Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Boston's Oishii

I must apologize to anyone who reads Soused Blueberries. I've not written as much as I've wanted lately, because we're in the process of trying to sell our condo in Salem, and in doing so, I've had to cook much less. Keeping a condo clean enough to "show" kind of sucks. That being said, if you're looking for a place in Salem close to the train and in the middle of everything, I'd be very psyched to see this home go to a good soul.
All that being said, I kind of lost it a bit the other day, and the bigger half and I need a little culinary reprieve from this whole realty thing. So we splurged on sushi. Good sushi is worth the splurge. And if you're asking yourself whether your nearby sushi place is as good as Japan, unless it's a little nosebleedy, yeah, it's not as good as in Japan. In fact, the rice probably sucks, and that's the true sign of an unworthy parody on what can only be considered a years-of-practice art form overseas.
Still, there are places that are great in the US. There are a number in New York, the best that I've experienced being that of Sushi Azabu. But in Boston, we're kind of at a loss, and it pains me to say so. I've tried Uni, my favorite of Ken Oringer's restaurants, but to be fair, it's not a sushi restaurant... it's a sashimi restaurant which prides itself on being tremendously creative. Then there's Oya, which everyone seems to love in Boston, but I really don't think that they can be called "classic sushi." I've only been there once, and though it was very expensive, I thought they overused items like truffle oil and sesame oil. Also, having attended a dinner during mid-week, they may have been less attentive than during the Friday or Saturday dinner service. I found a bone in one of my pieces of fish, and to add insult to injury, a shell in the lobster salad, which frankly I wouldn't have ordered at all but it was in their current omakase offering.
So what is the best sushi in Boston? It's undeniably Oishii. Having been disappointed by the food at Oya, I had been reluctant to try Oishii. But I had a hankering and in my madness, the bigger half said that he would treat me to a lunch at the restaurant we had resisted so long to try.
The sushi bar
It's a rather large space, with a couple smaller dining rooms on the main floor, and additional space on the lower floor. The sushi bar is longer than others that I have seen, with a large variety of fresh fish available for all diners to see. There's an area of the bar dedicated to sea urchin, and another to varieties of roe. Then there is fish upon fish upon fish, and three sushi chefs chatting in Japanese to each other. Acetically pleasing? You bet. It's quiet and comfortable, intimate but not cramped... a lovely place for a celebration dinner... or for a "my wife is freaking out and we need action" dinner.
Enough. Onto the food.
The bigger half and
sakura smoked hamachi
Smoked hamachi
Sakura Smoked Hamachi Sashimi: Every blog entry, every review, and even an episode of TV Diner I had watched featured a little spot on this appetizer. It's very dramatic, and a lovely preparation with every element of drama serving a purpose. A tall glass arrives at the table, with a mound of little grains on the bottom of the cup. On top, there is a small tin filled with something smokey, hopefully the sakura wood as promised in the title of the dish. Then there's a little grate on top, and a wooden cup resting above that. This cup is filled with a sweet, almost plum-flavored sauce, slightly sticky and delightfully salty. And within the sauce are four generously thick-sliced morsels of fatty hamachi. The server instructs that when we are ready to eat, we may lift the little glass lid off of the cup, allowing a bit of smoke to escape, and then it is time to consume the hamachi. The smokey flavor had penetrated the flesh of the fish, giving way to a nicely sweet and briny bite of tender, unctuous yellowtail. With that sweet sauce, the smokey pieces of sashimi are quite a delight, and definitely achieves a wow factor right from the get go of the meal.
Yuba soup
Yuba Soup: As a second appetizer, we also opted for the yuba soup. Back in Japan, I first had the pleasure of trying yuba, the skin that forms when making tofu, at small restaurant specializing in preparations of the dish in Nikko, a city famous for it's temples and a certain sleeping kitty carving (nemuri neko). Every dish we had there focused on different textures available in this one very special type of food, and it has left only the most delicious impression in my mind. Whenever I see a dish with yuba, I have to go for it. This soup's yuba was house made, and a very good version. The generous helpings of gently folded blankets of yuba swam in a shallow broth of sweet and aromatic dashi. It had the essence of the sea, broken up by the slight resistance and chew of the yuba. The coup de grĂ¢ce on this subtly elegant dish was a sprinkling of mountain caviar, also known as tonburi. These seeds have the mouthfeel of caviar, bursting with a touch of earthy flavor as each bulb squeaks between one's teeth. This was another fantastic dish, and definitely worth ordering if you've never had yuba before.
Grilled hamachi collar
A morsel of hamachi
Grilled Hamachi Kama: If you have ever been to an izakaya, first off, YOU RULE! But more importantly, you probably miss wonderful dishes like simply salted and grilled fish. If you're a little adventurous, and a bit of a glutton, you probably really miss the grilled collars of fish. The delicate meat from around the neck and face is a treat when done correctly. And with each morsel of meat that you're able to separate from bone, you're treated to a juicy, lightly salted, and fresh flavor of the ocean bite so wonderful that one would have tremendous difficulty suppressing a smile. Oishii features the grilled, salted collar of hamachi. Delicate white flesh, juicy, and dipped into a vinegary soy sauce pooled at the bottom of a large bowl is delicious. There is the traditional strands of daikon meant to further deliver sauce with the fish to your mouth, and I can't emphasize enough how wonderful the quality of fish is that they are grilling at this restaurant. This isn't a fancy dish, but more one that takes some timely picking apart, and is fun to share among friends.
