Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It has been many years since I have been to Sushi of Gari. In my memory, I never thought they were that special because when it come to sushi I am a purist. Chef Masatoshi "Gari" Sugio has always taken a modern and innovative approach to sushi. Recently I have been on a sushi high where I must indulge myself in the bliss that is raw fish every few days or else I start having withdrawal symptoms.
I wanted something light and tasty before my 2nd dinner at Le Bernardin in the Theater District. Since I had not seen Tofu in so long, I thought I would take this opportunity to remind him the joy of sushi and satisfy my craving! Don't get me wrong, I love fine dining but sometimes you have to cool the palette with some melt in your mouth sushi!
At lunch on that day, I called up all 3 locations to try and make reservations. Not surprising, but the first two were booked. Finally when I called the newest addition, Gari on Columbus Ave in the Upper West Side, and they were able to squeeze us in. Reservations are a definite must. It's better to be safe than sorry.
If it is your first time at any of the Sushi of Gari locations, I'd highly recommend their Omakase so that you may experience their well known dishes. They have a few options of omakase, but I prefer the pure sushi omakase. First you can choose how many pieces that you would like to begin with. The server kindly asks what fishes you like or dislike and if there is anything that you would definitely like to see. Since this was not my first time, I had a general idea on what pieces that would suit my taste. They actually did a pretty good job into tailoring the menu to my liking and even Tofu loved what he ate.
No soy sauce is provided as each piece is already season or soy sauced to the way the chef's liking. On each plate there is a recommended order on where to start. Of course this can vary by personal preference.
For the first set of four sushi was Toro, Lobster, Yellowtail, and Cod. They call their toro the "Melting Toro" or Hagashi (or it might have been spelled Higashi). The toro is topped with grounded daikon and ponzu. My recommendation is to eat each piece in one bite and savor the moment as the fish melts in your mouth. I thought the flavor was subtle and sweet. The toro was not as fatty as I like it but still tasted very fresh and soft.
I was delighted to see that lobster was on the menu since I live for lobster. On top was a nice helping of Osetra caviar. The lobster was either semi-raw or might have been lightly poached. This was a little piece of heaven to me. It was sweet and very tender.
Next was Tofu's favorite, the yellowtail with chopped jalapeño and yuzu. I've had this concoction in many Japanese restaurants, but this was a first for Tofu. This is my favorite preparation for yellowtail. The spicy kick from the jalapeño and the citrus flavor explosion from the yuzu stimulate all the senses on your tongue. If you have never tried yellowtail this way, I recommend going to one of your favorite fresh sushi restaurants and ask them to make you an order in this fashion. It will change your perception of yellowtail and sushi fusion.
When I saw the seared cod, I was a little afraid that this was another overcooked piece of fish. To my surprise, they actually did a very nice job on just searing the outer surface and keeping the inside rare. I loved the delicate sweet texture of the rare cod that blended perfectly with the delicious smokey burnt flavor of the outer layer and the sweet sushi rice below.
For the next set of four sushi pieces Tofu and I differed in the last piece of sushi. We both would start off with the Tempura Fish, Mackerel, Black Sea Bass, and then finish with either the Maguro or the Uni. As many of you know, I am not a fan of regular tuna. My love is for Toro, fatty tuna!
They recommended to start with the heavier piece. It was a little hard to hear through the loud noises and accent but I heard Amadai and Tai as the type of fish that was fried in tempura batter. At first I thought it was Red Snapper but now I am leaning more towards Tile Fish. Regardless it was a white fish that was fried then topped with black pepper, sea salt, and lemon. I felt the fist was a little bland overall. It would have been a lot better if it was served raw or if they marinated the fish before battering it.
The Chopped Horse Mackerel with scallions and ginger was surprisingly tasty. I am normally not a fan of mackerel but they seasoned it nicely. Mackerel can tend to be a little fishy but here it tasted fresh and sweet. The ginger was not overpowering and everything just blended together nicely in unison.
