Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >
Dec 28, 2011 03:51 PM

Sushi Newbie

Greetings Chowhounders! I recently decided to expand my culinary boundries and experience the mysterious (to me) world of Sushi. I started by ordering sushi at the Burlington Market Basket. It was an impulse buy and the price was right. The friendly man working the counter helped me choose my order. I figured it was going to be awful, being from Market Basket and all, but I found that the taste was mild and even enjoyable. From there I took a step up and ordered sushi from a local Chinese restaurant - Bamboo, in Bedford. Again, mild, fresh, enjoyable. I wanted more. At this point, I decided to check in here and see what CHer's were talking about. Turns out there is much more to sushi than I ever imagined. But for my purposes the choice boiled down to Toraya and Sushi Island. Both places are a reasonable distance for me to travel. Since I was in the area today, my choice was Toraya. I got there at lunch time and the place was busy. There was one seat available at the counter and it was mine. Unsure of what to order, I went with the sashimi. The man behind the counter was cutting/preparing the entire time I was there. The fish was unbelievably fresh, mild and delicious! It was my first visit, but not my last. After I enjoyed my Miso soup and plate of sashimi, I asked him what he had served me. What I remember was: yellowtail, tuna, salmon, mackerel, bass, fluke and crab. Every last morsel was really, really good. I ate a little of the sticky rice on the side, and enjoyed the hot tea. Some of the fish I had never before eaten in my entire life. Not very adventurous when it comes to fish, I guess. But now that I have tasted it, I think I might be able to order even more delights from the sea. It was also my first attempt at chopsticks. I felt a little self-conscious, but I got through the meal without embarrassing myself. (I think.) My next adventure will be to Sushi Island, but Toraya was wonderful. Many thanks to the local CHer's who pointed me in the right direction.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The best way to learn sushi is at a sushi bar where you can interact with the sushi guy. Best if it's a place where you get the same one, who will get to know you and help you learn it.

    By the way, nigiri sushi is finger food.

    1. Nice job! If you can survive the supermarket sushi and the Chinese restaurant sushi, you can survive anything! One suggestion: don't be afraid to look carefully at the fish before you order, if it doesn't look fresh, smell fresh or taste fresh, don't hesitate to decline it ("he who sushi's and runs away, lives to sushi another day").

      1. congrats,bb, it's fascinating subtle food. your openmindedness will bring you many pleasures!

        1. Thanks for the tips and encouragement. I plan to hit SI early next week. Any menu suggestions appreciated.

          7 Replies
          1. re: BeachBum143

            Since you seem to be from the area I recommend Sato 2 in Stoneham, Sakura in Winchester, and Hana Sushi in North Cambridge. All very good sushi places north of the city. Sato 2 and Hana sushi run promotions (make sure you use a discount code). I haven't been yet but I heard Sakura started a new sushi buffet where they make your sushi to order. This would be a great way to try some new things at a reasonable price. It took me a bit to get into sushi as well but it is definitely one of my favorite meals to have now.

            1. re: AaronInBoston

              There's also a Sakura restaurant in Chelmsford that's reasonably good. And when they finish rebuilding Blake's block in Bedford, Ginger should reopen, and is a convenient, verygood, local fave. Can't do better to learn the stuff, though, than sit at the bar at Sushi Island and ask questions of the sushi chef there.

              1. re: AaronInBoston

                I saw the menu for the "buffet" at Sakura in Winchester as a lunch special when I was in there with my daughter last summer, and it's really more AYCE sushi done to your order, I think from a limited menu of maybe 20 or so? options. We didn't order it but I was intrigued. The only thing that put me off was how slow the restaurant was... very little foot traffic, but lunchtime can be weird, so I don't know if that's typical. The "buffet" wasn't offered to us before we ordered, and I didn't find out about it until after we'd ordered, which annoyed me a bit.

              2. re: BeachBum143

                black cod/ sablefish sushi (seared iirc)

                house smoked salmon and house salmon eggs (ikura)

                salmon belly and yellowtail belly

                Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin)

                botan-ebi (large spot prawns, raw, with crispy fried heads)

                crispy bone from aji (mackeral) or anago (eel)

