Monday, June 20, 2011

To Die For...

I was exultant when Blowfish Sushi to Die For opened a location in West Hollywood, devastated when it closed down. Was it a lack of business? It didn't seem probable, as the place was always full of roistering, with its loud music, nightclub feel and multiple screens that played naughty anime scenes. Blowfish was cool; it was hip; it was the hot spot to see and be seen, and it had a creative and approachable menu that also delivered as far as taste.

However, Blowfish did have an odd location on Sunset Boulevard which rendered it almost invisible. It sat at the tail end of the Strip, hidden from the epicenter of urban über-cool; and from its exterior, it was so formidable and dismal-looking that it might as well have been a bank building. I surmise that this had at least somewhat contributed to its demise.

Fortunately for those in the Bay area, two Blowfish restaurants still remain. The locations in San Jose and San Francisco feature menus reminiscent of the one in the late WeHo branch, with slight variations (i.e., both Bay area restaurants offer the exotic Ostrich Portobello entree and Ritzu Roll; whereas L.A. had the Animal Style roll, and the Spider Roll with the experimental sweet honey tartar sauce).

Fugu, which is the Japanese word for blowfish, is notorious for its poisonous parts, especially the liver. Only chefs who have been through extensive training are permitted to handle these pufferfish, so that the toxic portions are removed. It's no surprise that the preparation of fugu is heavily regulated by the law. With such a legend, it's ironic that this restaurant was named after the lethal creature of the seadouble entendre and cutesy caricature of a blowfish notwithstanding.

According to the staff at Blowfish of San Francisco, it is illegal to fish for fugu in the Bay area; however, during the winter months, the blowfish that accidentally get caught in te nets can be served. It's no cheap affair: it costs $300 for the six-part fugu-tasting dinner set, complete with blowfish skin with monkfish liver, blowfish stock soup with lotus root cake, blowfish sashimi with with Chidori ponzu sauce, deep-fried blowfish collar and center bone with shishito peppers, blowfish nigiri, and green tea ice cream.

But you don't need to order blowfish to have dishes to die for: the Halibut Crudo is a perfect sashimi special drizzled with truffle oil and mango salsa with colorful flying fish roe on top; the Hawaiian Wulu nigiri is a buttery white tuna that pairs well with a tomato ginger garnish. If you're a fan of salmon, the Sakezanmai is a great choice, with its crown of salmon eggs and center of salmon, salmon skin, shiso leaves and sprouts.

Occasionally you'll find things for more twisted tastes such as the seasonal Mother's Day Roll, an almost too-sweet treat with tangerine, avocado and oboro encased in a strawberry-flavored wrap not unlike a fruit roll-up. And then there's the Ostrich Portobello, which is quite amazing albeit a bit tough to chew; the avian meat sits on a bed of tempura-fried Portobello mushrooms soaking in purple beet vinaigrette and sweet ponzu reduction.

Blowfish Sushi to Die For makes you feel happy to be alive.

Blowfish Sushi to Die For
355 Santana Row, San Jose

2170 Bryant St., San Francisco

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