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Is Sushi too overrated/ubiquitous?

tastyjon Oct 19, 2008 10:43 PM

My dad was a scientist who did a lot of work in Japan during the 70s. We lived in Denver and he found a little sushi place where he took the family every couple of weeks. It was rare, exotic and the owner was a master sushi chef from Japan, catering to ex pats. It was... an adventure.

Fast forward 20+ years. I recently lived in L.A., with loads of top places, but there might be even more o.k. places in Phoenix, where I now live. In fact, we've got 80+ distinct joints, a few local chains, and sushi bars are now showing up in non-Japanese restaurants, including counterside made-to-order service at some supermarkets. In fact, I saw an ad for a certain chain seafood eatery where they'd train you to be a sushi chef within a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile - I'm speaking to hounds - we all have friends with zero interest in food. But increasinlgy these friends are finding Sushi to be "hip." And we went to a hip place, ordered 18 rolls of the same thing, and it all tasted the same.

- I'm glad we're trying new things, but wonder if we're lowering the bar. PF Panda Blah.
- What about other great Japanese fare?
- We're talking raw fish. People should be LOUD about quality.
- This might be a whole other discussion, but there's only so much fish to go around.

Just wondering your thoughts?

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    fuuchan RE: tastyjon Oct 20, 2008 12:08 AM

    Bad sushi - cold, gluey, congealed rice, not-so-fresh fish that's been ungainly cut into huge chunks or slabs by ungainly hands, soggy nori
    Or those monstrous rolls that combine four different kinds of fish, Krab sticks, avocado, Batter the whole darned thing and fry it, and top it with tuna (everybody LOVES tuna, right?) and squiggles of mayo and a BAM of technicolored tobiko.

    Yes, that kind of sushi is pretty overrated and ubiquitous.

    However, since good sushi is so hard to find yet so eye opening, it is neither overrated or ubiquitous.

    11 Replies
    1. re: fuuchan
      Caroline1 RE: fuuchan Oct 20, 2008 06:16 AM

      As far as I can tell so far, with three years of living here now under my belt, there are NO Japanese restaurants in this area. Japanese fusion, lots of. McNippon Sushi? Way too many. It isn't that I haven't tried. I just get burned out on Bisquick tempura and really bad teriyaki.

      But I was very very spoiled when I moved here. In El Paso, I frequently drove thirty miles across town to Riyoma, a little strip-mall Japanese restaurant with a fantastic chef owner. Everything was good. My favorite -- you either had to call in your order ahead of time or wait nearly an hour while he prepared it -- was chawanmushi (savory custard with surprises like shrimp, mushrooms, good stuff hidden in it) but instead of steaming it in the standard porcelain cup, he would steam it in an acorn squash. Delicious! His teriyaki was delicious, done with whole deboned chicken thighs. Around here you get overcooked minced chicken in bad, watery "teriyaki" sauce. And the sushi? Don't ask. Oh, and my new pet peeve is edamame on the starters menu beginning at $4.00 a pop and going skyward, depending on the restaurant. I'm used to edamame being comped. not that I care much for them. But it's like being charged for the bowl of pretzels at a beer bar. <sigh> (I'm such a curmudgeon!)

      But I still harbor hope. About a month ago I FINALLY found a decent Greek restaurant with pretty authentic food. At least they don't make their tzatziki with sour cream! So maybe I just have to keep looking for acceptable Japanese food?

      Please, Lord, let there be rainbows! '-)

      1. re: Caroline1
        KaimukiMan RE: Caroline1 Oct 20, 2008 04:31 PM

        good grief...what hell hole of a city town or village are you living in?

        i forget how spoiled we are about some things in Honolulu.

        1. re: KaimukiMan
          Caroline1 RE: KaimukiMan Oct 20, 2008 07:55 PM

          Plano, Texas, which is a 'burb of Dallas. But I should make clear that I'm no big fan of fusion, simply because once the fusion virus attacks any ethnic cuisine, it's not long before you cannot get the original, and there are damned few Morimotos in this world! I have found one Japanese Thai fusion restaurant that's "pretty good" when the right chef is cooking, but a huge variance when the wrong guy is there. But I don't eat sushi there.

          Yes! In Hawaii, you've got it made in the shade. Except I could never be a died in the wool Hawaiian... I'm too old and Spam is just too too too World War II for me! But hey, serve me up a bowl of long rice and I'm there! '-)

          1. re: Caroline1
            ccbweb RE: Caroline1 Oct 23, 2008 06:42 AM

            Really, you're not a fan of badly done fusion. Only reinforcing your chowhoundliness.

        2. re: Caroline1
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          fuuchan RE: Caroline1 Oct 20, 2008 10:04 PM

          The only really accessible authentically Japanese place I have around me is 45 minutes drive away. The place was a revelation. Sushi wasn't even on the menu, even though you could order that a la carte if you really wanted to.

          But why would you, when they had not one...but THREE menus of incredible, homey, seasonal and impeccably prepared Japanese fare. One menu was a kind of small plates, cold and warm appetizery things like chawanmushi (their version has chunks of whole king crab, shiitake, green onions, a little dab of fresh, real wasabi on top and a flake of gold leaf. SO. GOOD.) Another had mostly hot kitchen entrees.
          You could get a separate menu wit noodles on it.
          In addition, they had a huge board with a rotating selection of seasonal specials.

          One day it might be a basket of tiny salty crunchy river shrimp, another day it might be screaming fresh aji, alive just seconds before plating.

          The owner of the shop was this tiny, sweet obaasan, her staff and cooks all Japanese.

