Well, there is a difference between simply eating sushi and knowing how to enjoy it properly.
As I said in my previous post, sushi is an art. Japanese people are dead serious about it. When they eat bad sushi, they feel the same way a French person reacts when they taste a "pain au chocolat" made with margarine:
So today I am going to try to give you a few tips so that you are sure to know how to recognize what makes good sushi.
1. Try the tamago yaki (a slightly sweet omelet).
This is a simple and pretty radical way to know how the rest of your meal is going to be when entering a sushi restaurant. In Japan this simple sushi is considered one of the most delicate ones and it requires great skill to be perfected. If it is soggy and too sweet, either run out of the restaurant or be prepared to even more disapointed by the rest of the meal.
2. The second easiest way to know if you are facing a good Itamae is to focus on the rice:
How does it taste? How does it feel? The rice should not be too soft nor too firm, and the balance of seasonings should be just right. If it’s too sweet or tastes of vinegar, you are screwed. Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult to cook.
Rice the very foundation of sushi (by the way sushi litteraly means rice in Japanese), so you should be sure to watch out for it when eating out at a Japanese place.
3. Sushi is like wine: it is about balance.
Inspect your nigiri-sushi (not the maki roll, the one with a little clump of rice and fish over it). In a quality establishment, you shoul not find huge hunks of fish on top of three grains of rice. Although this might seem like good value for money, it will destroy the proper balance of the meal. Japanese food is about discipline and craft, it is not about supersizing your food. For that there is McDonald's.
4. Look for fresh wasabi.
You know that green mustard? If you are lucky what you have in your plate is just plain horseradish with food coloring. If you're unlucky... who knows.
Real wasabi - the fresh sort - is immensly rare. If your restaurant is a real deal, you should have a waiter come and grate you a little bit of the wasabi rhizome in your plate. I know it doesn't sound very appetizing when I say it like that but trust me, the taste is entirely different. Not nearly as harsh and strong, it almost has a nutty flavor. It's like comparing real parmesan and the canned thing you buy at your supermarket. It's just not the sae product.
5. Look for interesting seasonal items.
This is not really necessary but it may indicate that the sushi chef pays extra attention to the particulars of the foods he offers, and seeks out something when it is available and fresh. It will mean your food has not be stuck in a freezer for the past 6 months.
These 5 little tips should help you out to know if the restaurant you are eating at is a true Japanese establishement.
Of course, I don't expect these requirements to be met in all the restaurants I go to but for the ones that I anticipate to be good, I make sure to look out for them.
But what a joy when I find the real gem that complies with all these elements!