What is your usual order in an average sushi restaurant?
I've eaten lots of sushi, and I know what everything is, but I confess sometimes when I'm out I don't know what a standard order is. I know the first rule of food is do whatever you like, but for certain occasions (dates) I'd like to know what is standard. I usually go with miso soup for each and an appitizer to share, followed by one special roll. I get confused when I think about ordering two regular rolls becaus they are so cheap, or think about sharing a special roll when they are very expensive (I'm in college).
What do you usually get? What would the Japanese get?
I usually order some combination of the following, with one or more items from each section:
Yellowtail roll, tuna roll, spicy tuna roll, salmon skin roll, salmon avocado roll
Eel, Tuna, mackerel, yellowtail
Salmon, fluke, yellowtail
A few other posters mentioned that you'll want to sample a few things and stick with whatever's best that day. This is definitely the way to go but hard to do on a budget.
It's really near-impossible to have a great sushi experience on a budget. You might want to see if any sushi joints in your area has specials - one near us has a reasonably good 1/2 price sushi offer on sundays. Time to pig out!
I can sure pack down the sushi, so, I tend to order a lot. My local Sushi Bar has some amazing Combo deals, so, we usually go for that.
A Spicy Tuna Roll.
A Spicy Yellowtail Roll.
A Spicy California Roll.
And then I usually get an order (2 pieces) of Salmon Nigiri. I save those for last so the flavour stays with me on the drive home.
The most conventional pattern, by Japanese standards, would be: sashimi, nigiri, maki, and then miso soup. Maybe a small grilled or braised fish or a tempura item in the middle. Rolls are stomach stuffer afterthoughts. Getting a little green salad with ginger dressing at the beginning of the meal is purely an American thing. So too is jamming miso soup at the beginning of the meal. I got stuck at one of these thingamabob-mayo-maki roll, Americanized sushi places once with a Japanese friend and he had the most hilarious wtf moment when they brought out the miso soup and ginger dressing salad to start the meal. Good raw fish is a delicacy, he said. Why would they ruin someone's palate with this stuff if it was anything but crap?...
There are also big differences in the selections that people choose for nigiri sushi between the two countries. Americans tend to order in bunches maguro, hamachi, salmon, and unagi. These are line items that Japanese may eat in among a lengthy "okonomi" (choose your own) session of nigiri dining. But they are the fattiest items you will find at a sushi counter. Sushi sets are typically served with a balance of a fatty, fleshy fish, an intermediate white fish, a silver fish, a cooked fish, and shellfish and/ or squid/octopus.
Since sushi is a very pricey adventure these days, even at the crap popular places run by non Japanese folks who crank out the wackadoodle rolls (as my friend would say) and can't even make a decent proper authentic nigiri, I do my due diligence and find out as much as I can about the establishment before I go in, and also see what trusted others have to say. If it is a serious nigiri place (and really there are not that many of them around anymore), the chef has to specialize in something, whether it be his own handicraft, his fish lineup (whether it deviates from the American norm of favorites already mostly mentioned), his sushi rice receipe, and how he presents his product. Heck the chef could be better at cooked food than nigiri in some rare cases...
Sometimes you can find pictures and info on sites like flickr and blogs of the more well known establishments. There's only so much photoshop and a skilled digital camera photographer can do.
With that said, even in doing the due diligence, I pretty much scan the restaurant and see what they have on display at the fish case (or what they offer if they have a white board specials of fish) which is 95% of a tell tale sign. For example if I see Escolar (super white shiny fish) I know I'm likely going to be in trouble, so I'll stick with the safe and narrow path of common items. Also any restaurant that tries to offer both Japanese and some Asian food together under the same roof you can forget about it. I've seen places that offer Japanese and either Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese!
One friend of mine likes to sample menu nigiri combos to get an idea. Unfortunately that's not a good taste test, especially if you sit at the table. Quite often I see these combos as good value to some extent, but you are either getting a run of the mill unbalanced set as Silverjay mentioned, and/or lower grade cuts of pre-sliced fish for made to order nigiri to be quickly processed (where the regular blocks of fish are saved for a la carte where the profit margin is slightly higher).
At a place that I trust a lot where I know there's a good balance of variety, and if I know the chef (and he knows me) it's let him decide, and he serves me nigiri one piece at a time, no identical pairs, so that I have room to try a spectrum of flavors and textures.
At an unfamiliar but very respectable place, ordering a la carte and sampling your favorites or taste testers is a good way to go.