          I love the place, but its not practical to go whenever the whim strikes me (it strikes a lot).
          It seems they scaled back operations some, lately though. For one they no longer offer this little appetizer of barely grilled squid and uni, and the sheer number of menus has been scaled back. What is left is still incredibly good though.

          1. re: fuuchan
            Caroline1 RE: fuuchan Oct 20, 2008 11:10 PM

            If this was a video connection, you could see I look just like Kermit now. Green with envy! Where do you live?

            1. re: Caroline1
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              fuuchan RE: Caroline1 Oct 21, 2008 01:50 PM

              North Jersey, about 45mins-hour from NYC.

              Yes, there is wonderful Japanese food in the city, but usually extremely pricey and not somewhere I'd go without a very special occasion. I don't necessarily count that as truly accessible. This place I'm talking about is in Central Jersey, near where I went to school. Its very down home, tucked into a corner of a strip mall.

            2. re: fuuchan
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              fourunder RE: fuuchan Oct 23, 2008 08:16 AM

              fuuchan,

              Please divulge this gem of a restaurant you mention. Thanks in advance.

              1. re: fourunder
                f
                fuuchan RE: fourunder Oct 28, 2008 09:42 PM

                Jo Sho Restaurant in Somerset, NJ
                120 Cedar Lane Grove

                I've been dying for a good Japanese meal but haven't been able to go down there in a while.

                1. re: fuuchan
                  f
                  fourunder RE: fuuchan Oct 28, 2008 09:58 PM

                  fuuchan,

                  Thanks for the information....hopefully I will finally be able to find some Chawanmushi.

                  1. re: fourunder
                    f
                    fuuchan RE: fourunder Oct 28, 2008 11:01 PM

                    They certainly do have Chawanmushi on the menu and there's is a great one.
                    There's actually two versions on their menu.
                    I opt for the slightly more lux version with crab.

                    Tell me if the restaurant passes your muster!

        3. Sam Fujisaka RE: tastyjon Oct 20, 2008 03:38 AM

          Although good sushi is good, the "problem" with sushi is:

          It distracts people from eating Japanese food, even including the pairing of good sashimi with hot gohan.

          Did your dad take you to eat Japanese food as well?

          4 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
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            dolores RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 20, 2008 06:23 AM

            >>there's only so much fish to go around.

            Very good point, tastyjon.

            I wonder what happens to the mediocre supermarket sushi -- I know I won't buy it from a supermarket -- that MUST get thrown out at night. Think of all those fish who give up their lives to be garbage on a daily basis.

            Is sushi too ubiquitous? You bet it is.
            Is sush too overrated? Not the wonderful stuff. But like everything else man touches, it became a gimmick and now is in the overkill stage.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka
              tastyjon RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 20, 2008 08:48 AM

              Funny you should ask, as a picky kid I didn't want to try sushi and would order from everything else they served. Then I learned to like it and ordered everything else + sushi. He then stopped taking me. But yes, I also spent 12 years in LA with a number of Japanese friends and have tried a good variety of Japanese fare.

              1. re: tastyjon
                Sam Fujisaka RE: tastyjon Oct 20, 2008 09:22 AM

                Good on you. I sometimes am uncomfortable with Americans finally taking up sushi without getting to know all the rest of Japanese food. But it would take as much energy and dedication that Eat Nopal applies to Mexican food for me to try to raise awareness of what is Japanese food.

              2. re: Sam Fujisaka
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                queencru RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 24, 2008 06:01 AM

                This is my main problem- most "Japanese" restaurants are sushi restaurants or teppanyaki restaurants. When I lived in Japan, the only sushi places I frequented were the sushi conveyor places, and I think I went to one teppanyaki place to have Kobe beef with potatoes and carrots or something of that nature. Where's the other type of Japanese food? I can't say I am a huge fan of all Japanese food, but sushi and teppanyaki are far from all that Japan has to offer.

              3. u
                uptown jimmy RE: tastyjon Oct 20, 2008 12:01 PM

                My first impulse was that sushi has become far too ubiquitous, and that what is happening to the planet's fish stock as a result is really scary.

                But most of what passes for sushi these days is not really sushi, whether it's the quality of the fish and the rice, or the lack of skill behind the sushi bar, or the decor and ambience, or the end product itself, what with the dozens and dozens of ridiculously elaborate "maki rolls" (most of them containing little, if any, raw fish) that have so many ingredients that you can't taste the fish. Gross.

                I live near Athens, GA, which at last count had six sushi bars, or hibachi places that serve sushi, none of them any good, with at least two more sushi bars set to open, and in a town with a population around 135,000. That's just silly.

                18 Replies
                1. re: uptown jimmy
                  Sam Fujisaka RE: uptown jimmy Oct 20, 2008 01:31 PM

                  As I grew up, our nori maki rarely had sashimi; and we didn't make nigiri. You may have encountered what to me is "authentic" nori maki (which can contain things like egg, shiitake, cucumber, carrot, konnyaku, kamaboko; but not avocado). We generally ate small amounts of sashimi of different types with lots of hot gohan.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka
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                    uptown jimmy RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 20, 2008 01:48 PM

                    I love several sorts of nori maki, especially futo maki. And I do love some of the non-traditional nori maki as well, and can occasionally be spotted eating a California roll when forced into a merely-decent sushi joint due to social obligations. I'm certainly no snob.

