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First time at a new sushi restaurant


Richie111
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If you were going to sushi restaurant for the first time, what would you order to explore their menu and try and figure out the quality of their fish?

The obvious answer is "omakaze" which is great for some of the higher end places, but it is also expensive. Another obvious answer is "ask the sushi chef what's good/fresh" but I've done this and very often the response I get is "Everything's good/fresh"

Usually I'll start with some sashimi, like maybe yellowtail and if they have any good toro.

Then I'll move on to nigiri, and basically try to sample all the basics.

Then if I've had good luck so far, I will try their uni, ikura, maybe ama-ebi (though I don't really like the frozen stuff) and lastly mackarel. In my experience I very rarely find good mackarel and bad mackarel is nasty.

Then I'll try a maki roll or two, depending on what's in season. I try not to ask "what's popular" because I have found that I usually don't like "what's popular". Or I'll just ask the chef to make something for me.

I'll finish up with a bowl of miso.

I rarely get dessert, I've been let down too many times. If I really want something sweet I'll get green tea ice cream.

Anways, I'm not a sushi expert, just a sushi fan. I'm really curious what other people order when they check out a new sushi restaurant. Or am I making some sort of mistake in my list/order? Feedback welcome.

Sorry in advance if this is the wrong forum for this question if so let me know. I searched around for a bit for previous posts on this topic and this is the closest I found: Japanese foods--sushi/sashimi, favorites/etiquette/general discussion

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I would go to a new sushi restaurant at lunchtime to have a lunch if it's open at lunchtime. If I had to go there at night, I would sit at a table and order a set meal and look at the chef carefully to see how he treats the customers sitting at the counter.

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If you were going to sushi restaurant for the first time, what would you order to explore their menu and try and figure out the quality of their fish?

The fish is only part of the equation for me. The shari is the other part. So I would order nigiri right away. If there is too much rice, too soft, too vinegary, then that ruins it for me right away.

Ika and tako are the two that I find most consistently unspectacular at sushi restaurants here in North America. If they can get those two right, then it says something. Not coincidentally, they would usually be the last thing I would order, from being disappointed too many times.

Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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  • 4 weeks later...
Well i must add that Chawan Mushi is equally important. It's amazingly simple but excruciatingly hard to perfect.

any bubbles in the custard and it's a sign the chef cannot manage heat well.

A lot of sushi restaurants in Japan don't have chawan mushi. Or dessert. Or anything else except sushi/sashimi and some beverages.

I just order the things I like--anago (bonus points if they grill it in front of you), hotate, uni, ikura, maybe amaebi. They're generally on the expensive side, but I find they're pretty good indicators of quality.

My Japanese friends who are sushi connoisseurs always try the egg at a new sushi place. They say it reveals the skill of the sushi chef. I don't particularly like the egg, but I'll eat it if it's there. And if I like it, then I tend to hold the sushi chef in higher esteem.

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Well i must add that Chawan Mushi is equally important. It's amazingly simple but excruciatingly hard to perfect.

any bubbles in the custard and it's a sign the chef cannot manage heat well.

A lot of sushi restaurants in Japan don't have chawan mushi. Or dessert. Or anything else except sushi/sashimi and some beverages.

I just order the things I like--anago (bonus points if they grill it in front of you), hotate, uni, ikura, maybe amaebi. They're generally on the expensive side, but I find they're pretty good indicators of quality.

My Japanese friends who are sushi connoisseurs always try the egg at a new sushi place. They say it reveals the skill of the sushi chef. I don't particularly like the egg, but I'll eat it if it's there. And if I like it, then I tend to hold the sushi chef in higher esteem.

Tamago (egg) is no longer a good indicator of how good a sushi chef is because many sushi shops buy premade tamago at the market nowadays, as Kuitan discussed with a head sushi chef in one of the Kuitan episodes (no longer available on YouTube).

Anago and kohada (gizzard shad) are still good indicators because they both require elaborate work, as I mentioned in the Local Sushi Shop in Niigata thread in the Japan Forum.

***

Chawanmushi is NOT so hard to make if you just follow my instructions here in my blog.

High heat for 2 min. and then low heat for 10-13 min, depending on the volume.

