|What REAL sushi looks like!|
All I wanted this year was sushi. I mean real, honest to goodness sushi, with raw fish that melts in your mouth. As I had made this mandate a good while ago, Scott had been on a search for such a place, and he found it in Shimogamo in Chandler.
My birthday being on a Wednesday, we didn't bother to make reservations, and we were able to walk right in and sit at the bar.
Our chef Al introduced himself and explained the four specials of the night. He was great - it was clear that he loves what he does, and he had a great rapport with the group of three sitting a bit farther down the bar, clearly some of the many regulars who were there that evening. He was willing to not just give us the rundown of what was in the various rolls but also to educate us about the different fish that they had, where the fish was from, and more. It was a meal, a show, and a lesson all in one!
Though we ordered plenty off the menu, one the first items Al made us their house roll, which was a fried shrimp, cabbage, a tiny bit of roe (for the crunch), and lemon, among other goodies, all wrapped in rice and seaweed. To say it was delicious doesn't do this roll justice (don't you see how pretty it is off to the left there?). The textures and taste all just were so... perfect. I had poured myself the usual soy sauce, and the wasabi was at the ready, but neither were necessary for this mouthful (FUN FACT: it is proper etiquette to eat this type of roll in one bite).
Then on to the tuna and salmon (yum yum yum!). Again, the fish was so pleasant that I didn't even think about dunking any bits into the soy sauce. I know a lot of people are leery of sushi - "OMG, it's raw fish!!!!!!" But this isn't like a catfish caught in a local pond, and the velvety texture and meaty fullness of a sushi-grade fish is so worth the try.
While we did eat a good deal of just the sushi (the fish placed over rice), we also had a few more rolls. The tsunami roll was amazing. Currently (I don't know for how long), 50% of the proceeds for this roll are going to the American Red Cross for disaster relief in Japan. I can see why the restaurant selected this roll - it has to be popular! It has lobster, crab, tuna, avocado, and cucumber (but no rice!), and it's tempura fried, so the tuna is just oh-so-slightly seared. Served over a citrus-miso-Sriracha sauce, it's out of this world good.
|No words... just drool|
There was more, too. Scott had the eel, and I had a few pieces of snow crab. Both of these are cooked dishes. Eel is kind of sweet; I have tried it and just do not care for it, but you know a Pacific Northwest girl has to love her crab!
|Uni, escalor, and scallops - oh my!|
We also had a spicy scallop roll, which was also cooked (their non-spicy scallop is served raw). I don't remember the last time I had scallops in any manner, but I always said I didn't like them. However, just like Elmo teaches HRH on Sesame Street®, sometimes you have to give a food a few chances before you decide if you like it. In this case, I really really really like scallops when they come with this sweet, spicy sauce.
Now, some people are leery of sushi restaurants because of the "danger" in eating raw fish. Many of these are the same people who wouldn't think twice about eating their steak medium rare (as I do, I should point out), even though there are tons of little microbes and other cootie-like things in beef. Anyway, the most commonly known "danger fish" is fugu - Japanese puffer fish. Probably the coolest fish ever, it contains a neurotoxin that can be fatal if consumed in high amounts. Only the most skilled sushi chefs will prepare this fish; in Japan, chefs must train for three years before being allowed to take the safety test, and a great majority of them still fail. In the United States, restaurants can apply for a permit to serve fugu, but very few of them do. Al said that he didn't even want to venture into this area.
However, the restaurant does serve escolar, which is a very oily fish. The large amounts of oil can cause, well, stomach discontent, and many people will caution you against trying it for fear that you'll be regretting it all night. While the internet is full of true facts (remember when Stephen Colbert changed the Wikipedia entry so that African elephants were no longer endangered?), we figured we'd trust the man with the extremely sharp knife; Al told us that, yeah, you'll get an upset stomach if you eat a huge quantity of the fish, but a few bites isn't going to do anything. And, seeing as there was no fugu, we were down. Thus, Al brought out the blow torch (awesome - now it's a fire show!). He seared the escalor and then placed a little pepper on top. The oil in the fish combined with the searing made for a great flavor! It was very meaty, and I'd most definitely recommend ordering it - but seared. We had a sample of the raw escolar, and it was underwhelming, just as Al said it would be.
By this time, the group down the way had left and another couple - also regulars - sat down in their stead. Instead of the usual pickled ginger and wasabi ball that is served everywhere (by the way, the ginger is a palate cleanser, in case you were wondering what to do with it), Al placed something bright green on the husband's plate. At this point, we were unabashedly gawking, and we asked, "What's that?" Al handed over a small bowl of it, saying "It's wasabi of the gods."
Wasabi of the gods INDEED. This was the chopped stem of the wasabi plant instead of the root, which is the minty green ball that we are so used to. It. Was. Wonderful. Still sharp and spicy and wasabi-y, it was also fresh and grassy. Note to self: make sure that this wasabi of the gods is ordered next time!
Mackerel on the left
Baby halibut on the right
Finally, we didn't know what else to get, so we said, "Surprise us." Boy, were we surprised. Our last two items were a mackerel with lemon and ginger - not bad - and a baby halibut with Japanese mint, drizzled with truffle oil. All right, I don't know how many times I can say something that we ate was amazing, but this was amazing. I'm not sure if it was the baby halibut or the truffle oil or the combination of them along with the mint (which wasn't minty minty like we think of mint, but very refreshing just the same), but it was fantastic.
All in all it was a fabulous birthday evening. Dinner was perfect, and the atmosphere of Shimogamo was comfortable and friendly. I do believe that we were the only people who were not regulars. If you are looking for a new place to try, Shimogamo is it. Go during the week, and you'll likely be able to walk in like we did. But on the weekend, give them a call - the place holds only about 25 people, and we were told that it fills up fast. With menu items like the tsunami roll and the blow torch-seared escalor, though, it's no surprise. I just may ask for sushi at my birthday dinner again next year.