                    I was referring to the monstrous concoctions with 3 and 4 and 5 kinds of fish, some raw and some fried, but mostly fried, extra "crunchies" on top, various and multiple sauces on each roll, gloppy orange mayo slathered liberally, etc., each bite waaay too big for one mouthful. "Rainbow Roll" is a common name for one of the more extravagant examples. Those kinds of maki rolls just taste like one big mushy blur of weirdness to me. It gives my brain repetitive-motion stress just reading the menu in those kinds of places, the various 10-ingredient rolls just blurring together and my eyes going cross-eyed and dizzy on me.

                    I like the little kampyo rolls and shitake rolls and such you mentioned. But nigiri is my fave.

                    Did your family seldom eat sashimi because of money issues? Or has that sort of thing become the rage recently for other reasons? Are you from Japan? I know times were a little lean there for many years after WWII. But my sushi history knowledge is lacking. Sure do love it, though.

                    1. re: uptown jimmy
                      Sam Fujisaka RE: uptown jimmy Oct 20, 2008 02:55 PM

                      What you describe sounds so disgusting to almost be hilarious... almost.

                      I was born in Fresno, California, after WWII. We Japanese had the "fishman" from Central Fish come around in his truck every week with great fish. We ate sashimi often, but in small quantities with large quantities of rice. We had the same approach to eating meat. We didn't have much money; but I'm not sure that if we had had more that we would have eaten differently. Food for most Japanese was a lot of vegetables, soups, fish, and some meat; but with small portions served with ample rice. We preferred our sushi to be: inarizushi (vinagared rice with finely chopped vegetables in aburage), the multiple ingredient futo maki, and musubi (non-vinagared rice balls wrapped with nori); and our chilled sashimi to be eaten with hot gohan.

                      But what we really ate was daily o-kazu (endless combinations of vegetables with a bit of meat cooked quickly in shoyu, bit of water, touch of oil, ginger, touch of sugar), miso shiru, donburis (rice and stuff in a bowl), sukiyaki or shabu shabu, teriyakis, and pickles. Niku jyaga - simmered sliced beef & vegetables - can be made as many ways as there are cooks, but is perhaps emblematic of "real" Japanese food.

                      I've got to stop or else I'll become like Nopal -san in the defense of our food backgrounds.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
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                        MartinDC RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 20, 2008 03:12 PM

                        Sam, I heard recently on an NPR show that sushi is actually a post-WWII invention. Before the war, there were very few refrigerators in Japan. Refrigeration was introduced by the Americans during the occupation. It wasn't until fish could be kept cold that sushi evolved. So it makes sense, to me anyway, that you did not grow up with sushi.

                        I think so many of the sushi restaurants in the US are owned and operated by Koreans, and they have their own way of doing sushi. It's my observation that they never season the rice -- and that's what sushi means in Japan -- seasoned rice.

                        1. re: MartinDC
                          Sam Fujisaka RE: MartinDC Oct 20, 2008 03:20 PM

                          MartinDC, exactly: "su" = vinagar and "shi" = rice.

                          I did grow up with sushi, but our sushi normally did not have sashimi! And when we ate sashimi, it was with hot rice. Part of the joy is the combining in the same bite of the pure flavor and hot of the hot rice with the pure and chilled flavor of the sashimi.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                            steinpilz RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 20, 2008 04:54 PM

                            It's always pleasant to read your posts Sam.

                            1. re: steinpilz
                              Sam Fujisaka RE: steinpilz Oct 20, 2008 05:03 PM

                              Thank you, and I must tell you: your list of comfort foods makes me grin!

                              1. re: steinpilz
                                ccbweb RE: steinpilz Oct 23, 2008 06:52 AM

                                And I like one of your favorite restaurants, "L'Auberge Chez Francois." I grew up just down the road.

                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                ccbweb RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 23, 2008 06:47 AM

                                Sam, is the rice made in the same way as the rice I see in most places that serve sushi? That is, is the only difference in the rice itself the temperature at which its served? I'd like to try this as home. Thanks!

                                1. re: ccbweb
                                  Sam Fujisaka RE: ccbweb Oct 23, 2008 08:11 AM

                                  No. We just eat plain freshly cooked Japanese rice that is not vinegared with the sashimi. Along with some cold Japanese pickles and a bit of shoyu - wasabi dip. Try it!

                              3. re: MartinDC
                                Silverjay RE: MartinDC Oct 20, 2008 03:32 PM

                                Refrigeration and freezing entered Japan in the late 1800's. Regardless, sushi has enjoyed a longer history than that, but it was thanks to freezing and refrigeration that sushi proliferated so widely and expanded to so many different types of seafood. If you have a link to the NPR story, I would be interested to hear it.

                                1. re: Silverjay
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                                  MartinDC RE: Silverjay Oct 20, 2008 03:42 PM

                                  I actually found it on NPR.org! It was Talk of the Nation on Friday, Nov. 5.

                                  The discussion of the recency of sushi start at around 24 minues 40 seconds into the segment.

                                  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...

                                  1. re: MartinDC
                                    Silverjay RE: MartinDC Oct 20, 2008 07:19 PM

                                    I listened to it and also managed to read his article on tuna in Scientific American. No idea where he's getting that from as there are plenty of English and Japanese sources that detail the history of sushi. There are 150 year-old wood block prints depicting sushi! And the consumption of sashimi goes back hundreds of years. (The Japanese soy sauce industry was basically created in order to provide a condiment for sashimi.) And late Meiji Era refrigeration and freezing are specifically mentioned as an enabler in the rise in popularity of sushi shops. This is around 1900. Perhaps household freezers were not common until after the war, but presumably, a culture that managed to put together a modern navy with aircraft carriers and battleships, not too mention a legacy of complex engineering projects throughout Asia, could somehow muster up the brain power to freeze fish. Perhaps he's exaggerating for effect. Certainly freezing and transporting huge tuna is a more recent phenomenon, both technologically and in terms of Japanese tastes for it.

