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Cafe Sushi Cambridge

Starting a new thread to break this topic out of a rather long thread on O Ya: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/796911

I have not been to Cafe Sushi in over 2 years, but will be in at some point this week. Hopefully the reports are accurate as I can walk to this place in less than 5 minutes and have been pining for good sushi on this side of the river for a long time. We have been enjoying Gen Sushi in Belmont, but Cafe Sushi is in our back yard.

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  1. I'm trying it too. Let's compare notes!

    1. Tried the omakase. Averaged about $4 per piece. A broad assortment of less common fish although some were rather mushy, of only average freshness, and few stood out as pieces which I would order again. They were short on fatty fish when I was there, no toro or belly, no Santa Barbara uni, no botan ebi. Condiments were minimal. Not in the same category as O Ya as far as creativity, more traditional with generally bland flavors and little mixing of raw with cooked/fried elements, but worth trying if you're in the neighborhood. Start with their signature assortment of 5 sashimi and then perhaps move on to some cooked food.

      5 Replies
      1. re: barleywino

        bottom line: would I go back? probably not, unless i was in the neighborhood and wanted something specific.

        1. re: barleywino

          Good to know--I haven't been to this place yet but maybe I'll hold off, at least for now. Where do you like to go for sushi in Cambridge, barleywino? Have you been to Genki Ya at Fresh Pond yet?

          1. re: hiddenboston

            One mention about Genki Ya - they seem have a larger-than-normal selection of vegetarian sushi (rolls mostly) - the mushroom ones are particularly decent.

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              I go to the one in Brookline, but haven't been to the Cambridge location yet. Their chilled fruit roll is outstanding, IMO.

            2. re: hiddenboston

              Hb, haven't been to Genki ya yet, will have to put it on the list, thanks. Unfortunately not very familiar with Cambridge sushi options...

        2. Have any of the others who were threatening visits been here yet?

          1 Reply
          1. re: FoodDabbler

            We were going to go but then got caught up and defaulted to Genki Ya Brookline instead (since we live nearby). I have to say Genki Ya was definitely a big miss last Thursday. Maybe I just haven't been there in a while or my standards have changed (since I started making homemade dashi/miso I try to avoid most miso soups because the instant kind just doesn't do it for me) but just in terms of the fish: Two pieces of dry, bland, gummy Salmon nigiri were comically spilling over the rice. The cut was twice as long as the rice (maybe if the customer feels like they are getting a value they won't notice the quality of the fish?) Eel nigiri was poorly cut and chewy with overly sweet sauce. The rice for all of these was dried out and clumpy. The roll we tried was fine, crab with avocado. I always enjoy the little tapioca/red bean ice cream ramekin palate cleanser they give you at the end.

            Clearly we are in need of a new sushi place; next time we'll give cafe sushi a try and report back.

          2. First, thanks to BarleyWino for pointing me in the direction of this thread. BW, I did manage to convince my colleagues to suffer the walk in this heat to try this place. Bottom line, I'm glad we did.

            I'm not an adventurous sushi eater (yet), and neither were my DCs, so we stuck to standard fare, but the chalkboard list behind the chefs has me ready to branch out. In particular, "Massachusetts Sea Bass" sounded interesting, as did other bits I can't now recall.

            That said, I got some edamame which were nicely steamed and salted, and the hamachi maki roll, which consisted of spicy tuna and asparagus on the inside, and seared yellowtail on the outside. The fish tasted fresh to me, and the flavors blended well. My only complaint is the rice and roll was kind of loose which made it a bit tricky to eat.

            One DC got the sushi bento box, which was HUGE. She couldn't eat it all, so I benefited from some omelet (sorry I don't remember the Japanese word for it), and a shumai. The shumai was excellent - tender, and full of shrimp which tasted very fresh. The omelet was good too, but I'd never had that before so I have no idea if it was a proper version.

            My other DC got the tempura roll which she enjoyed, and the... umi shiso? roll - cucumber and preserved plum. I tried a piece of the latter and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I'd been given a preserved plum to try years ago by a "friend" and nearly choked on it, so wasn't expecting to like this. Clearly preserved plum is better as an ingredient than a snack!

            Two criticisms I'd read online were about the decor and service. Maybe it's my New England upbringing, but I didn't find the decor to be "cold" either in temperature or atmosphere. There were beautful black and white photos on the walls, and the ceiling is painted a calming dark blue, which made the environment feel calming to me. Our server was prompt and attentive without being overly friendly.