Tako Sashimi: I love tacos and I love tako. Good god, I love great, somewhat juicy, tender, and perfectly fresh octopus sashimi. I prefer octopus in a sashimi preparation rather than sushi, because I feel that the flavor of the flesh is very delicate, even more so than any white fish. It is lightly briny, a tad salty, but only if you are really thinking about the flavor. There is a touch of funk that is only found in octopus. The most interesting part, of course, is the texture, which is chewy, but in fine tako, it should not feel like rubber. It should give way in a few chews, adding additional flavor to be savored.
Ankimo Sashimi: Every food show that features interesting food coos over their love of monkfish liver. And they're right to do so. It's undeniably the foie gras of the sea, same fattiness, same smooth pate-like texture. It's salty and firm, but creamy beyond what you would expect from anything else you would find from the ocean. I love ankimo. The preparation at Oishii features a touch of spicy sauce, and grated radish. It's a wonderful complement to the sweet and creamy monkfish liver, and I would definitely order this again.
Saba Sushi: I don't know why everyone hates on saba. What did saba do to you? It's the flaky, slightly pickled flesh of mackerel, served with just a sliver of skin, and the dark part of the flesh staring you in the face. I'm convinced that anyone who likes pickles, and let's face it, if you don't like pickles, you're a complete weirdo, but anyone who likes pickles would like saba. The vinegar of the fish complements the wafts of tangy vinegar in the sushi rice, which has been formed like a pillow to collapse on first bite. You have wonderful slightly salty and tangy fish, and that perfectly fussed over sushi rice. Don't tread on saba. It's awesome.
Glistening ika
Ika Sushi: If you need a benchmark for the good versus the mediocre, it should be the squid sushi. Bad sushi restaurants present something that is devoid of the delicate cuts in the freshest and cleanest of squid. When you put in your mouth, it's kind of like biting into the eraser at the top of a number two pencil. It sucks. It's chewy and doesn't give way the way it's supposed to. But great ika... goodness... it's sweet. It gives way gently between your teeth like the must luscious of... I don't know... bacon fat. It's amazing. The sweet, tender, and delicious ika at Oishii confirms the restaurant's dedication to collecting fine fish.
Uni Sushi: I've waxed poetic of the beauty of fresh sea urchin before... say at the restaurant Pai Men Miyake in Portland, Maine. I'll spare you the bible I could write about uni. But I will say that someone once told me it tastes like a man. hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. All kidding aside, it's a little murky, very creamy, but should be firm when freshest. When it mingles with the slightly tangy sushi rice, you are in for a real treat. If you haven't tried uni before, I assure you, ordering the Hokkaido uni at Oishii is a good idea.
Amai ebi
Amai Ebi Sushi: The first time I tried amai ebi, or sweet shrimp, frankly, I was grossed out. Having eaten many a cooked shrimp, raw shrimp can be a little bit of a shock. It's a little mushy, and the coldness and sliminess without the satisfaction of the chew of lobster, crayfish, or other crustaceans, just feels weird. But raw, sweet shrimp is really something that you learn to appreciate. It's the little bits of sweet flesh that really make one enjoy this dish. I guess I can't explain, because I know almost for certain that anyone that already doesn't love amai ebi can't possibly get past that first squish without a seriously open mind. Give it a try at reputable sushi restaurants only.
Anago Sushi: Anago is the lesser seen eel variety in this country. We often see salt water eel, also called unagi, but the fresh water eels are a little harder to get, or so I've been told. I've also been told that most of the unagi that we get at cheap take out sushi joints is frozen and prepared somewhere overseas, sauce and all. So what's the difference then between good versions of the two varieties? From what I can tell, anago is a bit milder in flavor, with a lighter touch of salt. It doesn't taste cleaner, but there is just more of a whiff of a fresh stream, clean water, rather than a salt water snake that's been doused with salty sweet sticky barbecue glaze. The anago at Oishii, again, was excellent. It was fresh, and only lightly dressed with a sweet glaze. The flesh was tender and flaky, maybe more so than its saltwater cousin.
Kobe Beef Maki: Kobe beef is not something to be taken lightly. It's not only a bit harsh on the wallet, but once having tried it, it haunts your dreams. Those delicate strands of fat intertwined with the most nourished and pampered bits of muscle come at you at random intervals and day dreams. The meat melts in your mouth, but if you dare to chew, and in this case, combined with the pillow of rice beneath, you are given only the most succulent of pieces of beef, raw beef to consume until your mouth is saturated with the utmost of buttery luxury. Steak-lovers will long for another and another and another piece of this wonderful nigiri. It's simply perfect.
To say that we enjoyed our experience at Oishii would be an understatement. To say that we'll be back soon is highly unlikely, because... yeah... the whole trying to buy a house thing is a real drag. But this little splurge was well worth it. I'll say again that this is the best sushi that I've had in Boston, especially the best classical sushi. If you really want to know what fine sushi is, better than your local joint in the 'burbs, if that is your place in life, then you have to make a reservation at Oishii in the South End, and throw a little caution and cash to the wind. You may find yourself captured by the very reason why people empty their pockets for sushi. You may even find yourself booking a ticket to Japan. I give you my full endorsement. Try Oishii and make it happen.

1166 Washington St
Boston, MA 02118 - 4113

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