                o-toro (fattiest tuna belly), seared with a dab of garlic paste or garlic chip

                1. re: BeachBum143

                  Sushi Island and Toraya are two of my favorites and I have been to each one many, many times. Personally I prefer S.I. but Toraya is a close second. If you are feeling very adventursome when you go to S.I. just put yourself in Kenji-san's hands and allow him to create some of the best he has available on that day. I would suggest that you go on a Wed, Thurs, Fri or Sat rather than earlier in the week because he will have a greater variety of fish available. I usually begin with a small selction of sashimi and then move on to nigiri sushi. If you sit at the sushi bar you can order one selection at a time rather than ordering everything at once. In addition to Kenji-san's excellent sushi I would also recommend you try his Hamchi Kama which is the grilled neck collar of a Yellow Tail Tuna. Order it Shioyaki (salt broiled) style. It is a very delicious dish. I also really like his version of Age Dashi Tofu. This is bowl of deep fried squares of tofu in a savory broth. If he has Ankimo I usuallky order it as a starter. Ankimo, usually available only during the winter months, is poached Monkfish liver. Some people call it Japanese Foie Gras. It is served in small slices in a Ponzu (lemony soy) sauce.
                  I hope you enjoy it.

                  1. re: BeachBum143

                    In my opinion the best things on the Menu are:
                    Gindara Aburi ( Seared Sable Fish)
                    Wagyuaburi(Seared premium Japanese beef)1ps- the most flavorful piece of beef you've ever had.
                    Spicy Grilled Clam
                    Aji ( Jack Mackerel)
                    Spicy Tuna & Radish Sprouts (order this as a hand roll)
                    Hamachi Kama is a must.
                    House miso soup

                    Junji is the best sushi chef around. You won't be disappointed. Enjoy.

                    1. re: BeachBum143

                      It's a simple thing but I really love Sushi Island's Ume Shiso roll. It's salty/sour plum paste with fresh shiso leaf in a nori roll. I find it a perfect combination of flavors and a nice counterpoint to all the fish sushi. I'm often disappointed when I order it elsewhere, and they don't seem to use fresh shiso leaf, but it's always perfect at Sushi Island.

                    2. Thank you all for the great suggestions! I've printed them out and am looking forward to SI later this week. I'll be back after my visit with a review. Happy New Year!

                      27 Replies
                      1. re: BeachBum143

                        Re: Market Basket; I've chatted with the sushi guys there, and they buy their own fish, effectively leasing the spot (i.e. dont worry, you aren't eating raw "Market Basket fish"). Anything I've tried from them has greatly exceeded the "quality" (I'll use the term somewhat relatively) of any other grocery store/pre-fab sushi from any supermarket I've ever tried. The fish is generally quite fresh, and while the rice is so-so at best, the wasabi & gari they throw in totally sucks, and just making it to the rear of a Market Basket & back to the cash register can be a death defying experience... I gotta' admit, I'd totally pay the $7 or $8 bucks for one of those M.B. trays right now. Perhaps not totally "Chow worthy", but not "Dis worthy" by any stretch, IMO, either.

                        1. re: BeachBum143


                          At SI

                          the 2 dishes i always start with are:

                          --Ankimo w/ ponzu. very rich and creamy. doesn't taste like 'liver' as you may think of it. (for instance, i detest liver in general but i love foie gras and ankimo)

                          -- Yama kake. cubes of raw tuna over grated 'mountain yam', w/ slivered nori and quail egg

                          ( ask for the egg or a sushi chef might think you don't want it). there is a dab of wasabi in the bowl; you pour a bit of soy sauce over the dish and whisk it all together with your chopsticks.

                          -- the hamachi kama , cooked as described above- is well loved. a rich distinctive fish-hamachi. Raw hamachi is prob my very fav sushi fish. i love it chopped up and mixed w/ minced scallions in a maki, as well as nigiri style.

                          -- One of my very fav Japanese foods is Age dashi tofu. When it is ethereal, it is cubes of creamy soft tofu, lightly deep fried and served in a dashi broth w/ grated daikon and katsuo bushi flakes as condiments in the broth. The better the dashi and the hotter the fried tofu, the better the dish. That said, it is the only bad dish at SI, imo, because it is not served in a bowl of dashi but in some other ,soy-based sauce. sooo disappointing. we order it wherever we go for sushi at other places, but we never order it at SI. ronroy is a very experienced japanese food person,and must like SI's for his own reason, but to me, if it isn't based on a bowl of dashi, it's not age dashi tofu. p.s. Toraya does a good one.
                          pps, I do not recommend Sato II, particularly after you experience SI.

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            Akemashte Ometeto Gozaimasu (Happy New Year) Opinionated Chef. I definitely agree wih your review of S.I's Age Dashi Tofu. It is far from the best I have ever had and I do think Toraya doees a better version but when I am at S.I. I will usually still order it because, like you, Age Dashi Tofu is one of my favorite Japanese dishes. Another of my favorites at S.I. and the way I usually finish a meal is with a Natto Hand Roll.