                                    1. re: Silverjay
                                      K K RE: Silverjay Oct 20, 2008 08:26 PM

                                      To add to Silverjay's mention of 150 year old wood block prints, there are 150 year old documentation of the marination process in sushi (sake kasu process) in this very interesting youtube video (although I wish I could understand the whole thing, but some parts can be figured out if you can read kanji)

                                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L90sKy...

                                      Before the days of refrigeration, fish would be preserved using salt, and there were other preps for sushi (including vinegar/marination, and of course cooking in general)

                                      1. re: K K
                                        Silverjay RE: K K Oct 21, 2008 06:00 AM

                                        Actually, the video details the production of rice vinegar made from sake lees, not the marination process of fish. 155 year-old documents found in an attic in Aichi Prefecture this past May detail the process. The vinegar (described as rather sweet) was produced here and then exported to Edo for use in nigiri-zushi sold by street vendors as commoner food. I've read that the vendors often procured the vinegared rice from other sources, so there was most likely a cottage industry for sushi back then. By the way, besides preservation methods, fresh fish (for use as sashimi or sushi) was also stored in cool dug out pits or cellars, obviously the universal method of refrigeration before chemical or mechanical ways.....Thanks for the video link K K.

                                    2. re: MartinDC
                                      Caroline1 RE: MartinDC Oct 20, 2008 09:48 PM

                                      Thanks for the link, Martin. Some interesting things -- I especially like the "gaijin-sushi" discriptor for any sushi with cream cheese, etc. in it. But when it comes to sushi, Mr. Ellis is a font of misinformation. But in this day and age, that's not all that unusual. <sigh>

                                      1. re: MartinDC
                                        s
                                        SomeRandomIdiot RE: MartinDC Oct 23, 2008 06:08 AM

                                        I'm not sure if it might be the same segment, I didn't listen to that Talk of the Nation piece, but Leonard Lopate also did an interview recently with Richard Ellis about his book and there was also a discussion of refrigeration as it related to sushi. I listened to it as a podcast.

                                    3. re: MartinDC
                                      KaimukiMan RE: MartinDC Oct 20, 2008 04:43 PM

                                      yes martin, I agree, there are big differences between japanese and korean preparations. Korean's make kimbap (kim is the seaweed Japanese call nori, and bap is Korean for cooked rice - Japanese gohan). To an untrained western palate they would taste virtually identical, but there are a lot of subtle, or not so subtle differences in preparation, ingredients, seasoning. I happen to like both Japanese and Korean versions.

                                      It would be like saying that beef bourguignon and hungarian goulash are the same because they are both really just beef stew.

                            2. bkhuna RE: tastyjon Oct 20, 2008 08:18 PM

                              I first moved to Japan in 1981 and fell in love with all foods Japanese, especially sushi and sashimi. When I moved back to the US in 1986, I really wasn't in a financial position to be able to eat at the relatively few good places available to me. I moved back to Japan in 1991 and lived there for another 5 years. When I returned this time, sushi was everywhere and we found a few places we enjoyed eating at.

                              Fast forward to this year when we went back for a visit. My wfe and I promised we wouldn't eat suchi there because "we can get good sushi in the States". Were we ever wrong. I couldn't believe the quality of even the most moderately priced sushi in Japan. It's actually possible to eat much better quality there for half of what you pay in the US.

                              I know there are places in the States with sushi (and Japanese foods in general) that are on par with restaurants in Japan, but not within hundreds of mile from where I live. Plus, I'd probably have to sell a kidney to pay for it.

                              So I'll just be content eating as much as I can when I visit Japan and forgo all the nasty fake crab, cream cheese, mayo-hazelnut praline, superduper spicy mickey mouse rolls that seem to be so popular.

                              1. K K RE: tastyjon Oct 20, 2008 08:40 PM

                                Here's the problem with Japanese style restaurants (in general) in the USA

                                - from big metropolitan cities to the smaller burbs, a majority of them offer the generics, and a wide variety. All in the same roof, you have tempura, teriyaki, bento combo sets, tonkatsu, udon/soba, ramen (rare but has happened), sushi, and big ass stupid name rolls. Traditional Japanese places in Japan will have dedicated places for sushi/sashimi, separate places for soba (preferably stone milled in house, dough kneaded by hand and knife cut), yakitori, tempura-ya (which Los Angeles is fortunate to have a few). i.e specialization is the key. Diversity is the devil.

                                - Most older world Japanese immigrants who have lived in the New World for a long time started off such afforementioned restaurants. Nowadays the new ones that crop up and in mass proliferation to meet supply/demand (as if there was genuinely one) are by Korean and Chinese immigrants. Chances are they are not going to hire Japanese chefs or Korean/Chinese chefs with Japanese training (if they find one for cheap, that's a plus and an exception). The exception becomes the norm back in the country of origin, at least for Hong Kong and Taiwan. Demand is high there but also demand for quality. People can smell BS a mile away, and one has to do better than the best to stay ahead of the game. As a result, local chefs need to receive proper and formal training. Those who get by, are actually really really good (then again they also have access to Japanese fish, being just mere hours flight away, with lower costs than in the US to get the same materials).

