Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sushi By The Big Hole

Piranha Killer Sushi
260 East Basse Road
(in the Quarry Market, on the side by the Hole in the Ground)

Somebody spent a big pile of money outfitting this place. The cost of turning the old Sugarbakers pink-and-puce estrogen farm into a nearly-elegant über-chic vaguely Asian hard-surface sushi bar must have been enormous, as restaurant start-ups go. The result may prove worth the cost, if the boom in sushi outlasts the stylishness of the place. Though I am a late-comer to the sushi craze (another sure indication, if one is needed, that the fad has just about run its course; for most people, the inclusion, a couple of years ago, of sushi at the all-you-can-eat Asian buffet was sufficient omen), I appreciate the artistry of the compositions, the delicate and often complex weave of flavours, and the grace of dining in these mock-Edo halls. Sushi, as a cuisine, is on the verge, I suspect, of becoming mainstream, which will mean a loss of the marginal excess profits that have been drawing capable restaurateurs to the genre for the last ten or fifteen years. That in turn will mean the closure of some over-extended restaurants, and the middling continuation of the better-financed (or luckier, or timelier) ventures. 

Meanwhile, let's enjoy it. If you like seafood, and raw vegetables, and rice, and cream cheese, and tangy sauces in exotic combination, you like sushi. The novelty may have worn off, or nearly so, but the artistry continues, and while the meals produced at Piranha may not be Rembrandt or Titian equivalents, they are at least as good and as attractive, in the way of food, as the quality art that hangs on the walls in the living rooms of successful corporate officers, or provide gasps of surprise to fans of Antiques Roadshow

last city inspection: June 2012
Service at Piranha is very good. Our waiter was ready with recommendations — good ones, as it turned out — and his light, conversational tone complemented his professional efficiency. He attended to everything a good waiter attends to, and anticipated our wants with the sort of expertise that speaks of experience. His work, the food, and the quality of the décor (the last marred only by the ubiquitous televisions on the walls, and to a lesser degree by the apparently obligatory scowls on the faces of the sushi chefs) made for a relaxing and enjoyable lunch.

I chose a bento box with grilled salmon; my friend Rick went for a dish of noodles with shrimp and chicken. Both meals were tasty, and larger than they need to be to satisfy. The amount of oil on Rick's noodles seems to be a requisite of Asian-style cooking, but I still don't like it: I would only want enough oil to keep the noodles from sticking, which I suspect could be easily done, without sacrificing flavour, with half as much.

Pennzoil Place, Houston
photo by Anders Lagerås
The salmon was very nicely grilled, though it, too, had too much oil on it for my liking. Still, the hint of grilled flavour went nicely with the innate flavours of the fish and the tangy sauce in which it lay. A large spring roll unlike any other spring roll I've ever had was artfully halved at an angle and served standing end-on, like the buildings of Pennzoil Place, in a thick, slightly sweet sauce. The tasty contents of the roll were oddly granular, and slightly crunchy.

A proper serving of white rice and what appeared to be two small salads rounded out the bento box.  The meal also came with a choice of (another) salad, or miso soup. I can honestly say that the soup was just like every other miso soup I've ever had, because I've only ever had it at one other place. I'm not sure it's something I really, really like, but what would I do with a third salad?

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