I can totally commiserate how difficult it is to have sushi on a student's budget. When I was in college, I ended up getting more rolls because I got fuller for less price -- usually at least one eel roll. I would also sometimes end up getting the "regular" sushi platter (which usually had tuna, fluke, salmon, and a couple of other selections that varied from restaurant) that came with salad and soup. And I'll admit that I did my share of AYCE sushi places. Luckily there was one place that was not half bad. It also helped that we knew one of the waiters. I also dated some very big eaters in college -- actually, I don't think I knew anybody (male and female) who were small eaters at that time.
Today I basically order a la carte. I don't really do omakase too often because I know what I like to eat. Generally order an appetizer (steamed crab innards or monkfish liver) and some nigiri. Generally get one of each -- salmon, fatty tuna, yellowtail, uni, eel, giant clam, oyster and scallop -- my normal rotation. Then try a few other things like mackerel, snapper -- whatever is good that day or whatever I'm in the mood for. DH basically does what I do except he ends up getting two or three of each item and also gets octopus and regular tuna. As I'm not really a fan of desserts served at Japanese sushi places, I skip it.
When I'm at a sushi place that's new to me, I'll order nigiri (by the piece) of one each of the fish that I'd like to order. More often than not, I can tell which fish are freshest (and, conversely, which, if any, were crafted from previously-frozen fish; a product that's become viral at lower-grade sushi restaurants in response to the economy). I then order either sashimi or rolls of whatever fish strikes my fancy.
It's hard to do sushi on a college student's budget. The only thing I'd change about the OP's "usual" order is that I'd drop the appetizer and replace it with a roll of one's choice. Miso and two specialty rolls are a fine choice. The sushi places, with their "sushi regular" and "sushi deluxe" typically are impelling the diner into eating too much food. There was a time when I could eat a lot of raw fish in one sitting, but these days, the fish has got to be darned good for me to go overboard. That being said, there have been times when I've been ordering sashimi a few pieces at a time, accompanied by much alcohol, and my fish bill alone is $100 or more -- and not at a place with prices like Nobu, either; just a regular spot.
I *love* what alanbarnes said about chirashi-sushi. For variety and a chance to eat fish you mightn't usually try, that's the way to go.
My typical order use to be chirashi, but my stomach has decided that it no longer tolerates uncooked fish. Since I still love eating at sushi restaurants I have come to enjoy veggie or cooked seafood rolls. Usually 2 special cooked seafood rolls (typically 4-6 pieces each) and a veggie roll (usually 8 pieces). Or if I am feeling daring a tuna (raw) roll instead of one of the special cooked seafood.
At my local sushi-ya, the typical Japanese customer isn't a salaryman on an expense account, but a middle-aged, middle-class Japanese American. Several years ago I noticed that the most common order among this group is chirashi-zushi - a big bowl of sushi rice with the chef's choice of ingredients artfully arranged on top.
I followed their lead, and haven't looked back. You get a variety of flavors, and although most chefs will include the standbys (maguro, sake, hamachi), somebody who's good will also give you a few surprises.
The more I order the dish, the more new stuff the itamae tosses on there for me - abalone, squid "strings" tossed with tobiko in a tangy dressing, a whole soy-cooked baby octopus, saba-kazunoko (pickled mackerel pressed with herring roe) - there's always something different and tasty. It's like ordering omakase on a budget.
I don't think that there is a standard, at least not in the US. I've seen people order a bowl of miso soup and a small selection of individual pieces of sushi and then pay the bill, and I've seen others gorging themselves on all manner of cooked appetizers and fancy rolls. Myself, I'll often order a seaweed salad, one special roll (always with raw fish) and then an assortment of individual sushi. I'll leave it to others to relay what the Japanese order at a sushi restaurant, but I know that the elaborate rolls that are the rage in US sushi establishments are not traditional.
Sounds like a desert order to me.
I'm usually a bowl of miso depending on my mood. Sure. It's nice.
Then, I usually do some edamame to pass the time while I'm waiting for the shi.
My normal order for two ppl
2 ama ebi with head
2 saba (soooo good fresh, but sooo hard to find fresh)
one spicy tuna roll cut, or two hand rolls.
Then, after that's done, if there are any stars, we'll zone in and order more of whatever seems to be the best.
Well, I love sushi, but for some reason I usually do not stray far from the Bento Box. I'll order a couple extra pieces of more out-there types of fish on their own,, and maybe a sashimi starter, but it's something about the packaging of a Bento Box with the neat little compartments, miso soup, salad, edamame, etc. that I so enjoy. Not big on rolls.
Fortunately for me also, hubby likes more adventurous options too, so I get to share his if I'm good. :)