Dietary Diaries

The food inspired musings of a culinarily inclined nerd.

Location: Berkeley, California Bay Area, United States

Berkana signifies rebirth and new beginnings; I have found these in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Yoshi's Jazz and Sushi

Peter and I had discussed the topic of getting really good sushi once, and the insider tip handed down to him from the sushi experts is this: find a reputable place that is often busy (so you know their stock of fish is fresh), and the first time you go to the sushi bar, get to know the chef by name, order the items which are the most indicative of their skills and quality control, and leave a huge tip if you like the place. (If you make friends with the sushi crew, they go out of their way to please you.)

Well, this past sunday, we scoped out Yoshi's, the popular Jazz house and Japanese restaurant.

Among the new items we sampled were uni tama and iku tama—sea urchin eggs served with a quail egg yolk, and salmon roe served with a quail egg yolk. (These items are great indicators of freshness because they have a short shelf life.) For those un-initiated in sushi, this may sound weird, if not gross, but having acquired a taste for such things, I must admit that the addition of egg makes a significant impact on the texture and flavor of uni (pronounced "oo-nee") and ikura. We also had their albacore toro (tuna belly), hirame (halibut, served with a paper thin slice of lemon), and their deep-fried soft shell crab rolls. Along with that, we had a little bottle of imported Oyama brand sake, chilled. Peter had some unagi (broiled eel), which he was very pleased with. The sauce they brush on the unagi is made by simmering trimmings from the unagi in sweetened soy sauce until it reduces to a thickened consistency. That's one insider trick I'll remember next time I try to make unagi.

Oyama sake was excellent. The flavor was very subtle, but it was one of the more fragrant sakes I've had in recent memory. You can't tell that this sake is 16% alcohol, yet the flavor was not so overpowering that it masked the alcohol so much as the fragrance distracts you from the alcohol (even while served cold!).

The food was delicious, but the place was pretty empty for lunch on Sundays. I've only been to Yoshi's once before, but that was for a jazz performance, where I had ikura and uni as an appetizer. Even when the house is packed, the quality of their fare is excellent. Their restrooms were clean, and the decor of the restaurant was very beautiful.

Overall, Yoshi's gets solid approval all around, for both their taste in music as well as their fine sushi.

A note on uni and ikura
My favorite sushi items are uni and ikura, though after having the variant with the quail egg-yoke at Yoshi's, I think I have a new favorite. Both are rich in essential fatty acids, and have a creamy texture, though the ikura is distinct in that the individual eggs pop as you eat it, releasing the flavor in little punctuated bursts. Having acquired a taste for this at a young age (not a hard taste to acquire at all), this does not gross me out, but if caviar grosses you out, you probably won't like uni or ikura. Uni is smooth and creamy, though in flavor, it is rather bland, and needs the soysauce and wasabi to complement it. Like avocado, the texture is easier to describe than the flavor.

The items we got looked better than the above pictures. If uni is slimy and "wet" looking, it's probably not so fresh. As far as I remember, truly fresh uni doesn't resemble a paste; it holds together, and the texture is visibly granular. The surface should not be oozing anything, but should be moist without looking runny. And IMHO, uni should never be eaten straight; without sushi rice, soysauce kicked up with wasabi, uni is admittedly not as good as it could be.
(Any of you who have had all sorts of odd rollls with avocado, take not of these: Japanese sushi doesn't use avocado—that's a Californian innovation.)


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