                                - As a result of Korean and Chinese run Japanese style restaurants, the market is saturated that a Japanese business person wanting to open up something similar is regarded as a hopeless task (unless they have a niche market and can afford to hire someone with even better skills than what the market has available). Don't get me wrong, not all Korean and Chinese run sushi places are bad, but in many cases they just do what they need to for getting by. It's not like they are going to spend $$$$$ with IMP or True World wholesalers to pick the high end Tsukiji/Kyushu and other seafood market Japanese fish, only to add sriracha, avocado, peanut butter, mac nuts, mayo, basil, tempura batter, when low brow blocks of fish will suffice (and this is why Asian buffets like Todai love to buy the low brow stuff in bulk and why $20 can stuff you silly till you become king of the throne).

                                - The real good authentic Japanese restaurants (and new ones at that) know where to set up shop, where to find the talent, and know what niche of cuisine to offer (ideally something hard to replicate, not common, importing materials where necessary to make it more authentic, as well as importing talent). Where I live, a successful kappo restaurant hired 3 chefs from Kyoto, who follow no solid receipes, and use their training to drum up with various dishes (although they have a set menu, and a seasonal omakase offering). Ditto for two kaiseki ryori restaurants.

                                1. l
                                  leahinsc RE: tastyjon Oct 21, 2008 05:06 AM

                                  after dating someone in the late 80's who was 1/2 Japanese, I really got into eating sushi. It was easy to find good quality sushi in D.C....not as easy in places like Columbia and Beaufort, SC. In Asheville (NC) we have several sushi places...but most feature these American-ized rolls that are deepfried and feature things like mango and sweet sauces...ughh. Yes, I would say in Asheville we are over-sushied.

                                  1. applehome RE: tastyjon Oct 23, 2008 12:50 PM

                                    Just to agree with what's been said by many here - I don't think that we're anywhere near over-sushi'd, but we are over Mc-sushi'd. Same thing as here in New England, we are over-taco-bell'd, but far from over-Mexican'd. Over-Olive Garden'd, but even including all the places in the North End (Boston's Little Italy), we're far from over-Italian'd.

                                    It's just the general way of America - we glom onto foreign culture and make the worst of it in our dive to the biggest bucks and lowest common denominator. Maybe we ought to nationalize all restaurants and make them serve only worthy foods - bad idea, I know.

                                    The movement over the last few years by the Japanese to reclaim the high ground on sushi by establishing standards and ratings has been poo-poo'd by the public (including people here) as being snobbish. That's too bad. It's difficult sometimes, when you read a review, even here, to understand whether the reviewer is rating a Mc-Sushi place, and comparing it to the other Chinese restaurants in town, or whether he's been to Japan and had the real thing with knowledgeable people, over years. (The fish was so fresh!) Chowhound is good, because after a while you understand which people you need to be listening to. It's not that different from other foods, except that the ingredients are becoming more and more rarified. Sushi is getting harder to find. Mc-sushi is raging wild, complete with dyed farmed salmon and ahi passed off as maguro.

                                    Trailblazing and finding new sushi places is almost always a disaster. 99% are going to be Mc-sushi. Finding that 1% with the guy that just came over with a vision of spreading his wings, after spending the last 10 years learning - 7 of it cutting daikon "skins" and sweeping the floor in a small back alley shop in Osaka, is indeed a challenge. My secret? Nihongo hanashimasu. Other than that? You're pretty much SOL.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: applehome
                                      ccbweb RE: applehome Oct 23, 2008 02:23 PM

                                      The analogy doesn't hold so well in that there isn't a national chain along the lines of McDonald's, Taco Bell or Olive Garden running the restaurants. They're almost all independent places.

                                      1. re: ccbweb
                                        applehome RE: ccbweb Oct 23, 2008 02:49 PM

                                        The mainly American-Chinese restaurants throughout the US that have popped up with this burb or mc-sushi might as well be a chain. The ubiquity of General Tso's and the Pu-Pu Platter might as well be focus-group tested corporate foods. These places share food ideas, chefs, menus and operational procedures better than most major US chains. There are other places, like Korean or Chinese run Japanese steakhouses, but the effect is the same - low quality food that will be accepted by the American public that knows no better. The same folks that think that crispy tacos with hamburgers and cheese whiz make good tacos, think pu-pu platters are good Chinese, throwing spatulas and knives around makes good teppanyaki, and Philadelphia rolls are good sushi.

                                        1. re: applehome
                                          u
                                          uptown jimmy RE: applehome Oct 23, 2008 09:48 PM

                                          I'm not sure if you know that you know what you're talking about, but you do.

                                          The network that provides the labor force for this vast "Amerinese" restaurant chain is based out of the NYC metropolitan area. There's a handful of little store-fronts where recent arrivals can peruse job apportunities all over the country and arrange to travel there and procure housing, etc, the works. The whole process sometimes (often) involves some sort of indentured servitude-esque loan from the "organizing" USA-based parties to the aspiring immigrant to get the Chinese guy over here and guide him through the process of ending up in some far-flung section of the USA, where he usually ends up cooking the sort of Amerinese crap that initially seems almost unrecognizable to him, but which most Americans call "Chinese food".

                                          It might as well be one giant chain, but it is sorta/kinda/somewhat old-school, more informal, probably infected by a bit of organized crime when it comes to getting the cooks into the country, that sort of thing. And most "Amerinese" restaurants undoubtedly order all their decorations and food products from the same few companies.

                                          We have some excellent Chinese restaurants in Atlanta, where good chefs and owners have higher standards and where a great deal of drama seems the norm, with chefs changing jobs every six months and such, but that's a whole different story....