            All in all, I am looking forward to returning. While I was there I saw some other dishes going out which looked good, and the Ginger Peach Sangria on the menu was tempting. Also, those blackboard specials beckon...

            22 Replies
              1. re: Dea

                Actually, I think the report of "loose rice" in the nigiri and maki is a plus rather than a minus. One of the biggest errors in sushi making is to pack the rice to tight, I think.
                The omelet, by the way, is tamago, which some say is a great test for the quality of a sushi joint. I'm not able to do that, though. I use a piece of hamachi nigiri.

                1. re: justbeingpolite

                  Thanks to both of you. Is Tamago supposed to be kind of sweet? Because theirs was. I was a bit surprised by it, but not put off. My maki was spicy so a bite of sweet was welcome, if unexpected.

                  1. re: Dea

                    Yes, one of the ingredients is sugar. So it should like a watery, mildly sweet egg omelette.

                  2. re: justbeingpolite

                    The reason Tamago can be one test of a good sushi place is because most sushi places don't make it in house, they buy it. Those that go to the effort to make it in house, and who make it well, are clearly going the extra mile.

                    Loose rice is good! You want the grains to wash over your tongue and not just have a wad of rice split into two clumps. Sushi rice packed too tight is definitely one of the most common mistakes I've experienced around the area.

                    1. re: Klunco

                      Making Tamago is one of the early steps in a sushi chef's apprentice training, long before making sushi rice or cutting fish.

                      1. re: gourmaniac

                        That's interesting. Why do so few places make it in house then?

                        1. re: Klunco

                          Most places aren't very good. A sushi chef apprentices for years including months in making Tamago. Most places don't have that level of attention or training.

                          1. re: Klunco

                            FWIW, as nobody seemed to address your question; tamago ("properly" made, at least) is a layered "omelet" and requires prep work somewhat commensurate with making a lasagna. As with lasagna (or puff pastry, or...), it seems many consider the best renditions to consist of multiple wafer-thin (or perhaps thinner?) layer upon layer, so it can get a bit more involved than just "setting the eggs up" in a pan.

                            Ed. And before y'all go replying that since most chefs use the bamboo rolling mat to make the tamago, therefore it's not like lasagna, save it - it's just a reference point to make mention of the layering technique and illustrate the level of "involvement".

                        2. re: Klunco

                          Interesting about the Tamago. I'll have to try it in a couple of other places for comparison, but I definitely enjoyed this version. Very light on the tongue, a little sweet, but not too cloying.

                          Re loose rice - I guess I need to learn how to better handle chopsticks and not depend on super sticky rice! I was not impressing anyone with my skills the other day!

                          1. re: Dea

                            Or just eat 'em with your fingers, I think that's actually appropriate etiquette.

                            1. re: justbeingpolite

                              That is excellent news. Thanks JBP!

                              1. re: Dea

                                Oops, sorry Dea, looks like I was wrong about the chopsticks:

                                http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/07/0...

                                but on further review, Anthony Bourdain sides with me (or me with him):

                                http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/07/1...

                                1. re: justbeingpolite

                                  Rule 13: Don't believe every item of pretentious, pompous pap you read on the intertubes. It is perfectly OK to eat sushi with your fingers. And completely contrary to that nonsense pomposity, if you order rolls, you eat them last. Always.

                                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                    Heh. Looks like Morimoto agrees with you too, JPB and Uncle Yabai: http://www.thebraiser.com/sushi-myths...

                                    I might have blushed a bit that day, at Cafe Sushi, but once one of my chopsticks rolled under the table, I forged on with my fingers. I'll remember the tip about eating the rolls last, though!

                                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                      "Don't believe every item of pretentious, pompous pap you read on the intertubes."

                                      "if you order rolls, you eat them last. Always."

                                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                                        But you can believe some items of pretentious, pompous pap you read on the intertubes. Anything I say should be taken as written in stone. Hope that helps.

                                        1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                          If you write on stones, how do you fit them into the intertubes?

                                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                                            I like to mix up my maki with my nigiri.
                                            Anybody got a problem with that???!

                                            1. re: justbeingpolite

                                              If it's uramaki you're mixing with your nigiri, we're going to have to take this outside.