Edited by Hiroyuki (log)
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Sushi restaurants have collectively made tuna the gold standard, like it or not. There is a lot of competition to ensure the best supplies of tuna, and most sushi chefs consider it critical to have the best possible tuna. So for me tuna is the best litmus test. When I go to a new sushi place where I'm not sure if it's going to be good (as opposed to one where I'm going based on a trusted recommendation), if I'm at the bar, I'll order a piece of regular tuna and a piece of toro as sashimi to start. If they have gradations of toro available I'll pick one. If the quality of that fish standing alone as sashimi is high, I'll proceed to order other things, including all the things I like better than tuna. I agree that rice is important, yellowtail is important, egg is important, etc. But tuna is the litmus test for me, not by choice but because the industry has made it so.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well i must add that Chawan Mushi is equally important. It's amazingly simple but excruciatingly hard to perfect.

any bubbles in the custard and it's a sign the chef cannot manage heat well.

A lot of sushi restaurants in Japan don't have chawan mushi. Or dessert. Or anything else except sushi/sashimi and some beverages.

I just order the things I like--anago (bonus points if they grill it in front of you), hotate, uni, ikura, maybe amaebi. They're generally on the expensive side, but I find they're pretty good indicators of quality.

My Japanese friends who are sushi connoisseurs always try the egg at a new sushi place. They say it reveals the skill of the sushi chef. I don't particularly like the egg, but I'll eat it if it's there. And if I like it, then I tend to hold the sushi chef in higher esteem.

Yes it's true. Even in European Kitchens. You get hired based on how well you can execute egg dishes.

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If we're talking about sushi places in Japan, where the archetype is the small sushi-ya owned and operated by the sushi chef, then yes, the chef's skill with egg might be a useful data point -- though still perhaps not as useful as direct evaluation of the fish. Outside of traditional restaurants like that, whether in large Japanese hotels or in most of the rest of the world, the approach and business model are different and there's not necessarily a strong connection between the quality of the egg and the quality of the rest of your experience. The most extreme example would be that, of course, you're not going to go into Nobu (whether in New York, Tokyo or anywhere in between) and order some egg to see whether you want to eat the sushi there. At any of the major sushi restaurants in Midtown Manhattan, you'd be making an error to assume the egg is the litmus test. You'll get much better information using tuna as a sample, though even that's only an indicator. And in the 90% or more of sushi restaurants in the world that are not Japanese owned, it becomes even less useful to evaluate via egg. For most people, the egg is an afterthought. It's not central the way it is in small, traditional, Japanese-run sushi-ya.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If we're talking about sushi places in Japan, where the archetype is the small sushi-ya owned and operated by the sushi chef, then yes, the chef's skill with egg might be a useful data point -- though still perhaps not as useful as direct evaluation of the fish. Outside of traditional restaurants like that, whether in large Japanese hotels or in most of the rest of the world, the approach and business model are different and there's not necessarily a strong connection between the quality of the egg and the quality of the rest of your experience. The most extreme example would be that, of course, you're not going to go into Nobu (whether in New York, Tokyo or anywhere in between) and order some egg to see whether you want to eat the sushi there. At any of the major sushi restaurants in Midtown Manhattan, you'd be making an error to assume the egg is the litmus test. You'll get much better information using tuna as a sample, though even that's only an indicator. And in the 90% or more of sushi restaurants in the world that are not Japanese owned, it becomes even less useful to evaluate via egg. For most people, the egg is an afterthought. It's not central the way it is in small, traditional, Japanese-run sushi-ya.

Good point.

So i guess we all have come up with a list of things to try to truly evaluate how skillful the chef behind the sushi counter really is. rather than 1 item to look out for.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I also first start with maguro or otoro. If it's great then I either order uni or ikura.

Uni is a great test to tell if the sushi-ya is good, but when it's bad it really is awful so I prefer to first see the quality of the tuna before ordering uni.

One trick by the way for those who go to a kaiten-sushi in japan, usually the quality is of course not as good as a sushi-ya but some of the better ones are quite alright if you order directly all the sushis you want and don't take them from the automatic tray where they are not as fresh anymore...

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  • 3 months later...

eat nigiri. start from white fleshed fish, move to akami (tuna or katsuo but not toro or chutoro), then "blue" fish (mackerel, sardines, etc). this is the standard progression. try some non nigiri dishes. drink the tea. eat the pickled ginger.

if you want to know if a restaurant is good or not just sit down and order the least popular thing on the menu. if it's fresh and delicious then they are probably not taking short cuts. but this is hard to know when you have never had the fresh high quality version of what you are eating. as a rule of thumb as long as you are happy eating what is being put out then it is a good restaurant for you. the quality of the fish has little to do with the skill of the chef and everything to do with the the skill of the person buying the fish. chawanmushi and other dishes with cooked fish are often ways of recycling old fish.

ate at Sebo in San Francisco recently. admired their spirit but was not impressed with the sushi. didn't really like the fact that you pay for the jet fuel used to get 95% of their fish from japan to the restaurant while it slowly degrades in quality in the process.

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