                                    2. alanbarnes RE: tastyjon Oct 23, 2008 04:31 PM

                                      I love the loud, trendy places that specialize in Rainbow rolls and Godzilla rolls and Marilyn MonRolls and various other futobominations. Especially the ones with celebrity endorsements, extensive ad campaigns, and hundreds of seats in restaurants located on prime parcels of real estate. I want people to go there as often as possible, drink as much Sapporo as they can hold, and gorge on things where all you can taste is cream cheese, mayonnaise, and Sriracha.

                                      That keeps them away from my sushi place. Tucked around the side of a strip mall, it has 5 four-tops, 8 seats at the bar, and an owner / itamae who won't make rolls. At all. Period. He cuts sashimi and assembles chirashi bowls. The apprentice makes rolls. They split duties on the nigirizushi.

                                      The average customer is middle-aged and Japanese. The food is always perfect. The prices are a bargain considering the quality. And I want it to stay that way. So please, everybody, let's keep sushi overrated and ubiquitous.

                                      15 Replies
                                      1. re: alanbarnes
                                        Sam Fujisaka RE: alanbarnes Oct 23, 2008 04:51 PM

                                        We have a winner for this week's best reply to a thread! Hilarious, insightful, and jealousy (sp.?) - inducing! Priceless!

                                        1. re: alanbarnes
                                          bkhuna RE: alanbarnes Oct 23, 2008 06:29 PM

                                          You hit the nail on the head!

                                          If I could only find a place that had Japanese Sapporo instead of the weasle-piss made in Canada, I might overlook the cream cheese.

                                          1. re: bkhuna
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                                            lost squirrel RE: bkhuna Oct 23, 2008 07:32 PM

                                            I just want to say, the grass is always greener on the other side.

                                            I've been living in Tokyo for a few years now and sometimes I really REALLY really miss a spicy crunchy tuna roll.

                                            It's nice to have such good quality sushi all the time, but my taste buds are yearning for something spicy!

                                            Unfortunately, the only places that serve that type of sushi here are pretty expensive.

                                            1. re: lost squirrel
                                              Sam Fujisaka RE: lost squirrel Oct 23, 2008 07:54 PM

                                              Here in Colombia I largely have to make my own sushi, bringing in rice and nori when I pass through US or Asia. Are you making your own spicy crunchy?

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
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                                                lost squirrel RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 26, 2008 07:48 PM

                                                My sister and I made our own spicy, but not crunchy. It's easy enough to pick up some chopped maguro, mix with kewpie and sriracha and I'm all set.

                                                Eventually we'll try to get it crunchy, but I feel guilty buying bags of tempura batter pieces. I guess it's better to feel guilty than to cover my apartment in fryer oil!

                                          2. re: alanbarnes
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                                            uptown jimmy RE: alanbarnes Oct 23, 2008 10:01 PM

                                            Wow. Great post. I am humbled.

                                            We recently found just the perfect place, somewhere in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and I now vow to keep it very secret. The owner is there every day, all day, and only serves a few very basic rolls, and he hates doing that for sure, and he imports much of his fish extremely fresh from Japan, and it's a total strip mall, tucked away, blond-stained wood, unassuming little purist spot where you order one bite at a time and chat with the sushi chef and the food is absolutely exquisite. And in Atlanta! Sorta....

                                            We had monkfish liver and it was better than foie gras, and lordy, we knew we were in the right place. It was a totally interactive social contract with the young but expert chef and easily the most delightful dining experience we've had in a long time. We're going agian next week.

                                            Yes! Let the rubes eat the fake sushi! Leave the good stuff to me! Happy!

                                            1. re: alanbarnes
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                                              dolores RE: alanbarnes Oct 27, 2008 11:45 AM

                                              Exactly, alanbarnes. Pop out 'sushi' and pop in every other cuisine or restaurant that I like and you have THE perfect form letter response for any type of food or restaurant critique.

                                              1. re: dolores
                                                applehome RE: dolores Oct 27, 2008 12:34 PM

                                                I don't get it. Are you saying (like Alan did) that the perfect response to criticism is that the crappy, trendy places exist so that everyone else should go, leaving the good places to you? Or that the crappy, trendy places exist for you?

                                                The first seems rather sad - the state of American tastes in food is terrible and it ought to stay that way, so I can get mine. The second seems even more fetid - something a true follow-the-crowd foodie (by chowhound definition) might say.

                                                The general problem with Alan's position is that it doesn't stay that way. If the public doesn't become educated enough to frequent the better places, the better places go out of business (or move to places, or downgrade - read Americanize - their menus so they can make money), and all you have left is the Mcsushi, or Chi-Chi's, or Olive Garden.

                                                1. re: applehome
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                                                  dolores RE: applehome Oct 27, 2008 12:40 PM

                                                  >>Are you saying (like Alan did) that the perfect response to criticism is that the crappy, trendy places exist so that everyone else should go, leaving the good places to you?

                                                  Yes.

                                                  Since there are those out there who are willing to accept rude restaurant owners and managers, mediocre food at outrageous prices, pay for stuff that should be free, and all the myriad other laughable insults that are defended by diners who think they speak for everyone, then..............

                                                  yes. They are welcome to all of the above, as long as I am free to enjoy my wonderful lovely food at my wonderful lovely favorite restaurants. As long as they last, which as you have noted, might not be long since there are so many diners out there who are willing to pay more and pay more again for less product.

                                                  1. re: dolores
                                                    applehome RE: dolores Oct 27, 2008 12:58 PM

                                                    Well - ok, then. To each their own. But I think you're conflating these two sushi threads. This one's about mcsushi (low quality Americanized, Chinese-restaurant crap), vs. the middle of the road, at least semi-authentic sushi place. And the other one is about the extreme tradition, which presumably serves only the best sushi, in only the most traditional sequences and preparations, and demands that you learn to understand what makes it special. Clearly there's a huge difference, despite your stated preference for the middle of the road (or at least, what passes for the middle of the road, here in the US).

