Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Taking the Sushi Plunge

Osaka Japanese Steak & Sushi
4902 Broadway
(in Alamo Heights, catty-corner to the Gucci-B)

Let me make two things perfectly clear up front: One, I don't eat raw meat. Steak Tartare is proof that people will eat anything if you give it a fancy French name; and raw fish — especially the potentially lethal kind — is doubly disgusting. Two, I am no early-adopter. Not for me the latest trend, the brand-new gizmo, the current fashion. I'm almost comfortable with the idea of the Internet, but I just got a smart phone and don't much care for it, and have yet to spring for a red-velvet whoopie pie. Early-adopters are people with either, as we used to say, more dollars than sense, or a terrible emptiness in the pit of their souls.

It is thus no great surprise that I have waited until now to sample a sushi restaurant. It would not have been my choice even now, but a friend of mine who works in the hoity-toity part of Broadway wanted to do lunch, and he suggested it. I took that as a sign from God that it was Time.

The restaurant occupies what was once the Luby's Cafeteria next to the old Broadway Theater, and occupies it in truly fine style. It's a gorgeous interior, spacious yet intimate. The sushi bar is toward the back; comfortable booths line the wall and a few tables fill the left half of the room. The right half is filled with those community-seating tables you see on TV sit-coms every time the hip character goes on a date; the kind where everybody sits across from the one person in the world who makes them most uncomfortable, while a talented chef plays daringly with food and sharp knives a few feet away. The décor suggests The Exotic East, it doesn't scream it. 

The service is good, but too self-consciously reserved to really get top marks. The waiter, when he made his appearance, was unctuous, and spoke in a voice more suited to a reference librarian. He was, though, helpful in explaining the many terms unfamiliar to a neophyte, and when my table-mate asked for a fork, his gasp of disapproval was barely audible. As for me, I have stated elsewhere that I consider the fork to be one of the great inventions of Western culture, and when eating in Chinese or Thai or Vietnamese restaurants, I refuse to be reduced to using sticks; but I found sushi to be easily eaten with chopsticks. Unlike, say, a dish of kee mao or pad wun sen, sushi holds together well under the press of chopsticks. It's pretentious and patronizing to use them, but ... well, on this occasion I decided to be just that pretentious and patronizing. I still don't like those stupid spoons they use, though, with the square bottoms.

Speaking of stupid spoons, our meals began with a bowl of a fine soup of unspecified variety, a light broth with an elegantly sparse dose of scallion and some other vegetable in it, and the delicate flavour of seafood about it. It came as part of the "Bento Box," sort of a sampler that is perfect for someone who is new to the whole sushi thing. I ordered it in imitation of my more experienced dining companion.

The sushi rolls I chose were the Tiger Roll and the Philadelphia Roll. I was careful to make choices that contained no raw meat in them. The Tiger is so called not because it is made with tiger meat — I'm pretty sure you can't get that anymore, thanks to all those damn animal-rights activists — but because it is topped by a pair of sauces, one reddish-brown, one dark yellow, that are laid over the white roll in stripes and resemble, with a little imagination, the beautiful coat of a Bengal tiger. The meat contained within is actually shrimp, which is made clear (in case you forgot what the menu said) by the two shrimp tails sticking out of the ends like tiny handlebars.

The Philadelphia, contrary to first assum doesn't consist of thinly carved beef with caramelized onions and peppers; it is smoked salmon with Philadelphia cream cheese, cucumber and avocado.

The City of Alamo Heights keeps its
restaurant inspections a closely-
guarded secret, as a matter of
national security.
Both of these sushi rolls were delicious, and the best feature of them, like the soup, was the delicacy of the flavours in combination. This, to me, is where oriental dishes — and I'll include South Asian dishes in this distinction as well — have it all over occidental concoctions.

Completing the dish were two pork dumplings, called gyoza, and a small, crisp salad with just a whisper of very light dressing. There was a dash of green wasabi paste in the center of the dish, where everything else could accidentally get into it. I like a little kick to my food, but the consistency of this paste was such that I could not subdivide it into small enough portions, with chopsticks, to be really enjoyable: it was an all-or-nothing accoutrement. (I used it all.)

Lunch prices make Osaka a good value, too, comparable to what you'd spend at other types of oriental restaurants, plus you get that exquisite atmosphere to relax in.

Having finally taken the plunge and tried sushi, I'm in the mood for another long-matured trend. Maybe I'll go for a red velvet whoopie pie. I can maybe find where to get on one my smart phone.
Osaka Japanese Steak & Sushi on Urbanspoon

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