I thought the Black Sea Bass with roasted seaweed on top was a creative touch. The roasted seaweed had a unique taste and added a crunch to the texture. It really reminded me of fresh tea leaves being toasted. Everything was fresh and flavorful.
Tofu enjoyed their signature Maguro with spicy tofu on top. After seeing this dish again, I was a little tempted to try it since it has been a while and I know that this is one of their signature sushi.
Then I had my Uni with wasabi on top. All my jealousy and envy went away as I reveled in the sweetness of the uni. The wasabi they glazed on top was made from fresh wasabi and most likely yamaimo that makes it more gelatinous. Since this was omakase style, everything is seasoned ahead of time or I would have added a drop of lemon to kick it up a notch. Nonetheless, the uni was fresh and sweet.
Last but not least was the finale for the night. We both had the Wild Striped Bass, Salmon, Seared Toro, and for Tofu he had the Shima Aji while I had the Seared Foie Gras. I believe they did suggest an eating order but I knew what order I was going to finish my last plate.
Before the batter becomes soggy, I chose to have the Wild Striped Bass katsuage (or that is what I heard) first. The batter reminded me of chicken karaage. A very light and thin batter. This was much better than the tempura fish. It was savory and still had a very nice texture.
Throughout the last plate, I had to sneak many bites of the Seared Foie Gras with reduced balsamic vinegar on top of a steamed daikon. They actually give a very generous cut of foie gras. The balsamic vinegar was a nice blend of sweet and sour to cut down the fattiness and bring out the savory component. Everything melted in my mouth and brought a huge smile to my face. I simply adore any and all foie gras!
Another one of their signature dish is the Salmon topped with a salted tomato. In my memory it tasted better. This time around, I felt that the salted tomato really took away from the natural taste of the salmon. I couldn't really taste the freshness of the salmon or experience the smooth texture. The tomato was too overpowering and dominated the palette.
We both had the Seared Toro with ginger soy sauce. I was really looking forward to this but I felt that they overcooked the toro. Both sides were seared so the toro ended up being fully cooked. This was a bit disappointing because I am trying to turn Tofu into a toro lover like I am, but this definitely wasn't the way to go.
For Tofu's final piece, he had the Shima Aji (Striped Jack) with sesame sauce. He seemed to love all the types of yellowtail and I can't really blame him because I do love yellowtail. They have just the right texture that is not too chewy and not too soft. It is a firm and tasty fish.
All in all I was pretty impressed this time around. Everything was much better than I remembered. Even though I am a purist at heart, I enjoyed the freshness and tasty concoctions. The server was super friendly and they listened to what fish I liked and disliked. As a first meal of the night, it really hit the spot and left me with a happy feeling. I think Tofu also liked it, which is always a good sign since he use to be so opposed to eating raw fish. Glad that our reunion could open his eyes to a new world of sushi. =DGari
370 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024
(212) 362-4816
Sushi of Gari on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 21, 2011

After an interesting lunch at Eleven Madison Park in NYC, I decided to venture out into the area and pick up some delicious treats to take home. At first, my only goal was to get the best donuts around town. Since I am only in NYC for such a short time, I had to make sure the time was well spent and filled with yummy treats. There were a few places that looked really tasty but I ended up coming to La Maison Du Macaron. For some odd reason I was on a macaron high. Maybe I missed Paris too much?
From the outside it looked like a tiny store but there’s actually an area for patrons to sip on coffee and enjoy their fresh pastries or macarons. I felt that the staff there wasn’t very friendly and not very inviting. They had the attitude and vibe that says, “Just hurry up and order.” I was a little hesitant in taking photos openly, but at least I wasn’t met with any resistance there. Still, the overall vibe was not pleasant.
They had a nice selection of macarons. The colors were very vibrant and enticing. For their Fall Collection they offered some interesting flavors. I decided to try their Caramelized Pear Walnut, Nougat Lavendar, and Black Fig. To be honest, none of these were really any standouts for me.
Since I went after lunch, they ran out of the Caramel Fleur De Sel for the day so we didn’t get any of Ms. Lin’s favorite flavor. It must have been popular, so I will have to try them out next time. I asked if they had anything else that was like salted caramel, but they only had a lollipop with that flavor.