                            1. re: RoyRon

                              royron,i am tempted to read your last sentence as a jibe but then i am thinking that no, you prob are saying it in all seriousness because you likely never saw my mention, some time in a faw away galaxy...... that ... well, let's just say that I could never ever...ever...ever...
                              eat natto. much less order it. And i know that you know that japanese are most amazed by your taste for it. We must remember that we don't want sushi newbies to have any BAD intro sushi experiences that might give them pause in their new quest for deliciousness. I would offer the suggestion that natto is best saved for a practical joke on a foodie of the "i'll eat anything" bragging school. :-} <deep bow>

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                i totally disagree with you about natto being best saved for a practical joke. i love it. i know i'm in the minority, even for japanese. it is a predominantly tokyo food. i grew up eating it and like it very much. i will say that it is challenging, like uni to some, so it is not for the newbie but for someone who likes to challenge their pallete, it is a good thing to try, even once. please don't reduce my culture's food to that level.
                                as far as "sushi island", kenji-san is from japan. i trust his pallete better than other places because most other restaurants have sushi "chefs" who learned from who knows where. the menu is authentic japanese food. he imports select fish from tsukiji (the largest fish market in japan). if i want sushi, this is THE place to go. if i do go to other restaurants (i.e. o-ya, haru sushi, etc), i enjoy it for what it is, boutique sushi. this is more stylized sushi and i like it for what it is. but if i want sushi and a taste of home, i go to sushi island.

                                1. re: alienlifeforcecube

                                  Well Opinionatedchef I guess the only thing I can say is to each their own when it comes to what you eat but in my humble opinion natto is an extremly tasty and healthy food. I have had as a part of sushi dinner, I love a good bowl of ramen with Natto in it and when I am in Japan I always have it over a bowl of steamed rice for breakfast. I am however in total agreement with Alienlifeforcecube about Natto and S.I. in general. Everything he says about Kenji-san and his restaurant is true. It is one of two authentic Japanese restaurants in the Boston area. I too love O-Ya and Oishii for what they are but when I crave traditional Japanese food S.I is usually where I go.
                                  If it's any consolation my wife detests Natto too.

                                  1. re: RoyRon

                                    hi royron, no worries with regards to consolation! in this dislike of natto, i know i am, for once, in the haoli majority!

                                    alienlife, i am so sorry you thought i was insulting nihonjin food. Maybe you have not read my many other posts about your country's sublime food.I LOVE it, could easily be happy eating nothing but it! in fact, natto is the only japanese food other than uni, that i do not care for. You are bound to have had awful food in america that you would not want to eat again. If not, you have been very lucky!

                                    Now that we all know that we are all fans of the authentic sushi at SI, would someone dare to venture a guess at why the age dashi tofu (and that spinach dish with the wicked sweet sauce) is so inauthentic??

                                    < One of my very fav Japanese foods is Age dashi tofu. When it is ethereal, it is cubes of creamy soft tofu, lightly deep fried and served in a dashi broth w/ grated daikon and katsuo bushi flakes as condiments in the broth. The better the dashi and the hotter the fried tofu, the better the dish. That said, it is the only bad dish at SI, imo, because it is not served in a bowl of dashi but in some other ,soy-based sauce. sooo disappointing. we order it wherever we go for sushi at other places, but we never order it at SI. To me, if it isn't based on a bowl of dashi, it's not age dashi tofu.>

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef


                                      no problems about not liking certain foods. everyone's pallete is different. i only took exception that you wrote that natto should be "saved for a practical joke". i've no doubt, especially if you are a regular chowhound contributer, you are well versed in good food. i think that food should not be put down. for instance, i have been fascinated with hagus. i've never eaten it; i can't wait to try it. whether i like it or not when i do try it, i can still appreciate that it is part of a culture that i got to experience. ethnic food, to me, is a window into the identity of a people. i treat it with respect. i felt your comment didn't honor that and i think we all should hold each other to that standard. i hope you agree.

                                        1. re: alienlifeforcecube

                                          of course we should all respect each other's cultures. but that doesn't mean that we can't joke around.

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            I know you also don't care for Uni but this is even more of a favorite of mine than Natto. At S.I. I often order Uni nigiri style with a raw quail egg yoke on top. I also like Tobiko done with the raw egg yoke too.

                                            1. re: RoyRon

                                              so R 'n R (Ha! that's a military term for Rest and Relaxation!): any theories on why the age no-dashi tofu is the way it is at SI? am i laboring under some misconception about it always being dashi based in Japan?

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                I think Age Dashi Tofu like many other dishes has many different versions. I think the S.I. version has way too much of a soy sauce base in the broth compared ot other versions I have hade. I like a lighter flavored dashi type of broth with a lesser amount of soy sauce. Almost more like a Ponzu type broth but without the citrus flavorings.

