Thursday, January 26, 2017

Yummy Grill & Sushi and KAME Omakase of Las Vegas: Live and Rare Seafood

Chef Eric Presents...

Live Lobster Sashimi with Uni

Lobster with Shimeji Mushrooms, Uni Butter, and White Wine

Shirako (Fish Sperm)

Kamashida Toro Tartare with Yamaimo, Caviar, Tobiko,
and Gold Flake Gelatin Topping

Yummy Grill & Sushi in Las Vegas

At Yummy Grill & Sushi in Las Vegas, the chefs mean business when they write “Live Lobster” on the board.

Written right next to the words “Abalone” and “Octopus,” two other specials of the day that happen to be live, this popular invertebrate is so fresh, it’s still twitching as they pick it up and show it to me.

As much as I consider myself a seasoned seafood pro, I cringe slightly at the visual and at the thought of this glorified sea bug getting chopped up because I, ever the epicurean gourmand, agreed to shell out $78 for a two-part lobster meal…but only because I saw it move.

And as we all know, just because we love to masticate it doesn’t mean we want to watch the process of how it actually arrives on our plate. That’s what we pay them to do. We are paying for the food, the ambience, and the labor—and to be spared the guts and the gore.

Owner and Head Chef Eric briefly illustrates the details of the course that is to be part raw, part cooked—first comes the lobster tail, served as sashimi with raw uni and fish eggs; and then the lobster head, cooked with shimeji mushrooms, an uni butter sauce, and white wine.

It sounded fabulous to me.

Eric isn’t just a chef, he’s an artist, for his presentation of this dish was extraordinary. I have never before seen a fuliginous branch sprouting from a bed of ice, much less with an acorn to adorn it; upon the ice lay the shiny red tail and flippers of my doomed crustacean, born to be feasted upon, with its delicate freight of pink and glistening meat, embellished with caviar, ikura, tobiko and uni, with a few sprigs of sprout strewn about. What a perfect combination of flavors!

And there was the most unusual garnish: yamamomo, or mountain peach (about the size of lychee), which sat on the side upon a shiso leaf, next to a nest of seaweed salad. A mound of real wasabi sat on a mini wasabi grater—a lovely touch.

This chilled delicacy was a real delight, and was followed with smooth perfection using the head of the lobster, cooked as promised, with its meaty claws perched on the plate, as if posed humbly in a belated cry for salvation.

Last year, when I visited Yummy Grill & Sushi, I had ingested Shirako (also known as fish sperm, or milt, or sperm sacs), served with grated daikon radish, masago and green onions. Shirako, quite literally, means “white children” in Japanese. In my opinion, Shirako is underrated as a delicacy—if people love and seek out the proverbial caviar (the eggs of female fish), then why aren’t they drawn to the sperm sacs of male fish? Both are an acquired taste, exotic, and need not necessarily be reserved for seafood die-hards.

Of course the Kamashida Toro Tartare with yamaimo, red tobiko, Russian caviar, and a gold flake gelatin topping (which is about $30 and quite miniscule) might be an even more unique choice, as it’s one of the restaurant’s signature creations and pretty to look at.

At Yummy Grill & Sushi, you can find some of the most exotic fish and some creative concoctions—it might just depend on the day and on the mood of the chefs.

Right next door, KAME is an omakase-style restaurant by the same owner and chef. The 19-course omakase feast costs $165 per person, and reservations are recommended at least one week in advance, as it is a small 16-seat restaurant, with half of the highly coveted seats being at the sushi bar. KAME Omakase is famous for serving live items as sashimi (from live scallop and live uni to live abalone), and depending on the season, you might find rare items such as Congo baby eel and even live sea cucumber.

Yummy Grill & Sushi, and KAME Omakase
7331 W. Lake Mead Boulevard, Las Vegas

*Note: Yummy Grill & Sushi should not be confused with another restaurant of the same name in the city. The one on Eastern Avenue is not affiliated and has an entirely different menu.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Searching for Sushi in the City of Gold

View of Burj Al Arab from the Mina A'Salam Hotel's Private Beach
Dubai's Skyline

The Sushi Diva's Wanderlust Takes Her to Dubai

With more than 100 nationalities residing in the megacity of Dubai, and with cuisines that range from overpriced (in the glittery tourist traps that bedazzle the besotted, like me) to reasonable and authentic (in the modest, mom-and-pop shops that line the outskirts), it’s no wonder that in Dubai—a megalomaniac’s dream manifested in skyscrapers and resorts on shimmery desert sand—it’s easy to find sushi that parallels the city’s diversity.

In the week and a half of my quasi-Emirati odyssey, part foodie tour, part sightseeing, part delusional desert wonderland-chasing, I had my fair share of my favorite Japanese delicacy presented in various forms—highbrow, casual, fusion delight; in a fancy hotel, in a mall, in a hole-in-the-wall not yet fully discovered by all the locals.

