Friday, September 25, 2009

SushiFest - Part II: Round and Round We Go

I don't really think I have a favorite food.    I really like a lot of different foods.   But if you were to ask my wife, she would tell you that we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time going to eat sushi.   She's right, I do love my sushi.   I love the combination of different flavors that you can get out of a single mouthful.    I love the dedication and perfection it takes to make really good sushi.  It would seem so simple.  Really all there is, is fish and rice.   But it takes true skill to get the texture and consistency of the rice just right.   It takes a master to know how to cut the fish just perfectly, and you need to have extremely high quality, fresh fish.   So I don't get to eat the premium stuff very often, and we often settle for the basic utility sushi.   But sometimes, you can get some pretty decent stuff for everyday food.

Sushi comes in 3 basic forms.   You've got maki, or rolled sushi, which is all the good stuff rolled in sushi rice and wrapped with nori.   You've got nigiri sushi, which is the small rice ball, with the piece of sashimi on the top.   And you've got gunkan, or battleship sushi, so named because it looks like a litle boat.   That's the one where the little sushi rice ball is wrapped in a nori, and the filling is placed on top.   For maki sushi, I really think that Ninja Sushi is the best, they've got the most innovate rolls with brilliant flavor combinations.   For nigiri, you really have to go to the high end sushi restaurants to get the good stuff.   But for good gunkan sushi in Hawaii, that is the realm of the conveyor belt.

There are a number of conveyer belt sushi restaurants here.   Catch of the Day, was probably the most fun one.   Instead of a conveyor belt, they had one location with super long train that went around in circles that you could pick the sushi off from, and another location that is a giant river with little boats carrying your sushi around.   They have since closed up, and G-Sushi has taken over the location with the little boats at Market City.   Unfortunately, while the boats are cute, their quality isn't quite as good as the other places.   Their rice just isn't as good, it's got a little too much vinegar I think, making it a little too tart and a little too soft and loose.   On the other hand, they are probably the cheapest, easiest to find parking, and easiest to get a seat at, so we do frequent the place for those reasons.   The other conveyor belt places usually have a long waiting line.   The longest lines seem to be at Kuru Kuru Sushi, right across from Pearlridge.   Admittedly, Kuru Kuru's quality is great.  They probably have the freshest, best tasting sashimi outside of the expensive high end restaurants.   But if you want really good gunkan sushi, the best place is probably Genki Sushi.

Genki Sushi is so popular here, that you almost inevitably will have at least a 20-30 minute wait before getting to sit down in front of their conveyor belt.  Cleverly marketed, my wife really loves their little corporate logo.   Genki is a Japanese word that means happy, healthy, in good spirits, and just all alround well being, which makes their cute little frowny face logo such an oxymoron.   Genki Sushi being so popular, it seems to be kind of pointless to blog about it (I might as well be blogging about how great Chicken McNuggets are), but I would like to point out a few of my favorites.

Tuna Mayo Gunkan at Genki Sushi
First up, Tuna Mayo.  Okay, it seems really ordinary.  I mean, we're just talking about tuna salad.  Canned tuna and mayonaise right?   But again, here is where that Japanese perfectionism comes in.  This is just about the best tuna salad, well... anywhere.   It's remarkably smooth and tasty.  Something familiar to start with.

Scallop Mayo Gunkan at Genki Sushi
Next up, replace the tuna with scallops and tobiko. Who doesn't love fresh scallops?

Ocean Salad Gunkan at Genki Sushi
Now, just to add some color to our diet, let's have some ocean salad.   As if the nori weren't seaweed enough, we gotta add some green seaweed to the mix.

Garlic Ahi Nigiri at Genki Sushi
Here is one of the nigiri sushi that Genki does really well.   The ahi is just seared, so the inside is still sashimi.  But what makes this is their nice garlic mayo on top.  It just blends so well with the seared fish.

Green Bean Tempura Nigiri at Genki Sushi
This is something new, that they just added.   Green bean tempura.   It just works so well, with a little bit of mayo and sauce they use for unagi.

Crab Mayo Gunkan at Genki Sushi
Probably my very favorite thing at Genki, is the Crab Mayo.   That is real crab there.   Not imitation crab.   And the flavor of the crab really comes out in this.   Where as with Seafood Salad, or other places that try to make it, you've got imitation crab, and all you really taste is mayo.  In this, what you're really tasting is crab.

Spicy Tuna Gunkan at Genki Sushi
Okay, if there is a single thing that Genki does the absolute best, better than anywhere else, it's their spicy tuna.   I've had spicy tuna all over the place, everywhere between here and California, and I gotta tell you, you just can't beat the one at Genki.   The reason?   I think it's the proportion of sesame oil they use compared to other places.   The sesame oil just gives theirs a supremely smooth texture.   It also adds just a hint of that nutty flavor to the spiciness.  Add to that some fresh ahi sashimi and tobiko and you've got a truly winning combination.

The 2 gunkan sushi that I left out of this picture that are really uniquely Hawaii, are the ahi poke gunkan and the pipikaula mayo gunkan.   Ahi Poke has been called Hawaii's soul food.   Since it is also raw fish and limu seaweed, it just makes sense to put it on top of a ball of sushi rice.   The unusual one is pipikaula, which is Hawaiian beef jerky.   When I first tasted it, I thought the combination of pipikaula and mayo on sushi rice would be weird, but it turned out to be one of my favorites.   Unfortunately, when I last went to Genki, they told me that it was discontinued.   Boo!   What I really loved about these 2 particular dishes, was how they so perfectly blend Hawaiian food with Japanese food.   It was as if in 2 little mouthfuls, they were able to capture the perfect racial harmony that is so unique to these islands. 

One word of advice, if you're going to eat at Genki, or any conveyor belt sushi place for that matter, don't bother picking up anything off of the conveyor belt.  Order everything.   It would seem to defeat the purpose of going to a conveyor belt place, but trust me, after the sushi has circled around a few times, it doesn't taste as fresh.  Sushi is all about freshness.   The moment the chef makes it, it should go into your mouth.  The rice will be the right temperature and texture.  The nori will still be crispy.  The fish will be freshest.   That is the way sushi should be experienced and appreciated.

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