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The "Art" of Sushi


silentbob
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If you can't afford to eat sushi in japan, then you can't afford it in the US (unless you get a significant salary increase in the US). The price/quality ratio is better in Japan than it is in the US for Sushi.

Right. But I was trying to show that a sushi bar filled with Japanese people is not equivalent to a bar filled with people who are used to good sushi.

We can focus a bit more on what DEFINES great sushi here

Aside from quality of ingredients and skill in preparation mentioned above, I think the sushi chef's ability to lead you in the right direction plays a big part. Also, chefs who are open to letting all customers partake in all fish -- as opposed to those chefs who lead you away from kohada and hokkaigai. (What other fish do you think chefs are hesitant to offer American diners?)

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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Aside from quality of ingredients and skill in preparation mentioned above, I think the sushi chef's ability to lead you in the right direction plays a big part. Also, chefs who are open to letting all customers partake in all fish -- as opposed to those chefs who lead you away from kohada and hokkaigai. (What other fish do you think chefs are hesitant to offer American diners?)

To me good quality sushi "must" be experienced at the counter, and a good sushi chef should always ask about preferences (likes/dislikes). There are certain categories of fish that I do not like or less likely to enjoy which I communicate to the chef(I usually go for Omakase). In a quality establishement they usually slice a small tasting if they are unsure and let me decide. I have been at Sushi places where sitting at the counter was meaningless, the chefs were not to be communicated with(although it is rare).

I guess sea urchin is one of the categories of fish that Sushi chefs would be hesitant to offer american diners. Hikari-mono is propably another one.

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I lived in Tokyo for 10 years and one of the criterias I had for deciding if I should try a western restaurant was how many westerners were frequenting it, the other side of the argument of using the number of Japanese customers as a benchmark. The absence of western customers to me was an indication that the food was either extremely bastardized (squid-ink pizza with grated wasabai, ginger and nori topping) or extremely poor price/performance ratio.

Interesting point, I think ethnic profiling IS more reliable for cuisine outside of it source country. You confirmed the same point I was trying to make, perception of what is authentic for a particular cuisine (asian or western) may not be as rigourous outside of it's country of origin.

I agree with an earlier post that if you do see items in Japanese that you don't recognize (ie. ankimo, kohada, kazanuko etc.) you're off to a good start and the place probably holds some promise. If they have freshly grated wasabi whoaaa ....serious stuff.

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Interaction with the chef... that's a good point. That's pretty different from the model which has developed in the western world--where we are supposed to sit back and take whatever is given to us by the chef.

Does the fact that we can dictate terms to the chef challenge his "art", or is his "art" general enough in its nature that it isn't threatened by customer specifications and/or limitations?

re: the Wasabi issue. It also helps if they bother to inform you of the differences between Wasabi and Horseradish. :wink: I actually like both, for different reasons, but it kind of disgusts me when they act like they don't know the difference.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Impeccably fresh fish in pristine condition--cut by a trained and sensitive craftsman.

High quality rice, cooked perfectly--by similarly dedicated veteran rice-maker.

High quality seaweed (if a nori roll) . The price/quality variables on seaweed are astounding.

FRESH wasabi, grated to order. Not that pre-made paste from a tube. Or the powder.

Variety.

Properly formed rice. (Always to order, of course). Rice still slightly warm and almost crumbly. NOT packed too tight.

Proper temperature of the fish. NOT too cold. Should be almost room temperature.

Cold Japanese beer--or good sake.

Good uni.

Good unagi.

Tuna you want to take a wallet-sized photo of.

abourdain

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Isn't it customary to serve two pieces per order of sushi? I seem to recall reading that some place, and it had to do with the etymology of the word "sushi" (something to do with one piece meaning "to kill myself" and three pieces meaning something else.) Also, imo, ideal sushi should not be consumable in one bite, with respect to the size issue.

Jinmyo? Kristin? help?

Soba

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Cold Japanese beer--or good  sake.

Good Sake-Yes!

Cold Japanese Beer. Well, I wish I could get something better than Suntory, Sapporo, Asahi or Kirin in a Sushi bar, I don't think the beer necessarily has to be Japanese.

The master at Miyako Sushi (one of the premier sushi restaurants in Tokyo) appareantly prefers people to have tea with the sushi(I have not tried it).

Good Uni.

Several Japanese I know when eating at a Sushi place for the first time orders Uni first as an indicator as to the quality of the restaurant. God Uni is great, but it is also spoiled very quickly. But good one, mmmmm.

Tuna you want to take a wallet-sized photo of.

I know exactly what you mean. When I went to Japan a couple of months ago the chef took out this block of Tuna that had never been frozen and it was just beautiful. A piece of Art. Did not have a camera with me which I really regretted.

Edited by Sinbad (log)
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Several Japanese I know when eating at a Sushi place for the first time orders Uni first as an indicator as to the quality of the restaurant. God Uni is great, but it is also spoiled very quickly. But good one, mmmmm.

My Japanese friends use tamago as the yardstick to judge the itamae. They say tamago, though it seems easy to make, is actually quite difficult to do well.

