Fugu Review (Kaz Sushi Bistro, DC)
Fugu (puffer or blow fish) can be very fatal if not prepared correctly. Rest (somewhat) assured, legal fugu in this country must be imported from licensed chefs in Japan who remove the toxic aspects. To the best of my knowledge Kaz is the only place in the area that offers a fugu course, though seasonally and prepaid at $150 a head (with a minimum of two). As with any really fresh sashimi, it will need to be eaten almost immediately. So keep in mind you might have to be flexible with the reservation. Onto the food...
Course 1: fugu sashimi
Generally the rule of thumb with sashimi is the more tender the meat, the thicker you can cut. Having said that, fugu has a slightly chewy texture so the sashimi must be very thin. This is served with a ponzu sauce and scallions for brushing up against. I made it a point to have my first bite without condiment so that I could appreciate the distinctive characteristics of this fish. Very pleasant, mild and delicate. As Kaz put it, probably the least fishiest of the fish.
Course 2: fugu skin salad
The skin is shredded, poached for a moment and then tossed with light veggies and ponzu sauce. An even chewier consistently but not distractingly so.
Course 3: fugu tempura
Fried fugu nuggets if you will. Tasty, juicy, light and enjoyable.
Course 4: fugu hot pot
Similar in concept to other Asian hot pots, except a much more mild broth. Instead of heavy spices and broths, it's kombu based for the more delicate tasting meat. Dip in the sections of fugu only for a moment to reveal very tender and tasty bites. Reminded me almost of frog in terms of consistency at this point. Accompanied is an assortment of veggies for a quick boil. Careful not to overcook and I hope you're good with bones!
Course 5: fugu congee
Taking the remaining broth, rice is dumped in along with a bit of scrambled egg, forming a high brow congee. I ate the first bowl without condiment before experimenting with combinations of the provided seaweed and ponzu. A bit of ponzu turned out to be great but the taste of the seaweed seemed to mask the fish.
Course 6: dessert
Sake ice cream w/ fresh Asian pear. A delicate dessert to complete a delicate course. Hit the spot and wasn't overbearing. Complimentary plum wine made available at this time.
I could appreciate the traditional preparations and all in all an enjoyable experience. I suppose it's almost a right of passage for any sashimi/Japanese food enthusiast but not something I would rush back into. A word to the wise-- fugu is a very light and delicate tasting fish. Furthermore Kaz prepares it very traditionally which means not a lot of seasoning or supplemental ingredients. Don't go expecting Nobu fusions or toro liked marbled meat. A good experience, but altogether a delicate, subtle one.
Interesting side note, after the sashimi course I felt a slight increase in heart rate which played on my nerves to say the least. I think there might have been sake in the ponzu that spurred a minor panic attack! Amusing (at least now).
Thanks for reading!
I've actually seen fugu offered at Tako Grill the last time I dined there, which was several years ago. Not sure how authentic it was, since it was "only" $30 for 2 pieces ($49 for 2 higher grade pieces), but based on the $150 cost for this 6 course meal, it's likely that it was. I heard from a Japanese friend that in Japan, 2 pieces of real Fugu sashimi goes for about $300.
There is a slight misperception about fugu. Supposedly the legend was started when Japanese fishermen tried to eat fugu by preparing it themselves dockside. Because of their lack of training, the fish's poison sac was accidentally ruptured and got onto the fish. Those that ate the contaminated fish pieces died. Thus a legend was born, and reborn during an episode of the Simpsons.
Does KSB require a waiver to be signed so they cannot be sued if someone dies? This would bring more legitimacy to the legend. Personally, I don't care for mild tasting sashimi, such as Hirame. I'd take a platter full of toro, hamachi, white tuna, and even saba anyday. Also, I wouldn't buy into the thought that the fish must be sliced thin because of its texture. I've found that Kaz usually prepares most of his fish really thin, thus he can get more bang out his investment. Fish is easier to slice when refrigerated in their sushi bar vice at room temperature, especially for an expertly trained sushi chef. The 6 meal course does sound interesting, although I was disappointed with the dessert. I mean, even Morimoto manages to infuse the main ingredient into the dessert, as I was surprised there was no fugu dessert.
Great post! On to the replies:
>I've actually seen fugu offered at Tako Grill the last time I dined there
Last time I tried to order fugu from Tako but they ran out. They offered fried fugu jaw and it was not much consolation! More like pricy crunchy table scraps. I feel that Tako is like most "good" DC area sushi spots in that they occasionally get good grade fish but are inconsistent and gratuitously price gouge. Also, I do not believe Tako offers a course, but simply a sashimi dish or two.
>Thus a legend was born, and reborn during an episode of the Simpsons.
"My skilled hands are busy!"
>Does KSB require a waiver to be signed so they cannot be sued if someone dies?
No they do not. I must respectfully disagree with you on this point. I feel that signing the waiver would play more into unnecessary hype. The numbers of folks that die from fugu are relatively low and the few that do are from back alley spots or home grown experiments. However I was still a bit nervous!
>I wouldn't buy into the thought that the fish must be sliced thin because of its texture.
Normally I would agree with you (to reiterate my price gouging point), but in this particular instance I would say that Kaz is actually right. Even sliced paper-thin, fugu is a bit chewy. If you google pictures it's always sliced in a similar way (when eaten raw).
>although I was disappointed with the dessert. I mean, even Morimoto manages to
Morimoto, now that's a word I've associated with disappointment. I actually enjoyed this Kaz experience more than Morimoto’s omakse. Getting back to Kaz, I will agree that he cut a few corners. I agree on dessert, and while we're on subject, I feel that the plum wine was also surprising (fugu fin sake is common). Putting things into context, I feel that Kaz has learned to run his business well. For example, truffle infused toro sounds so amazing on paper. Except the truffle ends up a tiny black spec, leaving the high priced lease more satisfied than the stomach. Taking all of this into consideration, I respect the attempt to present a traditional fugu course despite the popularity of fusion. Also, it should be noted (it is claimed) that an entire fugu is consumed between two people for this meal. Yes, it could have been better, but DC is somewhat lacking in world-class sushi, so something is better than nothing. I still will not make excuses for Kaz and will say that I choose not to dine there regularly.
I think Tony Bourdain tried Fugu while doing a tour in Japan and mentioned that roughly 40 people die per year eating this delicacy. If you don't have to sign a waiver, Kaz should at least give you some sort of cheezy paper award saying you've tried Fugu and lived to talk about it...hahaha....I guess your only evidence is the check, customer copy. :D
Morimoto's chain joints may suck, but when he personally gets involved in the cooking like in his iron chef duels, that guy really shows his talent, and as I can recall, actually made a fish dessert before. I think it was a fish ice cream or fish sorbet. Can't remember.
Did you ask Kaz how he "infused" the truffles into his toro? Sounds harder than squeezing blood out of a rock.
One part of me says the intimacy and symbolism of the meal itself is enough of a souvenir. Another part of me has actually looked for fugu t-shirts online, so I can't be mad at you!!
I feel that Morimoto has followed in the footsteps of most celebrity chefs. He's sold his name and his restaurant is worthwhile only in his physical presence. You'll have to forgive the Matsuhisa fan in me, but I must say I have not discovered this in the 2 Nobu restaurants that have fed me (one on each coast, Hollywood to Miami). Perhaps the true test would be a Tuesday night dinner in the Vegas location. Or maybe off season in Aspen?