Wednesday, September 10th, 2008
It used to be that you could pretty much throw a slab of raw fish at me and I’d clap my hands in joy — kind of like a sea lion.
I’m over it. Truth is that like taquerias, there are far too many Japanese-style eateries churning out mediocre imitations of the real deal in hopes that we won’t notice. I recently visited a local sushi spot that served me a still-frozen slice of tuna and had the gall to charge $5 for that nasty surprise. I’ve been served rancid mackerel and octopus so tough I nearly broke a tooth. I refuse to wade through a swarm of flies at the door of a certain sushi spot for warm crab salad rolls. I recently tried some really outlandish sushi rolls at a Korean BBQ joint. Bad plan.
is, unlike a bad $3 taco, you can’t help but feel like a sucker when
dropping $30 or more for gnarly sushi. I’m willing to pay the price for
a sure thing at places like Ume, Go Fish and Hana where I’ve had slices
of fish so buttery and rich that they brought tears to my eyes. I’m not
willing to pay it when I leave a restaurant feeling like I’ve got a
50/50 chance at serious intestinal distress.
Call it the Americanization of Sushi. Raw
fish has gone from exotic ethnic food to mainstream fare — popping up
everywhere from gas stations (seriously), supermarkets and convenience
stores to the haute-est of old school restaurants. Yay for
accessiblity. Yikes for execution.
The art of making sushi —
which refers to the vinegared rice, rather than the fish itself — is
just that. An art. True sushi chefs train often train for years, even a
lifetime to master the perfect rice, form the perfect Nigiri, learn the
exacting cuts of fish. Devotees return to the restaurant again and
again, learning from the master and putting themselves in his hands
(called omakase or “it’s up to you”).
I won’t pretend to know
much more about the mastery of sushi outside of what I’ve learned over
15 years of loving sushi and a friendly Wikipedia assist, but I can say
that the increasing preponderance of American-style sushi rolls (mango!
wasabi mayonnaise! lots of fried stuff inside!) sends me (and most true
sushi chefs) into convulsions. California rolls are one thing. Stuffing
a piece of nori with as much sweet, creamy, fried stuff as it will hold
and then squirting sauce all over it is quite another.
fried goodness as much as the next guy, but it seems to me that the
point of sushi is to actually taste the freshness of the fish. One has
to wonder what exactly is getting covered up in all the goopy gloppy
stuff. Every time I get talked into one of these $14 rolls I end up
with a mouthful of mayonnaise and a stomach full of regret. Maybe I’m
just being grouchy. It wouldn’t be the first time. But sheesh, they’re
All of this has everything and nothing at all to do with Sebastopol’s newest entrant into the Japanese restaurant game, Tosaki Sushi. I will say right off that I had an absolutely fine bento box experience there – nicely done tempura,
miso, rice and four small pieces of sashimi. I enjoyed a softshell
crab. The restaurant is very clean. The service is a bit slow but very
friendly.The overall experience was quite decent. Thing is, I simply couldn’t bring myself to enjoy what seems to be a core focus of the restaurant — creative rolls. Especially when the sushi station was empty most of my visit.
here’s the lowdown on Tosaki: There are nearly 30 rolls to choose from
varying from straightforward to outlandish, all with photos of
extravagantly done plating. Very pretty stuff. Heaven if you love wacky
rolls. The California Sun Roll has fried crab meat, avocado, unagi and passion sauce (?); The Spicy Girl Roll ($12.95) includes spicy tuna and crab topped with seared tuna. There’s the usual Rainbow roll, Dragon roll and Caterpillar roll. You can get really crazy and go for the curious Sagano roll (“Special”
fish topped with hamachi and banana fried prawns, $14.95) or the Mojo
roll with shrimp tempura, cucumber, salmon and mango ($14.95).
The list goes on an on. The large lunch and dinner menu also includes more
traditional sashimi and nigiri as well as “Japanese hand balls” or temarizushi which are hand-formed balls of fish and rice. Chirashi fans can get their sashimi over rice and there’s plenty of udon, teriyaki, yakitori and tempura as well. Plenty to love even if you’re not a roll fan.
But for me, the glitz and glare of super-Americanized rolls just outshines the beauty and simplicity of well-executed Japanese-style fare. I mean what’s next? Sushi rolls with French fries? Heh.
What’s your take? Do you love outlandish sushi rolls or hate ‘em? Is Tosaki the next sushi sensation? Am I way off base? Tell me.