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One of the problems for an American is that we're as apt to get some really bad information along the way that becomes difficult to unlearn. Another problem is that it's often hard to get a Japanese person to correct you if you say something wrong or if you display poor form. Even westernized Japanese friends are likely to offer the opinion they think I'd like to hear to make me comfortable.

Some of the things I've heard are that sushi should be one bite, which of course brings the size into play where Americans love big pieces. I think a poll of Americans a la Zagat would rate sushi the size of a steak hanging over the edge of a plate as "best." The closest I ever got to getting a Japanese friend say anything critical is when one referred to Tomoe Sushi, a NYC sushi bar noted for very fresh fish and larger pieces, as serving Texas sushi, not Japanese sushi.

I used to prefer beer with sushi, my wife finds it filling and I've been enjoying cold sake more and more (with and without sushi). I've been told that there's some sense that since sushi is a rice based food, it's considered redundant to drink sake with sushi and therefore sake is not a preferred drink with sushi. It's been a while since I've been in Japan and can't remember what I've seen there. My closest Japanese friend, who unfortunately I haven't seen in ages, answered "yes" to every question I asked over thirty years ago when before we make our first trip to Japan and is someone who wouldn't set a table in his house without at least a half dozen glasses and as many open bottles of alcoholic beverages at the same time.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Also, imo, ideal sushi should not be consumable in one bite, with respect to the size issue.

Jinmyo? Kristin? help?

Soba

Soba, one and a half bites.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I used to prefer beer with sushi, my wife finds it filling and I've been enjoying cold sake more and more (with and without sushi). I've been told that there's some sense that since sushi is a rice based food, it's considered redundant to drink sake with sushi and therefore sake is not a preferred drink with sushi.

Green tea is the traditional beverage.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Also, imo, ideal sushi should not be consumable in one bite, with respect to the size issue.

I have to disagree there. And I think most chefs would too.

I guess Uni is an indicator of the quality of the freshness of the ingredients, tamago as to the skill of the chef

And along with tamago and uni, unagi/anago can be a pretty good indicator of quality and care.

High quality seaweed (if a nori roll) . The price/quality variables on seaweed are astounding....Rice still slightly warm and almost crumbly. NOT packed too tight.

Ditto on the rice. And the nori. A good chef wil encourage you to eat maki as soon as you get it -- as you should with everything -- so it doesn't loose its texture. Americans love to save maki for last when they get those platters.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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Impeccably fresh fish in pristine condition--cut by a trained and sensitive craftsman.

High quality rice, cooked perfectly--by similarly dedicated veteran rice-maker.

High quality seaweed (if a nori roll) . The price/quality variables on seaweed are astounding.

Variety.

Properly formed rice. (Always to order, of course). Rice still slightly warm and almost crumbly. NOT packed too tight.

Proper temperature of the fish. NOT too cold. Should be almost room temperature.

Cold Japanese beer--or good sake.

Good uni.

Good unagi.

The new place I visited -- small selection and clumped, dense rice. The size of the single pieces from the rainbow roll were the size of large pierogi. The texture of the unagi was mushy. My general perception half of my order was premade (22 pieces made in about 8-10 minutes) and a tad too warm, but could have been because I took it to go. Up until this instance I have always sat at a sushi bar when consuming sushi.

Here, I *know* it was powder or tube wasabi.

Meh. One visit was enough.

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I used to prefer beer with sushi, my wife finds it filling and I've been enjoying cold sake more and more (with and without sushi). I've been told that there's some sense that since sushi is a rice based food, it's considered redundant to drink sake with sushi and therefore sake is not a preferred drink with sushi.

Green tea is the traditional beverage.

Green tea is the traditional beverage not only for Sushi but for Japanese food in general. At a casual meal in Japan, one would usually be served green tea with it.

At a fancier meal though, Beer and Sake is he usual accompaniement and although tea can be served most customers would opt for either sake or beer.

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I used to prefer beer with sushi, my wife finds it filling and I've been enjoying cold sake more and more (with and without sushi). I've been told that there's some sense that since sushi is a rice based food, it's considered redundant to drink sake with sushi and therefore sake is not a preferred drink with sushi.

Green tea is the traditional beverage.

Green tea is the traditional beverage not only for Sushi but for Japanese food in general. At a casual meal in Japan, one would usually be served green tea with it.

At a fancier meal though, Beer and Sake is he usual accompaniement and although tea can be served most customers would opt for either sake or beer.

Well unless they were making Saki Bombers.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Isn't it customary to serve two pieces per order of sushi? I seem to recall reading that some place, and it had to do with the etymology of the word "sushi" (something to do with one piece meaning "to kill myself" and three pieces meaning something else.) Also, imo, ideal sushi should not be consumable in one bite, with respect to the size issue.

Jinmyo? Kristin? help?