                                                    I completely agree that the most enjoyable nights were ones I spent at my friends places - one is purely an Itamae, while others ran Izakayas and had mixed backgrounds. But in any case, the pleasure of speaking with them and with our other friends, (in Japanese) spending all night eating and drinking, was absolutely the way I want to spend a night out.

                                                    Nevertheless, I would love to go to Jiro's place in Tokyo as Bourdain did, and I would have no problem eating sushi in the manner he presented it to me - timing and all. On the other hand, I have really no desire whatsoever to ever, ever eat mcsushi. I would be completely rude and refuse to go with friends or family (presumably my wife's, as mine know what sushi actually is) if they wanted to go to such a place. Perhaps if I could order a pu-pu platter with super-greasy egg rolls, while they ate the gleaming raw fish...

                                                    1. re: applehome
                                                      d
                                                      dolores RE: applehome Oct 27, 2008 01:13 PM

                                                      Conflating? If I am, I apologize.

                                                      Me, prefer the middle of the road? I'm not sure what we have in Westchester, but it's possibly true that the many new sushi places are middle of the road. I find them just fine, so it could be true that I prefer middle of the road. I don't think they are mc-sushi places, though I could be wrong on that too..

                                                      However, there is one heavenly place called Sushi Nanase where there might ensue a situation as described (although I doubt the chef would attempt to instruct on how many chews), since it is noted by many who know their sushi as very authentic. The sushi was simply wonderful.

                                                      Again, I'm no doubt mixing apples and oranges, but if observation has taught me anything, it is that not everyone will like what I like and dislike and that's fine with me as long as they leave me to it.

                                                      1. re: applehome
                                                        alanbarnes RE: applehome Oct 29, 2008 09:24 AM

                                                        "Perhaps if I could order a pu-pu platter with super-greasy egg rolls, while they ate the gleaming raw fish..."

                                                        When the tamago in the front case starts running low at the place I go, the itamae loves the response he gets from the customers when he shouts "Need more egg roll! More egg roll!"

                                                2. re: alanbarnes
                                                  tastyjon RE: alanbarnes Oct 27, 2008 10:19 PM

                                                  Great reply.

                                                  I just hope greed doesn't sneak in. The dips paying too much for stuff can soon become the faves of owners. A $90 tab for beer/wine and a few guac/anyo rolls is easier than fighting for a $10 piece of fish when most don't admire the effort.

                                                  Thankfully the true Japanese have a sense of honor and tradition.

                                                  1. re: tastyjon
                                                    alanbarnes RE: tastyjon Oct 28, 2008 09:48 AM

                                                    Fortunately the owner isn't just in it for the money. He was trained in Japan and came over in (I think) the 1960s or '70s to work cutting sashimi in a Japanese restaurant. After a while, he opened the first sushi-ya in town and ended up training most of the best sushi chefs around here. But he got tired of catering to customers who wanted McSushi, so he closed his place and retired. A few years later he quietly opened a much smaller establishment that caters to the old traditionalist crowd (think 70-year-old Japanese-speaking Ladies Who Lunch). My only concern is that his apprentice will be be lured by the big bucks when the itamae finally calls it quits for good.

                                                    1. re: alanbarnes
                                                      tastyjon RE: alanbarnes Nov 2, 2008 12:11 AM

                                                      I'd love to see more Japanese fare be shared throught the heartland.

                                                      I happen to live near the PF Changs HQ and they poured a lot of money into a concept eatery based on the Tokyo Pub scene. They spent millions trying to figure out how to make this one place be appealing. But it turned to be way overpriced and not that great.

                                                      It has sinced closed and they wrote off a lot of money. Meanwhile they could have rented a dumpy place and served big beers and great, cheap grub, and developed a nice scene with good people.

                                                      Oh well.

                                                3. o
                                                  Orchid64 RE: tastyjon Oct 23, 2008 10:23 PM

                                                  I'm sure I'll get throttled for this opinion, but I think all sushi is overrated. Vinegared rice topped with whatever is just not all that exciting a concept or taste to me.

                                                  Keep in mind that not all sushi in Japan is great either and I've lived in Tokyo for nearly 20 years so I know. There are different grades of sushi everywhere. Once something becomes ubiquitous, the quality drops. In Japan, it's been ubiquitous for a long time so it's not all great. This goes for any sort of cuisine or dish. How about rather than looking for the next Japanese dish with marginal recognition to latch onto until it becomes popular that people just look for other foods from other cultures?

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Orchid64
                                                    applehome RE: Orchid64 Oct 24, 2008 11:53 AM

                                                    There are a lot of other foods, even from Japan, that we could and ought to be excited about. When are the hundred-dollar a plate tempura joints that fry only once per batch of special oil coming to the burbs in the US? When are the real Kaiseki roryu places opening up at the strip malls?

                                                    These things are never going to happen. We do chains and lowest common denominator food better than anyone else in the world. Mc-sushi, in this case, is an example of what we do with other people's great traditions and incredible foods - no different than Chi-chi's or Smokeybones (where we destroy our own traditions). If we end up with dedicated tempura places, they will be crap. If a chain of kaiseki places opens up, they will probably use canned vegetables. It's more likely we'll end up with takoyaki or okonomiyaki chains - they're a much more democratic food, no hoity-toity. There are Asian food courts in many spots that have everything from ramen to dorayaki, but they're not ubiquitous.

