Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Drink Your Fish

I am not much of a drinker…but that doesn’t mean I won’t have a glass of fish once in a while.


Of course I have seen it before: a fancy martini glass literally brimming with chunks of raw fish and garnishes like slices of cucumber and sprigs of sprout. (And if you read last week’s blog, you’ll know I have at least been a fan of spring rolls served in elegant glassware.)

Kanpai Sushi in Los Angeles may not have invented this form of food presentation, but they have certainly perfected it in their “Kanpai Cocktail” by adding unheard-of toppings like tosazu jello, a brown gelatinous substance made of vinegar and bonito (a type of baby tuna), and by throwing in the more expensive items such as king crab and caviar, which most restaurants are far too stingy to add to seafood medleys.

And at only $9 per dish (or rather, glass), how can you beat it? You hardly notice the base of filler items consisting of seaweed salad and cucumber, which help add size to the portion without robbing them of too much of the meatier stuff they put in there, such as tuna and yellowtail. Besides, you need your kelp.

You don’t really drink it—not right away, anyway. The idea is to pick all the meat off the top with chopsticks, then eat the roughage, and then finally, quaff the residual jellylike mass (about the size of a shot) in a big gulp.

You do this and your body reminds you, after you swallow, that it is not really a liquid you’re imbibing, nor is it sweet like dessert or seductive like alcohol. It is salty, and pungent and sour and strong, like doing a soy-sauce-and-vinegar chaser that is tinged with the taste of fish. You do this only if you want to polish off the gelatin-sauce-thing, no one will force you. You do this…and you have completed your daring fish-cocktail undertaking. You are proud.

The sushi chef stares at you and for a moment you think he is disgusted that you have actually sucked down all the fish-jello, or maybe he’s astonished that you have not gagged; but then you realize he is merely curious what you think of his creation as he asks, “You like it?”

Of course…you will love it.

Zen Sushi in Hollywood calls their version the “Poki Martini,” a bit pricier at $13 but the fish cups runneth over. The chunks seem bigger here, and maybe crab is absent but the salmon surface. Toppings on this one: smelt fish eggs instead of caviar, and burdock root (yamagobo) in place of sprouts. Sorry, no brown gooey jelly stuff to inhale on this one, but ordinary fish-followers may love that about it.

Find Kanpai Sushi at 8325 Lincoln Blvd in Los Angeles, and Zen Sushi at 8163 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.

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