Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sam's Sushi

We ordered a file cabinet from Don Willis' Real Wood Furniture. The store has relatively inexpensive stuff that is well put together and it saves a trip to IKEA. Even though IKEA would make more sense in Ballard as it is Scandinavian and all. In any case, my wife and I wanted a place nearby to park the pickup and then walk to eat and then get the cabinet. We decided on trying something totally out of character for us.

One hundred years ago while Ballard was being built, I'm sure it never would not have been odd to anybody there that one of the stores right off the main street was selling raw fish. In fact the area was called Salmon Bay even back then. The park a block away from us is called Salmon Bay park and it is older than the streets and houses that grew around it. The housing development that built up around our house was called Salmon Bay as well. The boats coming from their ocean trips into Ballard undoubtedly had tons of raw fish. However, I don't think any of those people of Ballard long ago would have used a very sharp knife, cut out some flesh just so, plop it on a plate and eat it. Cold and uncooked. Not to say there was no use for cold and uncooked fish, because there was. I believe it was called bait.

Sophistication in those long ago days required that things had to be endlessly modified and frilled up. French cuisine was in its prime and the more steps of sauteing, baking, roasting, flambeing and dressing up with sauces made the finished dish more chic. Sophistication now is concerned with the simple. IKEA makes furniture without the slightest nod to frivolous decoration, just clean and modern lines. I think the same thing has occurred with the western full-hog (or full-fish?) fascination with sushi. What could be more elegant than expensive fish, uncooked and plated with an eye towards balance and design? And in terms of class, how much more can you differentiate yourself from the raw and unwashed hoi-polloi by eating the raw and uncooked when the raw and unwashed eat Jack-in-the-Box instead of a Bento Box? The noble savage used to eat roots and vegetables, now the urban vegan sophisticate does. The turn of the past century Scandinavian packed their cod with lye and soaked it for months - the turn of the present century Ballardite eats their fish that had been swimming just hours ago.

So with all this in mind, we went to Sam's Sushi. I'm glad it wasn't Sven's Sushi - we would have had thirteen different ways of looking at Lutefisk. I got there just before six on a Friday night and was promptly shown to a window seat. A few other tables were occupied but the chefs were pretty much idling, looking at me and the rest of the diners. And why is he called a "sushi chef"? Isn't he a "sushi cutter" or a "sushi slicer" since he doesn't actually cook sushi?

The word quickly got out though that I had chosen my weekly Ballard Bite. Within ten minutes every table was taken and there was a line forming. I felt like a rich man at a two-up with an empty seat at the window. I had no idea that I had such a following. I was instructed to get an appetizer of edamame if I got there first. So I got the edamame and some hot sake. Hot sake smells remarkably like warm armpits. Maybe it is distilled from sumo wrestlers, who knows. It was tasty and packed a kick in any case.

Oh, if my college friends in Iowa could have seen me. Here I was at a sushi place eating boiled soybeans. I was known as Mr. Cheese Dog (amongst many, many other nicknames) because that was the piece de resistance of my culinary skills. One slice american cheese, one Wrangler hot dog, one bun and 45 seconds later in the microwave my dinner was done. In Iowa, like Japan, you are surrounded by a sea. A sea of corn and soybeans rather than saltwater. However, the corn and soybeans were almost exclusively fed to the cows and pigs. If we were more Japanese in Iowa, perhaps we would have come up with edamame on our own and made succulent sushi out of praire dogs and redwing blackbirds. But, alas, we are more German in Iowa and we ended up with pot roast and potato salad and Jello (made with gelatine, and you know what that is made of...).

My wife finally came and we popped the edamame like popcorn. Before we went she thought that she could do the raw fish thing, but she chickened out. Well, not exactly "chickened", but "Spider and Dynamite rolled" out. I - who once got food poisoning from fish lips in a Chinese restaurant in Soho, London - was up for the challenge. I ordered Sam's Plate, consisting of tuna, salmon, tai, albacore, shrimp, hamoichi, hokki, tako and an avocado roll. We also got Gyoza and Miso soup after the edamame. The Gyoza are little potstickers and the salty sauce with them was wonderful. There was something missing in the miso soup.

Unfortunately, the fish that I ended up with in Sam's Plate were in the Tastiness Protection Program. I could only identify the tuna and the salmon by their color. Okay, the shrimp was easy too. But I honestly couldn't taste any real difference between the pieces of fish. They were all cool and kinda firm but easily eaten. I just don't see the big deal. However, the wasabi and pickled ginger are always awesome.

As far as the clientele of Sam's Sushi - it was skewed towards the yuppie/hipster end of the Ballard demographic. Ironic black horn-rimmed glasses would definitely fit in nicely. There were no signs of old Scandinavians - which is just as well, the notion of eating a fish that is less than a day old may have offended their sensibilities.

4 Cellphones
2 Ironic Wool Caps
0 Hard Hats
0 Blue Wigs


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