                                                    The difference, in Japan, is in the food culture. The ratio of honest artisans to robo-sushi is much higher than here, and the degree to which the food culture respects these honest artisans, whether they're making classic French or Italian cuisine, or sushi, is much greater.

                                                    1. re: applehome
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                                                      lost squirrel RE: applehome Oct 26, 2008 07:49 PM

                                                      When I move back to the US, I hope to find takoyaki stands at every mall!

                                                      1. re: lost squirrel
                                                        bkhuna RE: lost squirrel Oct 27, 2008 11:36 AM

                                                        Add that to the lists of things not found in America. It's amazing how much I miss simple little pleasures such as yakitori stands and ramen carts outside of train stations in the middle of the night.

                                                        Come to think of it, I miss HAVING the subway system of Tokyo and Yokohama, especially the floors underneath Takashimaya in Yokohama.

                                                  2. OCAnn RE: tastyjon Oct 28, 2008 11:48 AM

                                                    Bad, mediocre, non-Japanese and/or chain sushi is overrated and ubiquitous.

                                                    I doubt good sushi (good Japanese food) will ever spread like it should.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: OCAnn
                                                      Sam Fujisaka RE: OCAnn Oct 28, 2008 05:49 PM

                                                      With the best of intentions I again repeat: sushi is a small part of Japanese food, but in no way IS Japanese food (in the sense that there is sooooooooooooo much more to Japanese food).

                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                        OCAnn RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 28, 2008 07:27 PM

                                                        Oops...what I meant to say was "...good sushi (AND good Japanese food) will...." =)

                                                    2. f
                                                      fallingup RE: tastyjon Oct 28, 2008 08:01 PM

                                                      too overrated/ubiquitous for what? for me to eat it? no way!

                                                      1. g
                                                        ginael RE: tastyjon Oct 29, 2008 12:37 PM

                                                        Can someone please explain the disgusting, ubiquitous cream cheese in sushi rolls? There's no way they serve it like that in Japan, right? It's such an odd combination to put fresh seafood with cream cheese. Seems like an ingredient used to appease the masses in the U.S.

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: ginael
                                                          OCAnn RE: ginael Oct 29, 2008 01:41 PM

                                                          That's not sushi; those are gaijin rolls explained in one of the posts above.

                                                          1. re: ginael
                                                            applehome RE: ginael Oct 29, 2008 05:13 PM

                                                            And the place you're seeing that is a mcsushi place, not real sushi, and the person making it is not Japanese and is not a trained sushi chef (itamae). Does that matter? Not if you don't care or want to learn more about the real thing.

                                                            1. re: applehome
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                                                              uptown jimmy RE: applehome Oct 29, 2008 06:04 PM

                                                              I have to say, this is an over-simplification. I worked for a trained itamae years ago. He included several Mcsushi-style rolls on an menu that was otherwise uniformly excellent. He held his nose, but he did what he could to please his clientele.

                                                              Most of his food was excellent, and the odd bagel roll or rainbow roll here and there did not diminish that fact. I have yet to find a futo maki roll to match his, and he served some of the freshest nigiri I've ever had. Tempura, tekka don, etc., all very good.

                                                              It's not easy running a Japanese restaurant in the good old USA. Concessions must be made.

                                                              1. re: uptown jimmy
                                                                applehome RE: uptown jimmy Oct 29, 2008 07:27 PM

                                                                You're absolutely right - I said so myself earlier. I'm not doing anyone any favors by over-simplifying. Many authentic chefs, either from, or trained in the country of origin of the food they make, end up having to simplify or modify their fare to local standards just so that they can make a living. This isn't just true for sushi.

                                                                1. re: uptown jimmy
                                                                  alanbarnes RE: uptown jimmy Oct 29, 2008 10:04 PM

                                                                  I think the point of the article is that there are a few chefs who refuse to make concessions. Funny how the traditionalists have become the iconoclasts. The market probably won't support very many of them, but still and all, I'm glad they're out there.

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes
                                                                    applehome RE: alanbarnes Oct 29, 2008 11:03 PM

                                                                    We're conflating again - it's indeed confusing to have these two threads going on at once. Here we're talking about the popularity of sushi - perhaps how that relates to the mcsushi epidemic. The NYT article was linked from the other thread, about the traditionalists/iconoclasts, and I referred to an earlier quote from that thread, not this one.

                                                                    I suppose we could just merge the threads and talk about how to send these people who want to eat sushi to be hip to one of these iconoclasts - maybe we'll all get lucky, and they'll never want to eat sushi again!

                                                                    1. re: applehome
                                                                      d
                                                                      dolores RE: applehome Oct 30, 2008 04:59 AM

                                                                      >>I suppose we could just merge the threads and talk about how to send these people who want to eat sushi to be hip to one of these iconoclasts - maybe we'll all get lucky, and they'll never want to eat sushi again!

                                                                      Excellent idea.

                                                                      1. re: applehome
                                                                        alanbarnes RE: applehome Oct 30, 2008 09:54 AM

                                                                        Hey, I can't remember the day of the week, and you want me to keep two long sushi threads straight? Ain't gonna happen.

                                                                        You're right, though. The article I referred to is the subject of a different thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/567068

                                                                        PS - in a recessionary economy, conflation can be a good thing...

                                                              2. OCAnn RE: tastyjon Oct 30, 2008 10:08 AM

                                                                Dad a scientist in Japan...@ Tsukuba? I don't remember a lot of chowish places there, but my visit there was only week-long.

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