I felt mixed emotions as I gallivanted through this artificial, overwhelming city in my hedonistic pursuits. Were it not for the Western business model of capitalism, perhaps greed, fear, and the human condition of never being satisfied, this kingdom built on fantasy and commerce might not even exist. What is it that makes us crave or desire anything, anyway? We are insatiable, seemingly, in our strife for more—more consumption, more thrills, taller buildings, larger shopping malls and souks. When and where does it end?

I felt partly riddled with guilt, as in my research I had read that this city’s construction has been criticized by human rights organizations concerning the treatment of its largely Southeast Asian workforce; yet I remained transfixed, curious about this hyped-up oasis that has been sold to the world as a glamorous playground for the extremely wealthy. (I found loopholes, however, that proved you don’t have to shell out big bugs to partake of what this destination has to offer, both for modest locals and wannabe-glam tourists.) And so I sallied forth into the mesmerizing, modernized desertscape….

YO! Sushi at The Dubai Mall

YO! Sushi written in Arabic
Enjoy the "Sit Take Eat Pay" Policy at YO! Sushi
Smoked Salmon and Chives Hosomaki
Salmon Skin Roll with Green Onions
Smoked Salmon Roll with Cream Cheese and Cucumber

YO! Sushi Wends Its Way into the Middle East

The Dubai Mall, of all places, happened to be the first attraction to which I gravitated on Day One of my trip: Hey, there is a method to my madness here...I felt it was a safe place to observe how the locals dressed in this Muslim country, in a walk-at-your-own-pace, air conditioned ambience.

I am difficult to please, and I am easy to please, I think to myself as I discover YO! Sushi inside The Dubai Mall. Normally I find ubiquitous chain restaurants to be obnoxious and repetitious; however, I felt pleased this time that YO! Sushi, headquartered in London, had wended its way into the Middle East. Although it's casual sushi, it's comfort sushi at a reasonable cost, and those who know me understand that I embrace (and blog about) all types of sushi, from the high-end to the lighter side of things, so that the world can see that not all sushi involves raw fish; it's not necessarily traditional, exorbitant or snooty. It need not be intimidating or confusing, and with the YO! Sushi chain, it can be approachable and fun at the same time.

I'm reminded of London when I catch a glimpse of chives in the smoked salmon roll that I pick up off the conveyor belt which snakes past my booth. (The English have a penchant for adding chives in their sushi rolls for some reason...that and red bell peppers.)

I'm a bit irked that they charge for bottled water here (I later learned that most touristy establishments in Dubai charge for water; they simply ask "Still or sparkling?" and next thing you know, you're paying $6 to $18 for a bottle of designer water wearing a dewy label).

The fact that there are signs in both English and Arabic everywhere amuses me. One side of the restaurant is open to the rest of the mall, and I'm enchanted as men and women saunter past me in Middle Eastern garb while clutching shopping bags emblazoned with Western brand names. The soothing sounds of the 24-meter-tall Dubai Mall Waterfall nearby lull me as they mix oddly with pop music in the background.

For good measure, I pluck non-sushi items off the conveyor belt as well: a chewy squid salad here (ah, there were red bell peppers in this one!), a trio of shumai there. The smoked salmon-wrapped roll of cream cheese and cucumber was actually quite aromatic, making me wish more sushi places offered more than just regular raw salmon.

Their to-go menu reveals more British sushi flair: a vegetable hand roll with strips of inari inside, the inclusion of dill in a poached salmon roll, the use of the chiefly Britain term aubergine as opposed to eggplant (there was an Aubergine Salad on the menu). And then you are quickly reminded that this is a melting pot in the Middle East, not London, when you spot a "Crispy Duck Futomaki" marinated in orange and Hoisin sauce, and a "Kimchee Salmon Salad."

YO! Sushi's motto is simple, and it's spelled out on a large sign in the middle of the joint: "SIT TAKE EAT PAY." Just like most sushi trains (otherwise known as conveyor belt sushi restaurants), YO! Sushi tallies up your plates at the end of your meal. How much simpler can it get?

The "Plate Rates" are broken down easily enough on a graph that appears on signs as well as on the menu: a lime green-rimmed dish costs Dhs 14 (as in 14 Dirhams, or AED$14, which is about $4.50 in U.S. dollars), while a yellow plate sets you back Dhs 26 (close to $8).

YO! Sushi
The Dubai Mall
Downtown Dubai, UAE
+971 800 9678744 or 800-YOSUSHI

The Best Place for Simple Sushi in Dubai

Sushi Counter at The Dubai Mall
Sushi Counter has the friendliest staff 
Mango Chutney California Roll
Crab and Beef Gunkan-Style Sushi
Tuna and Green Apple Roll with Blue Flowers