Sushi: raw fish is making waves across US
For people ''in the swim,'' raw fish is in (or au courantm). Evidence of this latest culinary wave is the increasing popularity of Japanese sushi bars around the country. Statistics are sketchy but the trend is clear.Skip to next paragraph
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''Sushi is very, very, popular right now,'' says the owner of a Japanese restaurant in New York, ''but then New Yorkers always want to be chasing new trends anyway.''
In San Francisco, ''it has always been very popular,'' according to the manager of a trendy sushi bar, ''but in the past year it has picked up incredibly. . . from 5 p.m. on it's always packed.''
Even staid New England, land of the baked bean and fish cake, is taking the bait. Three sushi bars have opened here in Boston in the past six months alone.
Some 250 pounds of tuna, yellowtail, flounder, salmon, and other fish are purchased each day by one New York restaurant - and that, according to the owner , is a 30 percent increase over last year.
Two popular sushi bars between San Diego and Los Angeles are closed for expansion. Both claim they will have the biggest sushi bar in California when they reopen - each with five chefs and 40 seats.
''In the past few months,'' says one recent sushi convert in Los Angeles, ''it always comes up when a group of us get together for dinner and a movie. But usually two out of six people turn green at the idea of raw fish.''
Indeed, many Americans, having once mastered the slippery task of swallowing a raw oyster or clam, are unable to cross the divide between basic seafood and food they can see but can't identify.
The step up to the Japanese form of raw fish, however, is relatively easy, entertaining, and infinitely more dignified and elegant than slurping shellfish.
Most sushi bars are sectioned off from parent restaurants to keep out smoke and cooking smells. The traditional light varnished wood counter seats from four to 20 people although one chic Los Angeles restaurant has a counter bar of sleek black marble.
Tables may be available as well, but this denies the customer a center-stage seat for the theatrics of the sushi chef.
San Francisco boasts a restaurant with ''revolving sushi'' which travels to the customer on small wooden boats along a stream of water.
A low, refrigerated glass case, filled with neat groups of filleted fish and shellfish lying on crushed ice and parsley, runs along the top of the counter between sushi chef and customer.
The countertop and case should be spotless; a good rule of thumb is: the cleaner, the better.
In most sushi bars, a warm hand towel, presented in a bamboo basket, precedes hot soup or something to drink. Then the sushi chef places a small rectangular tray of light polished wood in front of the customer.
A mound of pink, marinated ginger, to cleanse the palate between orders, is placed on the tray along with a smaller dab of light-green wasabim, powdered horseradish mixed with water. The wasabim may be mixed in small soy-sauce dishes for added zing.
Traditionally there is no menu, and usually one is not expected to order everything at once. You can choose from fish in the glass case or from a small poster with photographs of each type of sushi with Japanese names.
Taking a stab at pronouncing the Japanese is encouraged, educational, and good for a few laughs on either side of the counter. Pointing to the desired item is a sure, but less adventurous, way to surmount the language barrier. You should also ask the sushi chef what fresh fish he suggests.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the sushi meal is watching the chef as he hand rolls and slices, exchanging banter with customers.