I got ready for a bite of eel, prayed for some sea urchin (this was "deluxe" after all).

And then I got a plate full of repeats. Two pieces of salmon, probably three of yellowtail, and a bunch of one or two kinds of white fish. Thank goodness it was all very good quality and the seaweed on the tuna roll was fresh and crisp. I was disappointed by the lack of variety, but that didn't stop me from having fun. I certainly didn't have to agonize over what order to eat things in, not the way I would have were there only one of everything.

I was sitting at the bar, and I tried unsuccessfully to communicate with the chef who'd made my dinner. He was busy -- and damn, was he quick -- but I only wanted tiny bits of information, like what I was eating. Earlier I had asked about two things he was making for other diners.

"What's that? Is it a scallop?"

"Live clam."

Ten minutes later. "What's that?"

"White tuna tartar."

"Wow. What's the sauce on top?" It was the color and shape of goldfish poop, squirted in zig-zag lines over the pale-pink tuna.

[No answer.]

But when he set my plate down in front of me, I decided to try again. "Sir? What kind of fish is this?" I knew the tuna and the salmon, of course, but that left six pieces I couldn't ID exactly.

He frowned. "Sorry, please ask your waitress. Sorry."

The guy had selected my fish, sliced it, and shaped it carefully in his hands, and now he wanted me to ask someone else what it was. I chuckled to myself and dug in. I'd never know for sure.

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