Saturday, February 18, 2006

You Had Me At Hello

Sorry about the cell phone quality picture, folks. Eel, shrimp, tilapia, yellowtale, salmon, fish row, tuna, scallops, flying fish row, albacore tuna...

This is chirashi sushi and miso soup. I also ordered albacore nigiri, but that went into my mouth almost as soon as the little plate hit the counter.

Musashi is the sushi equivalent of crack.

It's not a fancy place. The dining room is a white box crammed full of tables for two, roomy enough to be comfortable as long as everyone stays in their seat. The entire restaurant seats about 25 at tables and four at the counter. The kitchen seen through the counter is not a showcase. In fact, at first glace the kitchen is clean, but cramped, crowded and worn. The kitchen staff and servers are serene, except for the head chef, who occasionally sighs with exasperation.

Maybe she really is exasperated; she works five lunches and six dinners a week for all but two weeks a year, and she is always, always slammed. You can't see her hands moving behind the counter, but you can see from her relaxed shoulders and the slight swinging of her arms that she is rocking the knife out of muscle memory; her focus is not on the board, but on the tickets arranged in front of her. There is a single grain of rice clinging to her bangs at the right temple.

The menu is lean; classic nigiri, only the simplest of rolls. There's a california roll and a salmon, cream cheese, celery roll--they seem to be on the menu as a begrudging concession to the hakkujin. At Musashi, it's not about variety; the menu has been trimmed and tweaked to favor speed.

She reaches for five trays, and then suddenly there are two maguro nigiri each on four trays. You hear six quick, soft knocks of a knife, and suddenly there's an impeccable california roll leaning like fallen dominoes on a tray. An assistant appears and drops a vollyball of rice into her cooler, then takes his station next to her, pulling soup and rolling up more of the seaweed cigars.

She says 'soup' and when he has it five seconds later, she indicates me with her eyebrow and says "jp-san." As soon as it's in my hand, my chirashi hits the counter (when did she make it?) , and as soon as my hands are on my bowl of chirashi, my albacore nigiri hits the counter. The presentation is amazing.

We started going to Musashi because it is a steal; the sushi, the teriyaki... it's anywhere from half to a third the price of any Japanese sushi restuarant. In fact, the teriyaki at Musashi is under five dollars, which is as cheap and cheaper than most of the Korean and Vietnamese owned teriyaki joints all over town. On top of that, Musashi's teriyaki is the real deal: skewered and grilled cubes of medium rare steak; not bulgogi in disguise, or slathered in sugary goo.

Regardless, few people bother with the best teriyaki deal in town, as most of us are addicted to the sushi at Musashi (which, as I said above, is a form of crack). My cowsin and I first started craving sushi in general, but then we started noticing that we stopped liking sushi from other places. Sometimes the other places had tiny pieces of fish; sometimes the nigiri was too much rice; sometimes it was too little. My cowsin suspected they were putting cocaine in the rice.

Here are the three ways I am addicted to Musashi nigiri:

1) It's the rice I like. Once I saw their rice bag, and I was pretty surpised that they weren't using the premium imported rice. In fact, they were using medium grain Niko Niko Calrose rice, which now, of course, makes perfect sense to me: it's the rice my cowsin and I grew up with every day of our lives, from the time we were eating solid food until the time we moved out of the house to go to college. It's the only brand that tastes right to us now.

2) It's the fish I like. The fish is never dry, and it's always cut on the large side. We are talking two or three bite nigiri, which may be against the norm, but you know what? there are worse things in life than a fat slab of fish. Seriously, if bottom hurts just because you can't one-bite your nigiri, you need to get some perspective. Maybe you can tell your mommy, and she'll get you a pillow, and you can weep bitterly into the pillow until the committe comes to your home with your tiny one-bite portions.

I read a restaurant review once, saying that even the best restaurants sometimes have days where the maguro is dry. Later that year, that same reviewer admitted he had never had dry maguro at Musashi. Neither have I. Sometimes when we order sashimi, the hamachi is still a little too cold, and I have to eat it last. That's my biggest complaint.

3) Did I mention the rice? I've eaten so much at Musashi, and I know the rice so well, that I've grown accustomed to the size of the rice ball. That is to say, my mouth recognizes the size and density of the Musashi chef's rice ball, a product of the chef's muscle memory technique and the size of her hand. Not kidding. And the seasoning? forget it. I would put money on my ability to pick out a Mushashi rice ball in a blind taste test. At other restaurants, I can tell: their rice balls are either too small or too big; or maybe too dense, or maybe they FALL APART (cough cough, Wasabi Bistro).

I distroyed my dinner in about 90 seconds, left a three dollar tip on my $15 dinner. While yelling 'thank you' to the kitchen, I smiled and gestured to the chef that she had something in her hair. What? she asked, and turned to an assistant, who removed it quickly and without a word.

Rice! I said, your hair is hungry too!

She laughed. I made my crack dealer laugh.

Stay tuned; on Tuesday I'll give you a report on the obento.

PS. Don't bitch to me about rolls. I order sashimi by the dollar amount, and only because they don't sell it by the pound. Rolls are for beginners and sorority girls. If you're a beginner, or a sorority girl, good for you, you should all get together at Wasabi Bistro and wrap each other in nori.

1 comment:

Micaela said...

I kept staring at this picture and wondering what the heck was going on cause I thought I knew all corners of that restaurant! What was that round red dish to your left?! Well I sat there yesterday, and felt quite relieved. It's a flower pot! NOW I know all corners of that restaurant. The placemat should have tipped me off.