Monday, March 3, 2014

Rainy Day? Shoot it!

What does one do on a rainy Sunday? There’s the usual for the hoi polloi: television, grocery shopping, chores. I decided to vanquish the commonplace and go on a tour of shooters.

Ask for a shooter in most sushi bars and they might not know what you mean. Ask for a shooter in certain—not necessarily high-end—restaurants, and the chef may ask you, “What kind, the Quail Egg Shooter or the Oyster Shooter?”

Although I am not an avid fan of the generic chain restaurant known as Kabuki, there are a few things the place does right, and one of them is offering relatively inexpensive dishes. Kabuki’s version of the Oyster Shooter, like most of their items, is passable and to the point: oyster served in a shot of spicy ponzu sauce, $4.50. Or, just “Shooter” for $1.75—quail egg in a shot of spicy ponzu sauce. Kabuki throws in masago, green onions, and red chili sauce, which is what makes their shooters spicy. And for some added flair: a light sprinkle of the airy, silky strands known as shaved bonito. The fact that the shooters here are alcohol-free may contribute to the low-cost factor (although, I am sure, you can ask the chef to customize it by adding alcohol or various other items).

Of course, there are some sushi restaurants that mix both the oyster and the quail egg in one shot, perhaps adding cold sake and sea urchin to it, then renaming it something quirky like Viagra Shooter, as does Miyako Sushi in Glendora.

Incidentally, Miyako Sushi is the only sushi bar I have seen that has such a specific shooter menu. If you want quail egg (uzura in Japanese) in it, it’s $2.95. For a shooter with oyster (kaki) inside, it’s $3.95. Upgrade to uni, also known as sea urchin, and it’s a $5.95 shot. The Viagra Shooter, which combines all three, costs $7.95. (Perhaps this one was appropriately named because oysters have long been thought to be an aphrodisiac food?)

I decided on the Viagra Shooter, and watched as the chef filled a stylish martini glass with sake, which was soon diluted by ponzu and a driblet of Sriracha sauce. He then tossed in the most popularly used garnishes for quail egg and oyster shooters: masago and green onions. After dropping in the seafood, he added a final touch: a slice of lemon, perched on the rim.

Shooters are fun. In my opinion they are sold as a novelty—in social gatherings, they often start as a dare among friends and end with peals of laughter. Does one shoot it and swallow the contents all at once, just like a shot? Or does one sip—because whoa, it might either be too spicy or strong in liquor flavor—while scooping the edible parts into one's mouth, so as to be able to chew the contents and actually enjoy the seafood essence?

I chose to sip, and then with my chopsticks, I plunged into the murky depths of the brown liquid to dredge up an oyster here, a piece of sea urchin there, feeling like a kid playing with her food while she eats. Finally there was nothing left but little green and orange floaty bits that swirled in the micro sea of spicy sake and sauce.

Although not a sushi restaurant, EMC Seafood & Raw Bar of Los Angeles introduces a bit of Asian fusion to some of their courses, and presents a pretty version of the Oyster Shooter. For $8, this one is plated rather nicely, and it’s up to you to add the ingredients, making it even more fun. Ponzu and Tabasco sauce arrive in a shot glass with shochu, a distilled Japanese beverage; and upon a bed of ice: a cracked-open speckled quail egg (so you get to see what it looks like before you plop in the mini yolk), an oyster on its half-shell laden with uni, salmon eggs, chives; a wedge of lemon. This is one shooter that is both tasty and fun to look at: seemingly lighter on the brown ponzu sauce, the see-through shot glass offers a clear glimpse at the heap of gooey ingredients like no shooter I’ve ever experienced. This is also the only place in which I've ever had an oyster and uni shooter followed by a plate of uni pasta, as if a chaser to my shot. 

In my research, I've seen variations in the components for the proverbial "Oyster Shooter," from Japanese ingredients like yamaimo and furikake, to more American flavorings such as horseradish, Worcestershire and cocktail sauce. Some recipes even call for vodka in place of sake or shochu—that is, if you desire to include any alcohol at all. The only limit, it seems, is one's imagination.

3539 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

Miyako Sushi
1836 E. Route 66, Glendora

EMC Seafood & Raw Bar
3500 W. 6th Street, Los Angeles

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