Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sushi on St. Patrick's Day

Some strangeness is bound to occur when you decide to have sushi on a holiday known for corned beef and raucous drinking.

So here are some random thoughts from my experience Tuesday - teasers to the full story:
* "Tranny Sushi"
* Korean chef
* Ochazuke
* Wasabi "salsa"
* Pioneer Woman likes sushi too! (I'll explain this in a separate post. Stay tuned!)

Our Tuesday tale, with photos, follows ...

My dear friend Monica suggested I come check out Ginzaya, a Japanese place near her home in Silverado Canyon. She'd eaten some meals there and thought it good, but wondered how the sushi would rate.
And because I always trust Monica when it comes to food - she's Argentinian, a fabulous cook and has impeccable, adventurous taste (yes, I believe all of the above are related) - I definitely wanted to check out the sushi with her.
(Monica is also a marvelous artist - she created my whimsical blog banner - and has started an informative blog about horseback riding. She's my idol!)

So we decided to meet at Ginzaya on Tuesday night, not even thinking about St. Patrick's Day.

Comical Weirdness No. 1: The location of Ginzaya. This sushi place is tucked in a western-themed shopping center in Orange, near the entrance to Santiago Canyon:
The restaurant is medium-sized, with plenty of tables and a fairly long sushi bar.
A whiteboard listing specials of the day was propped up right in the entry. My mouth watered, reading these choices: toro, bluefin tuna, sweet shrimp and Spanish mackerel sushi or sashimi, and broiled black cod.

Monica and I sat down at the sushi bar, which was pretty empty at 6 p.m.
Within a few minutes of listening, I realized the sushi chefs are Korean.
Oh, well. So this wouldn't be a night of subtle, authentic tastes. That's OK - authentic Japanese food on St. Patrick's Day is just too weird a concept, anyway!

Comical Weirdness No. 2: A sushi chef who has trouble with both English and Japanese.
Things started off a bit awkwardly because our sushi chef, a young-looking Korean guy, seemed to struggle with English pronunciations.
I asked him about the fresh catches of the day, and he mumbled something I couldn't understand. I asked again, and he responded more clearly, but I still couldn't fully make out what he said.
I thought, "Maybe he knows Japanese," and that perhaps this would ease communication.
When I asked, he said he only knew a couple of phrases in Japanese. But that broke the ice, as he smiled and asked me, "What is your name?" in Japanese.

Eventually, I was able to understand Chef Ahn's English. And once he started throwing down our sushi, I had to give him some props.
He demonstrated plenty of promise in the way he served up the very good-quality, fresh fish. But he clearly needs to mature and learn some restraint to allow the quality of the fish to shine.
There was a lot of overdressing of the dishes - what I decided to dub "Tranny Sushi" - and the cuts were too large (good thing the quality was good), making for some clumsy eating.

First up: the aji Spanish Mackerel sushi.
Tranny Sushi Exhibit A: Trying too hard to be pretty. A tad too much ponzu sauce, too. Once again (as I did at Angotei), I mustered up my deepest taste buds to seek out the flavor of the fish itself ... and it was nice - tender, flavorful, not fishy.

Chef Ahn did offer up a nice extra - he asked if we'd like the mackerel carcass fried up and served, too. We said, "Sure," and he presented this to us:
Tasty, but in that how-can-anything-fried-not-taste-good? way. No outstanding flavor or texture.

Next up: the bluefin tuna, served up with a wasabi relish:
The tuna was perfect - mild, clean tasting, almost sweet - perfect with a dab of the wasabi relish on top.
Actually, Monica and I became addicted to the wasabi relish, with it's power punch of heat at the start, ending with a mellow, fresh-tasting crunch.
We savored that wasabi "salsa" on all our fish throughout the night, couldn't get enough of it. I'm going to look for it in Japanese markets; I think it's sold in jars or vacuum-sealed plastic, in the refrigerated section where other pickled vegetables are sold.

The toro fatty tuna followed:
Pure buttery goodness. I don't recall ever having it garnished with shiso leaf, but I liked the subtle tang of the leaf to cut the richness.
Monica, who loves shiso otherwise, felt it didn't work with the toro.

Tranny Sushi Exhibit B:
The albacore, which would have been excellent on its own, was buried in ponzu and onion slices.

Tranny Sushi Exhibit C:
The unagi freshwater eel. Come on - no need for the avalanche of bonito flakes and daikon radish! I definitely wanted this, of all sushi, served simply - broiled with a light drizzle of teriyaki sauce.
Plus, the daikon radish really doesn't go well with the unagi flavor.

Speaking of broiled (and simple):
The black cod was lovely - buttery moist, slightly sweet and flavorful.

By this time, we were full, and told Chef Ahn so. A few minutes later, he presented us a bowl, saying "Something special for you."
I grabbed the bowl, which was hot to the touch, and realized he had made a very colorful ochazuke rice soup, filled with slices of salmon and white fish (halibut?), tamago (egg omelette); roe; thin pieces of red, sweet pickled radish; and garnished with jalapeno to add to taste:
I couldn't help but think "Tranny Ochazuke!" with all the colors and so much going on visually.
But the flavor was mild and comforting, and we consumed it to the last drop:
It wasn't the best ochazuke I'd ever had, but I appreciated Chef Ahn offering up his special version to us.

Total bill for our sushi dinner for two (with green tea, no alcohol): About $70 ($35 a piece).
Not a bad price for good cuts of fish, though not necessarily presented in its best, natural form.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening of clashing cultures. My St. Paddy's Day At The Sushi Bar epitomized why I love multi-culti Southern California.

7522 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92869

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  1. You crack me up! "Tranny sushi"! hahaha. .
    Next time, conveyor belt sushi!
    It was a fun post, Iris. .can't wait for more!

  2. OMG! Tranny sushi is the perfect moniker! Hahahhahahaha. That sushi is a mess!

    I hate when they bury the fish under random things like bonito flakes, onion (wtf? too strong for raw fish), and my personal fav, mayonasu. Blech....

    Always good stuff, Iris. I almost forgot about the ochazuke, used to be one of my favorite things to eat on cold winter evenings. I always added an extra umeboshi even thought he Japanese warned me not to...