Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Umai Sushi Kan

     A few months ago, I had to go on a series of business trips to Sendai, which is a mid-sized city a few hours north of Tokyo by bullet train. It seems like every town in Japan has its own famous food, and in Sendai the local specialty is cow tongue prepared in a million different ways: grilled, stewed, curried, in salad, on rice. Fortunately for me, the other local specialty is fish from the nearby Pacific. Our clients took us to lunch at the same tongue restaurant each time we visited them, and we always went to dinner at the same sushi shop, Umai Sushikan. It had a huge menu, but unlike many chain restaurants the fish was wonderful - fresh, creatively and carefully prepared, and cut into generous portions. Yuri and I went to their Ginza branch for lunch last Tuesday, and it was just as good as I remembered it being in Sendai.
    This is a tuna sample, which gives you a good idea of how much fish they give you. The little ball of rice underneath is only about half as big as the sashimi on top. From left to right, there's akami, or ordinary red-meat tuna, o-toro, or super fatty tuna, and chu-toro, or medium-fatty tuna. The more fat, obviously, the more buttery it tastes, but even akami is melt-in-your-mouth tender. There was really no comparison to the fish we had gotten at the supermarket the night before, as good as that was.
    The photo at the top of the post is salmon wrapped around salmon roe on rice. It's called oyako gunkan, or parent-and-child roll. This is something you don't see that often even in Japan, but it ought to be a classic - it's hard to top the combination of smooth, sweet salmon and the bursting-bubbles texture of the salty little eggs.
Here's an example of the sushi chef's creativity. The fish is kodama, a small blue-fleshed fish similar to sardines, with the same rich, briny flavor. Braiding it doesn't change the taste, but gives it flair and sets off the pretty leopard-spot pattern of its skin.

     Last, a delicious example of the native spicy tuna roll. No mayo or hot peppers, just tuna ground to a smooth pulp paired with crunchy green onions - a perfect contrast of colors, textures, and flavors.
     We ate many more pieces of sushi besides these. In Japanese sushi bars, the single pieces (nigiri-sushi) are more prevalent than rolls (maki-sushi), and the spicy tuna was the only roll we ordered. But it's easy to go overboard with nigiri - each fish is so different and so fabulous that I always try to taste them all. But fortunately, having already been to the Sendai branch twice before, I had narrowed it down to my favorites. The three tunas, the salmon-ikura combination, the best of the blue fish - mackerel, horse mackerel, kodama, sanma - and the seared fatty salmon, plus one spicy mentaiko (the tiny fish eggs sprinkled all over American sushi) for Yuri, and we were stuffed. So stuffed, in fact, that we didn't even bother to have dinner, just a shared berry parfait at an internet cafe and a couple of beers at karaoke later that night. 

No comments:

Post a Comment