                                              1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                You should all calm down and just enjoy the food! The sushi chefs are not some composite super-ego from hell - no one's judging how you eat! They make good food, and like to see it enjoyed. Eat whatever you order however you want and take your cue from the jazz that's always playing. Relax!

                                                1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                  @FoddDabbler:
                                                  Oh yeah?!
                                                  By "mix up", btw, I mean alternate a piece of maki (regular maki, not the battleships) with a piece of nigiri. When I read it in your post, it sounded kind a gross.

                        3. My favorite dish at Cafe Sushi is salmon sashimi donburi, and the house salad is great. Tend to go there for lunch vs. dinner, and to sit at sushi bar. The rest of the room is cold and uncomfortable, and think that that accounts for much of the lack of love on this board. The ambiance is a buzz kill.

                          By the way, this is a place where it pays to be a regular. I've had some amazing gifts from the chefs.

                          1. Finally went tonight and tried a wide assortment of sushi/sashimi. Wow, we will definitely be back! Reasonable prices (it still adds up quick), a wide variety of very fresh and well presented fish, great cutting, good rice.

                            Decorwise, what can I say? From the outside looking in, it looks like any other neighborhood sushi place. This is what I love about Chow, if I hadn't been reading this thread I never would've stopped in. We sat at the bar which was great as we got to watch the chefs and interact a little. The tables are very close together and stark black (definite ambiance killer) so I was doubly glad to sit at the bar which I always feel is more conducive to intimate conversation.

                            Started with a cheap 300ml $16 Hakushika Ginjo. Clean tasting, if somewhat bland but certainly not offensive and completely solid for cheap sake. Miso soup was better than average and certainly less salty, but not as good as homemade.

                            First Round:

                            Madai Sashimi - Clean, touch of lemon, bright. Almost oyster-like ocean flavor. A nice start.
                            Kuro Suzuki Kobujime Sashimi - A meaty piece of Japanese seabass that had been cured with Kombu. Perfect cutting job, like chewing on butter. Slight undertone of brine/umami from the cure with a clean creamy finish.

                            Even this early, I knew we had finally found a go-to sushi place.

                            Round 2:

                            Saba Sushi - Often Mackerel is dried out or slightly funky from hanging out. This was a large (not too large) piece that was gorgeously oily (in a good way) fresh and moist.
                            Nasu Sushi - Marinated Eggplant with yuzu koshu. Meaty, smokey, delicious.
                            Salmon Aburi - Seared Salmon Belly. Probably my favorite bite of the night. Slightly smokey sweet, fatty Salmon.
                            Tamago - A MASSIVE piece of tamago clearly housemade. Slightly sweet, still moist! Not the bland, dried out rendition found at most places.
                            Vegetable Futomaki - The only roll we tried and it was the most disappointing item of the night. Not horrible, but certainly nothing special or worth ordering again.

                            Round 3:

                            Ikura Sushi - Plump, briny, sweet, marinated Salmon eggs. The ocean.
                            Umi Masu Fennel - Tasmanian ocean trout with shaved fennel and orange. Our first foray into their non-traditional offerings. Delicious combination and the fish wasn't overwhelmed by the fennel or orange surprisingly. It had a wonderful refreshing crunch from the fennel.
                            Maguro Zuke - Soy, Mirin, Garlic cured tuna. Firm but not tough texture from the curing. I was impressed in how judicious the curing process was. The tuna wasn't overly salty or tough.
                            Nibitashi - Soy and Mirin marinated beech mushrooms. Umami heaven, beautiful to look at.

                            All in all a delicious meal and definitely our new go-to sushi/sashimi place. If you're more of a maki person, I can't say how you will fare because our only maki was pretty meh. We will definitely be back. I look forward to trying the Nabes come wintertime and the broiled salmon/hamachi collar.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Klunco

                              The reason for the decor is because it hasn't been updated since Madonna was a new sensation. I went there a number of times back in the mid-80's, and the decor was already dated. The food was forgettable too, but it sounds like something's happened to the place in the recent past.

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                Something has happened there: a new generation of chefs, some related to the owner, some not. It's an unpretentious place with awful decor determined in large part by the hideous architecture of the high-rise it anchors. [I used to live there, & so feel free to come down hard on design.]

                                Feel guilty broadcasting this, but the sure-fire way to get a great meal there is by sitting at the bar, which is small. I think the space alienates the chefs as much as the customers.