Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hara Maki and Sweet Shrimp Sashimi at Osaka Japanese Restaurant in Valencia, Spain

Osaka Japanese Restaurant of Valencia, Spain

I didn't go into Spain expecting much of the sushi; therefore, I wasn't disappointed. Inbetween bites of oil-saturated, overly salted tapas and tastings of the more sophisticated variety (I'm talking gazpachos, fish egg-laden baguettes and violet-flavored ice cream), I still somehow found the time to duck into the occasional Japanese dive.

While European sushi never did impress me much in general (I find most of it rather bland in taste and lacking in authenticity), I always found it amusing to read menus in different languages, from French to Danish to Dutch. In Spain, eel is written as anguille and spicy tuna is referred to as atun picante.

In the city of Valencia, the Japanese restaurant of Osaka serves a roll known as Hara Maki, which the menu defines as "California Roll and masago." The four-piece order which costs almost 9 Euros contains a stick of imitation crab (the cheap, flavorless variety), cucumber and avocado, but the additional ingredients of tuna, salmon and oshinko are a nice surprise, and the masago turns out to be wasabi tobiko. Although not bursting with flavor, by European standards it is at least decent.

What made me miss Los Angeles sushi, however, was the fact that the 10-piece sweet shrimp sashimi that Osaka served, while highly quantitative for the price of 8 Euros, was low in quality as far as taste, freshness and sizethese were nothing like the large ama ebi I knew from back home, whose bodies are served as sushi and big heads are fried to a crisp and then presented separately as a crunchy snack with ponzu sauce.

C/. Ribera, n 8
46002 Valencia, Spain

Planet Sushi's "B.For" Restaurant in Ibiza

The Sushi of Ibiza

The Balearic island of Ibiza, renowned for its wild nightlife and beautiful beaches, is also home to a certain trendy sushi-lounge known as "B.For," by the company Planet Sushi which also manages locations in Paris and Milan (it makes you wonder why they didn't just name the restaurant Planet Sushi). Patrons of "B.For" are surprisingly more image-conscious and well-dressed than even the party-goers down the street at Pacha, one of the island's more famous nightclubs. Perhaps it's because of the architectural splendor (the better part of the restaurant is on a terrace), or the electronica music that plays in the background and the club-like lighting and atmosphere. "B. For" also delivers ordersto your home or boat (this is an island, after all).

The picture menu in their multi-page pamphlet may have lured me to the restaurant, but the turnout on the table didn't quite measure up. The "Green Ebi Fry" roll (with shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber) would have tasted much plainer had it not been for its outer coating of dill and green onions, but that didn't mean the roll was enhanced by the green stuff.

"Dill doesn't really go with fried shrimp," my travel companion stated, and she was right. Nor did it go with the cigarette smoke billowing over from the next table, helped by the wind since we were dining al fresco in Europe.

The Big Egg Chicken Katsu Roll we ordered came sheathed in a thin wrap of omelet (which I at first thought was yellow soy paper) and drizzled with what seemed like eel sauce and a spicy aioli. It looked nothing like the photo, and although it wasn't bad that they had substituted cream cheese for red bell peppers, it was just too much sweetness on too bland a base, although the crunchy chicken inside made the roll less gooey. This maki cost nearly 12 Euros, but we figured it was worth trying.

The "Red Slim Prawn Spicy" Roll (about 10 Euros) might have been better without the same sauces that were used on the Chicken Katsu Roll, but it really resembled more of a Vietnamese-style spring roll, since the wrap was neither seaweed nor soy paper (nor omelet), but translucent rice paper.

Finally, just to be funny, I ordered the nutella maki for dessert. Covered in coconut bits and chocolate sauce, it was hard to tell whether there really was any nutella at all in its center. But this may just be the best maki they serve.

B. For's service and hours here are very European: slow and relaxed; the place doesn't even open for dinner until 9 p.m. The water you ask for turns out to be expensive glass-bottled Evian.

b.for by Planet Sushi
Avenida 8 de Agosto
Edificios Los Girasoles 2
S/N 1 07800 Ibiza - Islas Baleares
+34 971 316 797

Galante Roll in Seville & Octopus Roll in Madrid

Sushi of Seville and Madrid

Seville's take on Japanese cuisine was a bit more interesting and savory. The restaurant JAPO, which surprisingly charges as much as 14 Euros for a Caterpillar Roll (most of Seville is considerably cheaper than touristy cities such as Barcelona and the pricey island of Ibiza), boasts a hip menu with imaginative combinations.

Although the Caterpillar sounded intriguing with its ingredients of eel, apple, crab roe, cheese and eel sauce, I opted for the Galante Roll, which contains salmon tempura, mango, cream cheese, king prawn and chives (the chives turned out to be green onions; perhaps they ran out of chives?). Overall, this was probably the best-tasting maki I had in Spain, and I know it had something to do with the rice being seasoned properly at this restaurant.

In Madrid, you can get just about any kind of food from the Mercado de San Miguelfrom deep-fried stuffed mussels still on the shell to egg-and-anchovies-covered baguettes. And then of course there's the "Sushimarket" section with ready-to-go boxes of rolls. Next to cases of what appeared to be California and Philadelphia maki was the odd one out: a roll covered with seaweed salad mixed with chopped octopus and topped with citrine-colored tobiko. This one was unexpectedly potent, for the sauce had obviously been pre-mixed with wasabi. Inside the roll? Avocado. A nice hidden filler that softened the wasabi's sting, anywy.

When in Spain, go for the unusual Spanish food, not just the tapas--but try the Japanese restaurants. Just for fun. And don't expect much.

c/Alvarez Quintero
45-41004 Sevilla, Spain
+34 954 56 0000

Mercado de San Miguel
Madrid, Spain