                                    2. re: opinionatedchef

                                      Not sure where younare getting this absolute certainty on the view of Natto by the Japanese. Have you ever actually spent significant time in Japan?

                                      1. re: Gabatta

                                        is this what you are referring to?:
                                        <And i know that you know that japanese are most amazed by your taste for it.>

                                        yes. was a common experience for me. you not?

                                        In terms of alot of haolis not caring for it , i think of natto as being the japanese version of the chinese 'stinky tofu'. it would be interesting to see if haolis who like one- also like the other.

                                        1. re: Gabatta

                                          I think I qualify as "having spent time in Japan" by having lived there for 7 years and traveling there for over 25 years. In 2011 I made 5 trips to Tokyo. I have found that many of my Japanese friends are quite surprised when I tell them I love natto. Years ago they were even surprised that I liked sushi but that has changed a lot since sushi has become so popular in the US.

                                          1. re: RoyRon

                                            Are they surprised because they think natto is distasteful (as another poster suggested); or surprised to see a non native who enjoys natto (along the lines of their previous surprise of your eating nigiri, sashimi, etc)?

                                            1. re: Gabatta

                                              I have found that natto is an acquired taste whether you are Japanese or not. I have met many Japanese who don't like it and as you may know it is mainly a Kanto specialty so people who live in Kansai or other parts of the country are less likely to enjoy it. In my case the surprise that a gaijin would like natto has more to do with the fact that I am not Japanese rather than anything else. All this talk about natto and other Japanese food has made me hungry for another trip to S.I ASAP!!

                                      2. re: RoyRon

                                        I love Natto! A Natto handroll? Must try! :)

                                        1. re: Trumpetguy

                                          I love natto, too! For whatever reason, I find it to be a tasty, malty, umami-rich condiment/foodstuff, even though I can't stand, say, Malta Goya (malt beverage; "umami soda"?!?). And for SI, I am "from" Wakefield (lived there 15+ yrs), and I hope everyone realizes just how blessed they are to have this spot. I've read a few mixed reviews, but hope people realize/remember that Wakefield Square, historically, hasn't been a cutting-edge culinary hotspot, and has tended to lag behind it's neighbors (Melrose, Stoneham, Saugus) in introducing restaurants that aren't from the "American Chinese" or "House of Pizza" mold. Granted, it's been a few years, but I thoroughly enjoyed the handful (4 or 5 trips) of visits I made to SI while I still had family in the area; I was immediately impressed with the size of the nigiri, and had not had sushi "cut to size" so properly since Chef Oga left Tatsukichi in Boston and they subsequently went out of business. Even though it might not be what I think of as "katsu", they also had a yummy "oyster katsu" obento at lunch. Hooray that SI has thrived in an area that hasn't always been mega-hospitable to diverse tastes (as well as it's sister restaurant, Duck Walk, which I presume is also still there? Although, I preferred the smaller Thai rest. across from the police station, which obviously is getting a bit off-thread...)! I will have to organize a field trip someday soon; as you may know, SI is a half-hour ride from Oak Grove orange line MBTA on the 136/137 bus, or a 5-10 min. walk from the Wakefield commuter rail station - not totally undoable or unreasonable, IMO, for a city dweller like myself. Thanks for reminding me about one of Wakefield's (and Massachusetts'!) "culinary treasures"!

                                          1. re: BrettLove

                                            beach bum, if you want an extra treat at Sushi Island, go on a nite when Akiko, the owners wife is singing. She's been away for a while but is back now with her great understated jazz vocals. I also love their avocado maki. The avocado melts in your mouth..And I like theier Agedashi tofu and the way the bonito flakes dance around..

                                            1. re: chompie

                                              Thanks, Chompie. I will certainly try to make it to SI to enjoy the music with my food. I had bad luck last week getting over there, but things are better now and I expect to head over a little later this week. Really can't wait!

                                              1. re: BeachBum143

                                                beachbum, if you want company, let me know via my member pg. Maybe royron would come too....

                                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                  I would certainly be open to joining you guys some night. Let know when?

                                                  1. re: RoyRon

                                                    great royron, email me through opinionatedchefatcomcastdotnet

                                                    1. re: RoyRon

                                                      ron, now that S.I. is gone or moved, i'm asking you about the other end of the sushi spectrum. Have you ever tried Sakura in winch. for 'all you can eat'/ cheap money?In the other, sakura, thread this option is photographed as including unagi , which has me very tempted. I've never ever considered going there but thought i'd ask you. [ My 'sushi satiation point' is MUCH higher than most people, and I never walked away from S.I. for less that $90 ($6-12 of which was saki.)]