Eating My Way Around the USA...Part II: Attack of the Sushi
COW Library : People in the News : Mike Cohen : Eating My Way Around the USA...Part II: Attack of the Sushi
I have never eaten sushi from a gas station, and I never will. Pre-packaged egg salad sandwiches in a triangle shaped container are ok, however.
I occasionally will get sushi from a grocery store, as long as the person preparing the sushi is visible and/or the date packaged is the current date.
I have noticed that chain drug stores are building higher-end stores in touristy areas featuring fresh food, but I will not eat sushi from one of these establishments.
Of course the best sushi comes from a dedicated sushi or Japanese restaurant. I did not actually try sushi until maybe age 25. It just wasn't part of the steak, french fries, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and hamburger menus my family enjoyed. Thanks in part to my brother, who like me became a road warrior as an adult, I was introduced to sushi just as I was myself discovering a more varied selection of food in the world.
Sushi is used somewhat generically. Really you have "sushi" which is rice with or without raw fish. "Sashimi" is raw fish without rice. Sushi rolls may or may not be sushi, as they may have cooked or uncooked ingredients. I am not well-versed in terminology, but I am well-versed in consuming sushi, sashimi, rolls, tempura and miso soup.
When faced with a decision on what to eat for dinner, several factors come into play.
1 - am I with other people or alone? If alone, I look on my phone for highly rated sushi and usually find a place in major cities within walking distance. If with other people, I need to see if everyone in the group will actually eat something on the menu. Some people will not eat raw fish, and they are welcome to that practice.
2 - assuming all in the group are in, or I am alone, I decide upon a restaurant. If by myself in a major city I will observe if there are other people in the restaurant, check the google for negative reviews, and if all clear go in and order. By myself I like to sit at the bar so I can watch my food being prepared. Sometimes you can have some conversation with the chefs, assuming they speak English and can speak to you and keep all of their appendages.
3 - If with a group, we often get a chef's selection for the number of people we have. Some places will bring out a wooden boat loaded with all kinds of sushi products, and it is a race to see who will finish first. If alone, I often get a chef's selection of sushi, sashimi and a roll of choice. Sometimes, if the server is friendly and knowledgeable, I will ask for a selection of whatever is fresh and unusual. No eel, no eyes, no fugu, but I will try just about anything else.
4 - Non-sushi - some dinners come with miso soup, salad with ginger dressing, or a tempura appetizer. All good stuff.
5 - Other times I will order specific items off the menu, but it can be difficult to decide and to gauge how much food is enough food.
While I don't remember the names of the restaurants, I can recall some memorable meals.
Chicago - A group of us went to a place a few blocks north of the river, just off Michigan Ave, and got a sushi boat for 4. This was early in my sushi-eating days so I probably ate mostly rolls.
Santa Monica - The 3rd Avenue Promenade is a mixture of gift shops, chain clothing stores, restaurants and buskers. I found a little sushi place, got a small table outside, and tried my first Rainbow Roll. This is a sushi roll on the inside, wrapped with several kinds and colors of raw fish on the outside. It is very filling and an interesting mixture of textures and flavors.
San Francisco - last time I was there I found a well-reviewed place a few blocks from my hotel, just off Union Square. But there was a long wait, so I went to the next best place across the street, and had my usual mixture of sushi and rolls, and a Sapporo beer.
This would be a good time to mention a non-sushi related San Francisco story. In maybe 2003 we were walking to dinner with a group of maybe 6 people. We wanted some authentic Chinese food. Most of the popular places in Chinatown are what I call generic Americanized Chinese food, such as what you get at a strip mall in your home town. We happened to have a co-worker at the time who was born in China, so she made a quick phone call, had a short conversation in her native language, and we followed her to a non-descript glass door leading to a staircase. At the bottom of the stairs was a large family-style dining room serving authentic Chinese recipes. We let her order and we ate whatever was brought to the table. The ox tail soup was very good. The deep-fried duck tongues were...interesting? Maybe they are an acquired taste. Overall it was a fun experience.
LA - For a few years I worked a conference at the Dolby Theater on Hollywood Blvd. It is where the Governor's Ball is held following the Academy Awards. Attached to the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theater is a Loews Hotel and a large outdoor shopping mall. There is a sushi restaurant in the mall that is very good and I have eaten there a half dozen times. I usually go with the "bring me some weird things until I say stop" method and have had some very unique cuts of fish. One time I was there some customers approached the table next to me asking to take photos with whoever was sitting there. I did not recognize him, but it was either Aaron Paul, Dustin Diamond or Michael Jackson. Celebrities sometimes are not very recognizable out in the world. On that same trip there was some event at the Chinese Theater, and I saw Seal walking out of the theater. I only knew it was him because someone called his name.
At the conference on these trips we had a special award given to a physician, presented by Edward James Olmos.
As the conference photographer I took lots of photos of him, had a few words about how much I like his work, and rode the elevator with him making small talk. Seems like a regular guy.
Miami - Sushi Samba is a unique restaurant that combines Japanese and South American cuisine. They do have Sushi but also some very interesting salads, skewered meats and other concoctions. My wife and I try to eat there every time we visit.
After a while good sushi meals seem to run into one another. Luckily I have not had a bad sushi meal and I hope that continues to be the case.
My dining companions cringe when I take out my phone to snap food pictures, but sushi tends to photograph well. Here's a little gallery.
Thanks for reading. I'm hungry, maybe I'll check the gas station on the way home! Just kidding, we have a convenience store.