Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thinking Outside the Roll

A friend of mine recently asked me to eat more rolls that DON’T have a California Roll base with fish on top. “I can’t stand those,” she said. I echo that sentiment, in fact, for I believe it is the chintzier sushi dives that serve this roll model.

I know exactly what she is talking about. She’s referring to the flaky imitation snow crab that gets hauled to restaurants in plastic bags, which sushi chefs tear into during prep time (before the restaurant opens for business) and dump their contents into large mixing bowls. The preppers then proceed to fluff up the faux crab meat, making it all creamy and moist by adding as much Japanese mayonnaise as possible without creating a white wading pool.

Right before the lunch or dinner rush, the chefs use this pink-and-white stuffing to mass-produce the ever-popular California Roll, by simply adding two more ingredients: cucumber and avocado. Then they lay the finished products on trays covered by plastic wrap, where they sit for hours and supply the demand in ready-to-go fashion. One sushi chef will crank out as many as eight of these inside-out rolls at a time, rolling them en masse with a plastic-wrapped bamboo mat known as makisu. Well, who wants assembly-line sushi?

I certainly don’t.

Sometimes, the chefs will try to get creative with these rolls by using them as a base for others such as the Dragon or Rainbow Rolls. They simply add eel on top to turn it into a Dragon Roll, or line up colorful raw fish slices over the base and call it the Rainbow. Likewise, a Caterpillar Roll is often nothing more than avocado draped over an “eel and cucumber roll.” Eel sauce drowns out everything, so you can’t see or taste what is in the roll anyway.

Kudos to Niya Sushi (formerly Kiki’s Sushi) of Huntington Beach, for charging about the same price as what some of these other restaurants will charge ($9.25), for a roll of a similar name and style—only way better. Introducing the Cactus Dragon Roll, which uses spicy crab stick meat (much more exquisite than the stuffing I mentioned) and the surprising addition of shrimp tempura, which normally is not integrated with a roll with "Dragon" in its name.

This roll packs a spicy bite as well as a crunchy munch, and the minced crab stick meat with Sri Racha sauce (normally referred to as “Red Rooster Sauce,” since it has such a logo on its green-tipped bottle) is not too hot as it coalesces with the sweet mucky delight of eel sauce. Ahh….

The chef went out of his way to dress up the Dragon, adding a mint leaf collar, yamagobo feelers, and eyes made of the suction cups of octopus (yikes!)—even a touch of shaved bonito for effect.

1 comment :

Unknown said...

I love your concept of a chintzy sushi dive. lol.