Saturday, July 12, 2008

on the twelfth day of sushi, my true love gave to me...

*(DJ B points out that I never revealed the source of the title "Hut" on day nine. It's the dorkiest possible answer, and brought to you courtesy of Austin Gray: "hut" is the Klingon word for "nine". I can hear your groans from here, folks, and I'm immune.)*

As expected, I was moving a little slow today. Our power went out for about an hour this morning, at about 7:15, so things got pretty stuffy in the house. After the air kicked back on, I fell back asleep and was only roused at eleven by a freshly-showered Boo, who certainly knows the exact right time to request something I would ordinarily not be down with. He suggested in a very enthusiastic tone that today would be a great day for me to try the new menu at Kien Gang. A little back story... Austin just loves Kien Gang, a very spare and divey Vietnamese restaurant in the same parking lot as the K & S Market on Charlotte, site of many an exotic marketing adventure. I gave Kien Gang at least three solid tries before I decided it was simply not for me. I don't mind the spring rolls, although ours that we make at home are better. Beyond that there just hadn't been any entrees that I liked enough to finish. I'm not comfortable with pork of that particular shade of magenta, and shrimp and I are just so rarely on friendly terms.

But they introduced a new menu recently, with much more elaborate descriptions and a whole vegetarian section (and you and I both know I'm the furthest thing from a vegetarian, but if I won't eat the meat or fish there, I guess that's what I'm left with). And I've most certainly owed Austin a trip to his favorite place, especially after dragging him into Douglas Corner and Rumours last night. So we went, and the menu did look much more promising. I tried Sally-ing my own vegetarian special ("Can I get the deep-fried vegetables from #2, but with the vermicelli from #1 and the curry sauce from #5?") but was shut down (response: "No."). So I got the stir-fried vegetables and tofu with curry sauce, and it wasn't half bad. At least there were no bean sprouts or tiny corn, and I understand this was just barely a vietnamese dish at all, but I made a good effort and Badness accepted the leftovers. So there you have it: I ordered a tofu dish in a restaurant. Write it down.

After that I needed another nap, and then finally got my shit together enough to take a shower and straighten up the house. Then we went to acquire Casey from the airport, with the intention of going to eat with her at Rosario's after she'd put her things away and greeted Zeke. We should have realized, of course, that after three days in Texas she wasn't going to want any piddly Mexican Food-for-Nashvillians. Duh. She suggested Ken's, Austin said no. I boldly tossed out the idea that we celebrate my work-related windfall with a trip to Samurai, and Austin said yes! Sushi bound!

I can't imagine that you read this blog and don't already know this, but Samurai Sushi is my favorite restaurant in Nashville. It is a tiny hole-in-the-wall on Elliston Place, although it has become significantly less tiny since they renovated the jewelry store next door into an additional dining room. It is operated by a remarkable man who we know as Choo, who is kind and welcoming and generous, with a reputation for only offering high quality seafood. And it isn't just that his fish is fresh and tasty. Choo's special rolls are inventive and memorable, with surprising touches like sliced strawberry or mango, and I'm sure a high percentage of my enjoyment comes from the sheer beauty of this food. The colors and textures and repeating shapes lull me into a blissful sushi stupor.

When we first discovered Samurai in the summer of 2004, it became an obsession. Once we ate dinner there two nights in a row. We left Bonnaroo after four hours and drove straight there (best Bonnaroo experience ever). Then we realized we were dropping $50 a visit (including tip, but still) and cut ourselves off. Now it's a special date trip, an anniversary dinner, a celebration, a treat. And usually we decide way ahead of time that we can have Samurai on xx date, and I spend at least a week fantasizing about it. Tonight, with such a short time between decision made and dinner ordered, it felt like a surprise.