My favorite flavor was the Rose Lychee Liquor because of its subtle rose flavor intermixed with the aromatic fragrance of lychee. They have quite a few flavors mixed with alcohol and champagne in particular. Personally, I didn’t really enjoy the ones with champagne because they had a bitter after taste.
Beware of the Pistachio Fleur D’Oranger. It might look pretty with the dual color shell, but the flavor was just a bit off.
All in all the macarons here were a decent size and the shells had a nice chewy texture. My biggest qualm was that the filling was very buttery and almost a little too much. I know it is weird to hear me complain about something being too buttery but I felt like the butter flavor overtook every bite. Not all macarons were overpowering. I think the more fruity flavored macarons were the safer ones. The prices felt a little steep, but I think it is just NYC for you. A dozen macarons were $30. I went to 3 places for macarons on this short trip and they were ranked number 2, but not that much better than number 3. So who was number 1? Well, you will just have to stay tuned for updates about my NYC trip. O=)
La Maison Du Macaron
132 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 243-2757
La Maison du Macaron on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Based on the recommendation of my close pal HT, who just became HM, I came out to try Ohshima and their omakase. It is tucked away in a strip mall. The outside decor is simple and misleading. At first I was a little worried at what kind of sushi place this is. Once inside, my fears were lessened as it was pretty packed with customers. It would be wise and recommended to call and make reservations to avoid a wait. If you choose to sit at the sushi bar then you must order the omakase, which was exactly what we wanted.
First they start off the omakase with a snack. That night they were serving house-made cold cooked tuna. I prefer this to pickled vegetables since I am allergic to all vegetables. O=) It was a nice nibble to get the appetite going.
We started off the night with Sea Bream. A fresh slice of fish that's lightly seasoned with salt.
Next came another delicious Toro, I think the first was chu-toro and this was o-toro. I really enjoy their precision in presentation. They actually take the time to mark the beautiful grooves into each piece of sushi. It really makes a huge difference in presentation. At first glance, I thought they were just perfectly textured cuts of fish but as I spent more time watching the chef at work to see his detail in slicing the fish. Bonus points for making each piece look like a masterpiece and taste just as fresh.
They were definitely pulling out the goodies in the beginning of the show. Next came the Hotate, Scallop, with a sprig of yuzu. The only way to eat scallops is with a touch of citrus to enhance the natural sweetness.
The Gold Stripe had a texture reminiscent to yellowtail. A slightly chewier but still delicious taste. This seems to be one of the signature items in their omakase.
As for the Sea Bass, they add a dab of yuzu chili pepper to kick it up a notch. Sea bass has a texture that is similar to snapper. I love my sushi with yuzu chili pepper to add that sour and spice flavor, which exemplifies the natural taste of the fish.
What Ohshima is most known for is there Cherry Salmon. I know you are all wondering if there is any difference from regular salmon? Well, I think there is. I think that the cherry salmon has a slight sweeter taste and a more delicate texture. A bonus is that this was a fattier cut. Yum!
I am normally not that big of a fan for mackerel, but I have had a really good Spanish Mackerel in NYC. Ever since then, I have been searching for the same mackerel again. The reason why I don't like mackerel is that it tends to be on the fishier side and they often use ginger to mask that taste. The mackerel here was decent but not the best I have ever had.
Ah, the sweet aroma of fish being seared. Normally I don't like having Butter Fish in my omakase because it is usually fully cooked. Here, they lightly seared the top so that the delicate texture of the fish can remain in tact and tasted. It's a personal preference, but I enjoy the slight burnt taste from searing.
One of my favorite fishes is Toro because it melts in your mouth. I really enjoy that the chef takes the time to finely cut the grooves into each fish, which makes it that much more appealing.
