Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gator Roll in Tampa, Florida

It's a Florida Thing...

Seriously, how about an Alligator Sushi Roll?

Unlike the Spider Roll, which only describes what the softshell crab inside resembles, the Gator Roll at Matoi Sushi in Tampa contains an actual tempura-fried alligator tail. What does it taste like? Well, like anything else that’s fried with lots of sauce on it—good.

As far as texture goes, it is a bit chewy, sort of a cross between the deep-fried rattlesnake tail they sell at the L.A. County Fair and your standard shrimp tempura.

At Matoi Sushi, most of the rolls are covered with similar toppings: avocado, eel sauce, the obligatory orange-hued spicy mayonnaise, and either seaweed salad or masago. The super-sweet Gator Roll, which is dressed to the hilt with condiments galore, tastes great but unless you knew there was a reptilian tail in every bite, it could just as easily pass for a calamari- or shrimp-based roll. It’s something you order for novelty’s sake. Besides which, most of the other Japanese menu items are pretty generic; Matoi Sushi, despite its name, actually specializes in Korean cuisine, featured on a separate menu.

Matoi Sushi
602 N. Dale Mabry Hwy
Tampa, Florida

BBQ Eel & Papaya Hand Roll, Grilled Portobello Mushroom & Cream Cheese Roll with Onion Salsa at Sushi Blues Cafe in Hollywood, Florida

Mixing Blues Music with Sushi

On Florida’s southern Atlantic Coast, the city of Hollywood is home to Sushi Blues Café, so named because of the fusion of Japanese cuisine and culture with American blues music. On weekend nights, a live band called Bluesman Spencer performs, and a Japanese drum show is featured once a month.

But it’s more than the music that makes patrons want to dance—the food here hardly gives you the blues. Although I’ve seen the integration of fruit with sushi many a time, this is the only restaurant that I’ve seen combining barbecued eel with papaya in a hand roll; it’s also the only place I’ve seen mixing grilled portobello mushroom, scallions and cream cheese in a cut roll topped with red onion salsa, both unique and delightful concoctions.

Another selection that suggests the tropical tendencies of Floridian cooking: the Crunchy Coconut Crusted Telapia Salad with creamy pineapple salsa dressing. And of course, it wouldn’t be a true Sunshine State menu if there were no conch—so it makes it appearance in a Spicy Conch Salad with avocado cucumbers and melon.

Sushi Blues Café
2009 Harrison Street
Hollywood, Florida

The Smashing Tuna and The Cowboy Steak Roll at Sushi House in Orlando, Florida

Inside the Sushi House

While perhaps better known for its stone crab and king crab, the city of family-oriented entertainment does offer sushi for those who absolutely must have it. Conveniently located near the Florida Mall, there’s the Sushi House in Orlando, which serves unconventional dishes like the Smashing Tuna—chopped spicy tuna, green onions, tempura flakes and eel sauce served on fried tortilla chips (normally, fried wonton chips are used in this dish, so this is an interesting, and slightly crispier, difference). For another interesting twist, try the Cowboy Steak Roll, which has medium rare beef, cucumber, asparagus, cream cheese and teriyaki sauce.

Sushi House
1311 Florida Mall Avenue
Orlando, Florida

Friday, December 10, 2010

Benton's Bacon Roll and The Bagel Roll at One Flew South in Atlanta, Georgia

Bacon Sushi at "One Flew South" in Atlanta

It’s a well-known fact that most airports offer overpriced food that is not exactly spectacular in taste. So why not pay a little more for…well, more?

For those who can find the time to chow down between flights at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia, there’s always the option of dining at One Flew South, a sleek and upscale restaurant located next to the food court at Concourse E. Amid the lineup of stagnant food brands such as the ever-ubiquitous McDonald’s and the generic Panda Express, One Flew South stands out like an oasis (although at the nearby Nature’s Table Bistro, the fresh Georgia peach juice is apropos and highly recommended).

One Flew South may specialize in mostly hot food, but the restaurant happens to boast a sushi bar with a number of amazing cut rolls ranging from $10 to $16. One noteworthy detail in most of the rolls is that only English cucumbers are used. (As opposed to many other varieties of cucumber, the English version tends to be less bitter, with a skin that is generally not as hard and thick.)

I ordered the $12 Bagel Roll, which comes with smoked salmon, Greek yogurt sauce, and English cucumber. Using a lemon zester, the roll is then topped off with citrus shavings, which are commonly used on many of the rolls in place of sesame seeds.

Per the chef’s recommendation, I agreed to try the Benton’s Roll, which isn’t on the menu but as with most items that are “off the menu,” it was a special dish that was mind-blowingly good, although a sushi roll with bacon and avocado does sound wacky.

But this is no ordinary bacon. It comes from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, the famous purveyor of hickory, smoked, and aged pork products in Madisonville, Tennessee. Its deeply rich and pungent essence is further enhanced by the restaurant’s in-house seasoning and caramelization process using brown and white sugar, salt, and fresh cracked pepper. Above all, it’s finished in the oven, which gives the bacon its extra crispness.

This bacon can also be found in the restaurant’s Bacon and Sweetgrass Dairy Chevre (goat milk cheese) Salad. Want to try a hot plate the restaurant recommends? Order the Duck Breast with Sweet Potato Puree, Brussels Sprouts and Blueberry Reduction.

One Flew South
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
Atlanta, Georgia