Here's a tour: on the left is the Vandy roll, with eel, salmon, avocado, crab, deep fried and topped with wasabi cream sauce. Casey thinks it's her new favorite. On the top of the plate, under the ginger, are Dynamite Rolls, spicy crab with cucumber. These are our longest-running tradition at Samurai, and we always start with Dynamite for our first bite. Over on the top right is Crispy Roll, arguably my favorite. It's almost interchangeable with the Vandy roll but also has cream cheese and teriyaki sauce. These deep fried rolls are bigger around than the others, which means only six big pieces instead of eight smaller pieces, and somehow they seem more precious. In the middle of the plate, towards the top, is the Oops roll: yellowfin tuna in the middle, topped with red tuna and three different sauces (dynamite, wasabi, something else). Below that is spicy tuna, which we only got because the Tornado roll isn't on the menu anymore, and the spicy tuna was the best part of that, but really it doesn't compare to all the rest of the glamour on the plate. At the bottom is Austin's favorite, Sushi Burrito: shrimp, crab, eel, other gooey things, wrapped in soy paper.

Plate Two: Across the top is a new special, called Ironmiss (what could that mean?). Salmon, avocado, something else, wrapped in soy paper and topped with a progression of kiwi, strawberry, mango, plus more yummy sauces. The pieces with mango had the best combination of flavors. At the bottom of the plate is the Sunday Morning roll, which isn't on the menu, so sometimes we run the risk of it not being made properly by a chef other than Choo. Tonight it was perfect: salmon and cream cheese, rolled up with rice on the inside, deep fried, sliced on the bias, topped with thick sweet teriyaki sauce and a dollop of sriracha on each slice.

Plate Three: Jewel-like slices of fish, salmon, white tuna, red tuna, a present from Choo. Thank you, Choo! I couldn't resist taking my pieces and sliding them around in the saucy goodness of the other plates. In the four years that we've been enjoying the revelation that is Samurai Sushi, we have never once left a scrap of food on our plates. Tonight was no exception. I think they could just keep sending out treats, and we would just keep eating them, until they had to lock the doors to keep us away. Bliss.

It had started to rain when we got to the restaurant, and picked up steadily as we lingered over our meal. I tried to dash with the umbrella to get the car while Austin and Casey were waiting for the tab, and ended up with my jeans soaked to the knee and nearly lost a shoe in a river running out of a drainage pipe. Thunder and lighting and horizontal gusts of rain, the works. After some maneuvers to get my dinner partners dryly into the car (mostly successful) and then up to Casey's porch (not quite so effective), we rolled home at a snail's pace and tried not to hydroplane off the road. At home we had to stage a kitchen holding pen to keep our muddy dogs from destroying the rest of the house before we could get them toweled off. Now everyone is (mostly) dry, and the muddy damage was minimal. I'm still rolling around on the couch holding my sushi-full belly and smiling a lot, and feeling very satisfied and magnanimous with the world in general. It's my sushi-colored glasses, they make me a nicer person.

P.S. I was almost reluctant to post these sushi pictures tonight, because I know they aren't great pictures, and I'm terrified of folks like JenYu and Melissa Strawberry who have recently expressed opinions about low quality food photography and photographing meals in restaurants, respectively. We haven't figured out the features of our new camera yet, so hopefully my food blogging photos will improve over time, or at least I can have more opportunities to take pictures in natural light, which I know makes all the difference. So please don't judge, I know I have a lot to learn!

1 comment:

DJ B said...

As an official disciple of the Cult of Choo (one of my fondest dining memories is the night he gave Lisa and I a set of chopsticks each in little bamboo boxes to take home) and a somewhat-practiced photographer, my most enthusiastic kudos on your shots. A lot of photographed food looks gross (Jimmy Kelly's ads anyone?) but you did a great job of catching the visual feast of colors and shapes that starts the salivary glands a-hummin' for the actual tastiness that follows.

Also, tell Austin the Miss Saigon down in Cool Springs (near the Target) is worth the drive - for some reason her food is better than her brother's place on Charlotte...