Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sushi Yasuda

Last night, Abby and I went out to Sushi Yasuda with Alex and Jane. This is one of their favorite places, and I heard rave reviews from Abby after she went there last fall when she was in NYC interviewing with law firms. I had been looking forward to eating here, and I must say, this is hands down the best sushi I have ever had.

If you go, I would suggest sitting at the bar. Call ahead to see if you can get a place in front of Yasuda-san (pictured above). We just let him serve us what he thought was good, and since he knows more about seafood than I, or just about anyone else, can hope to know, that's really the best way to get a great dining experience. He's a really personable guy, and offers his views on sushi to you, explaining how important things like texture and temperature are to the taste of sushi.

Sushi, at its best, is very subtle. The decor at Sushi Yasuda reflects this idea. The heart of the restaurant is a long, blonde wood bar. The walls, ceilings, and floors are all the same, giving the restaurant a clean, understated look. When you sit at the bar, leaves, rather than plates, are your serving dishes. Each dinner gets a little pot of soy with a dipping bowl and plate, but these are unnecessary. You eat right off of the leaf as the chef serves you, and each piece of sushi is perfectly seasoned. Dipping it in soy would just ruin the delicate balance.
I have always heard that the quality of the rice is what really distinguishes great sushi from good sushi. Getting high quality fish is about judgment and knowing the right purveyors. Yes, cutting the fish just so is a hard learned skill, but making great sushi rice is a craft that people spend years learning. At most places you go to, the rice sticks together and, when you eat the sushi, it more or less stays stuck together as you chew it. At Sushi Yasuda, the rice sticks together nicely, but each grain is distinct. When you put the sushi in your mouth, it gently falls apart, allowing you to appreciate the texture of each perfectly seasoned grain of rice.
Temperature, timing, and attention to detail are all very important to making perfect sushi rice. You must rinse all of the starch from the rice and let it dry out thoroughly so that the grains don't stick together. You must cook the rice in just the right amount of water at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time. You must spread it out and fan it in a wooden bowl that will absorb some of the moisture. And, finally, when the rice has reached the proper temperature, you must season it with just the right amount of vinegar. At Sushi Yasuda, all of this is perfectly done. The amount of vinegar on the rice really livens up you taste buds and allows you to appreciate some of the more subtle cuts of fish.

While the rice is impressive, its just one half of what makes this place great. The selection is outstanding. All of the standards are hear...uni, unagi, squid, toro.
But you don't just order, say, yellowtail, you can choose a specific type. Yasuda decided to give us a yellowtail tasting, offering four different varieties of yellowtail (below). For just about every type of fish on the menu, you have several options.
You can also eat some things that you may not be able to find anywhere else. There were certainly a number of firsts for me. The scallops are a great example of his creativity. Normally, you just eat the adductor muscle of the scallop. Yasuda will serve this to you (top right), but you can also get the scallop tentacle, or gills that go around the fringe of the shell (bottom left), and the liver...I'm not sure if its actually a liver, but that's what he called it (bottom right). In the top left of the picture below, you see all the different parts of the scallops on Yasuda-san's cutting board. The color of the liver varies by gender (bright red or gray).
Here are a couple more types of sushi....I can't remember all of them. The best one I had all night though, was the Peace Passage Oyster (from my home state of Washington) pictured in the top right below. I can't describe how good this was.
Every last piece of sushi we had was amazing. Yasuda seasons each piece with wasabi, a squeeze of lemon juice, a brush of soy, and/or a sprinkle of sea salt. I had never thought of putting sea salt on sushi before... this idea is a Yasuda original....but it is really, really good. It adds just a little bit of crunch and saltiness that is completely unexpected. It is especially good with the uni.

Yasudu isn't only about sushi, though. There are several interesting appetizers. Above, we have a bowl of different fish livers....another things that I had never had before. Do order this if you ever come here. It's delicious, just like everything else on the menu.

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