Soba

This is all I could find in reference to kan, the counter for sushi:

http://www.intership.ne.jp/~gates/e-sushi-story.htm

Except for the monster pieces of sushi that have appeared everywhere recently, most sushi I watch being eaten is in one piece.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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SG - you don't seem to be overly impressed with Sushi Nozawa. I know the prices are sky-high, but ignoring price for a second, who do you think is better?

I'm no sushi expert by any means, but Nozawa is definitely the best I've ever had, and I've been there a number of times. The quality of his fish seems to be orders-of-magnitude better than anywhere else. Often just melts in your mouth. I think you could take a relative sushi novice there, and he or she WOULD recognize the quality. It's that good - I believe.

Also - Nozawa is extremely picky about his seaweed:

http://www.nohola.com/Archives/2001/Apr01E...ges/nozawa.html

I haven't been to Matsuhisa yet though.

Edited by johnnycab (log)
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Inspired by this post, I am curious to read fat-guy's article on sushi once more. That was a very eye-opening piece and since his website has been down, I can't enjoy reading it again and again. Does anyone have a way to get it? I emailed him, but never received a response. Would appreciate it very much.

Thanks.

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I am curious to read fat-guy's article on sushi once more

Yeah, I'm in a bit of fat-guy article withdrawl since his site has been down. You might want to look around eGullet -- do a site search with his member name and the words sushi. I know he has chimed in a number of times in a NYC thread about a great sushiya called Sushi Yasuda.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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SG - you don't seem to be overly impressed with Sushi Nozawa.  I know the prices are sky-high, but ignoring price for a second, who do you think is better?

I'm no sushi expert by any means, but Nozawa is definitely the best I've ever had, and I've been there a number of times.  The quality of his fish seems to be orders-of-magnitude better than anywhere else.  Often just melts in your mouth.  I think you could take a relative sushi novice there, and he or she WOULD recognize the quality.  It's that good - I believe.

Also - Nozawa is extremely picky about his seaweed:

http://www.nohola.com/Archives/2001/Apr01E...ges/nozawa.html

I haven't been to Matsuhisa yet though.

Price wise, LA offers great value even Nozawa. I pay the same amount here in Philadelphia for places that would not be considered edible elsewhere :sad:

I've was there for the first time (so take my comments with a grain of salt) this past summer and thought the fish and rice especially were very good. What really annoyed me though was how insistent he was on drowning everything with ponzu sauce especially early on in the meal. Really numbed my tongue and after a while couldn't tell what I was eating. The omakase meal didn't really produce anything exciting, everything was your vanilla type fishes tuna, albacore, chu-toro, yellowtail really defeatedfthe purpose. The other pet peeve of mine was how he insist on packing the rice sooo loosely that my shoyu plate was filled with rice by the time I was done. If I were to go again I would probably sit on a table and order off the menu instead. Oh yeah no fresh wasabi either. Here I go ethnic profiling again, all white people at the restaurant.

On the other hand one of my best experiences to date here in the US was at Sushi Shibucho

590 West 19th St. Costa Mesa

http://www.chowhound.com/california/boards...ages/40281.html

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I judge a sushi restaurant by the quality of the maguro. I feel it should be tender, melty, and without connective tissue. I'd say about 70% of the sushi places I've eaten in fail this ridiculously simple test.

If the chef can't get good quality maguro for his restaurant, god help him, because i'm not eating there anymore.

In the Bay Area, i recommend Uzen in Oakland (Rockridge), for a small family-style sushi restaurant with rock-solid quality every day of the week.

I would recommend AGAINST in the strongest terms Ozumo, in SF. Utterly spectacular failure of the maguro test, coupled with eyepopping prices.

I've never eaten there but my Japanese wife says the New Otani hotel in downtown LA has some of the best sushi in the world.

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SC - I've noticed the rice at Nozawa is also very warm and loosely packed (annoyingly so), and I'm under the impression that this is a certain style of doing sushi.

I actually don't mind the more run-of-the-mill fish that he serves since it really is good. But - if you tell him up front that you're feeling adventurous, I'm sure he'll oblige. Nozawa does have a "Sushi Nazi" reputation, but I've found that when he's not too busy - he's quite willing to chat if you show interest.

The last time I was there back in Aug - it ran to more than $70/head after tax and tip (no alcohol), so the prices may keep more traditional types away. There were a handful of Japanese sitting at the tables though. But my impression is that because of the location in Studio City, you're going to get more Hollywood types than Japanese.

Thanks for your take on the place.

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My Japanese friends use tamago as the yardstick to judge the itamae. They say tamago, though it seems easy to make, is actually quite difficult to do well.

I was told by a sushi chef at the now-gone Sushisay in NYC (now Sushi Ann, still very good) that the mark of a good sushi restaurant were the tamago and the kohada (a mackarel / sardine like fish that I think is cured to some extent). if those were good, you knew the rest would be too.

"If it's me and your granny on bongos, then it's a Fall gig'' -- Mark E. Smith

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My Japanese friends in New York call the style of sushi that involves different liquid applications and different condiments, as well as the occasional blow-torching, "New York style sushi". This style may be experienced at a high level of quality at Jewel Bako, for example.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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