Recently I have fallen deeply in love with Blue Crab Hand Rolls. I was glad to see that they offered it here as well. They have all the blue crab pre-packed in saran wrap for each roll. Their blue crab does not have a heavy amount of mayonnaise. Instead, they add a dab of soy sauce on top. This is good, but I still have to say that Sushi Wasabi has the best blue crab in my opinion. I like the intense blue crab flavor that their hand roll has along with the mayonnaise. Here, it is lighter in taste but still enjoyable.
I recommend getting their House Marinated Uni cold dish. It's priced very reasonably and has a good amount of uni on top. They add a mix of savory and sweet together. The first time I had it, there was more of a citrus flavor. I actually just went again tonight and there wasn't much citrus flavor but more of a fruit flavor. Still, it was savory and satisfying.
Time for trying something new. They offered Neptune, which I had not had before. A seafood named after the Gods? Bring it on! =) The texture reminded me of mirugai, a chewier texture.
We have all heard of red snapper, black snapper, and now Blue Snapper. I thought the color was very vivacious. It was a lot of softer than I had expected because snapper can be chewier at times. This was light and fresh.
Who can resist Alfonsino when you see it on the menu. The difference here is that they seared the sushi. I thought this was an interesting take by adding the burnt flavor.
Since there wasn't much yellowtail on the menu, I had to get the Young Amber Jack. Got to love the soft texture with a slightly chewy texture. Always a safe choice for sushi, but I might be biased because I love any form of yellowtail.
We decided to try the Horse King Fish that was rubbed with sea salt.
Even though I knew this would be a chewier fish, I couldn't resist ordering the Thread Fin. It's a slightly chewier fish that they lightly brush with soy sauce.
Stay away from the Uni Spaghetti. I thought the uni they used happened to be muddy. The noodles were al dente but the sauce was just bad. I couldn't stand the uni part though because it was not fresh. The uni in the house marinated uni was much better.
Who doesn't love Santa Barbara Spot Prawns? Well, I do! I was crazy enough to drive all the way up to Santa Barbara to buy some live ones. They are just so irresistibly sweet and tender. Be sure to add a touch of citrus to truly bring out the sweetness. To show us that they are live and fresh, they even took them out to show that they are moving before they peeled the shrimp.
As always, they give you the choice of what do with the head of the shrimp. You can either have the heads made into a soup or fry them up. I usually choose to have it fried and dipped into ponzu.
One thing I always try to look for on the specials is the Orange Clam. Here they offer it live and plated it nicely. Unfortunately, the clam was extremely fishy and didn't taste very fresh. Normally they are very sweet and tasty but I thought that it was a miss that night. Albeit, I did enjoy that they separated the clam into three parts based on the cut and texture. I only wished it was as tasty as it was pretty.
On the specials menu they offered the Marinated Miso Cheese. It was an interesting pairing. They used fresh greens, pink peppercorn, and apples. I thought it was a nice mix of flavors across the board. The saltiness from miso plus the hint of spiciness from the peppercorn really brought out the sweetness of the apple cubes.
Since we had almost ate everything on the board, I decided to try the Black Cod before we started repeating some favorites. They rubbed sea salt on top instead of soy sauce.
Although not pictured again, I had to have some items again. We were totally cleaning up the fish and as a treat, they gave us an order of fish eggs on the house. That was nice of them but I wished it was more fish! =)
All in all the first time I went there, I had a great time and really enjoyed all the fishes. I actually just went there again tonight and now my opinion has changed. Don't know if it was an off night or what happened but I don't have an urge to come back any time soon. Unfortunately for them, I didn't write this review earlier or else it would be a highly glorified review. Maybe it was because I sat at the table and who prepared the fish made a difference? For now, I guess maybe one day I will give them a third try to redeem themselves because I had a great time the first time I went. I did enjoy my company tonight but I thought the food was really lacking and wasn't as beautiful as the first time I had it. Even though I came hungry, it didn't taste great. I will most likely stick with Sushi Wasabi for now. It's really too bad because I had such a nice feeling after the first time I went. Sigh! Oh well! Still, I did not change my review of what I had the first time but I must heed the warning to my readers on what happened tonight.

1956 N Tustin St
Orange, CA 92865
(714) 998-0098
Ohshima Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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