I am still in the final stages of recovery after last night’s partial food coma, brought on by going to a casino buffet here in town for birthday celebration/gambling thing. The food there isn’t especially great in terms of flavor, but they do have a lot of variety I guess. One of the items they had on the buffet was sushi. As you can imagine, it was standard American buffet grade sushi. Soggy seaweed, bland crumbly rice, cucumber, a fish-like substance, and some kind of “exotic” Asian ingredient like black sesame seeds. I’ve noticed this is gaining in popularity here (in the US), even having sushi as a selection at various buffets, etc. Here in St. Louis, which is pretty much about as far as you can get from the ocean, there are about a dozen more sushi/”Japanese” restaurants than I remember there being 10 years ago. That’s just off the top of my head – there are probably many more. But does that mean they’re any good?
Well I don’t really know. I haven’t actually been to any of these newfangled sushi shops stuck in the middle of the United States, primarily out of fear of food poisoning or just plain being afraid of eating gross food. Sure I’m biased since I just moved back from Japan, but in my experience up to now, a lot of the sushi in the US is pretty terrible. I don’t really like the emphasis on rolls with all kinds of crazy stuff in them, although sure that’s the kind of cosmopolitan sushi re-working that is popular on the east coast. And since that’s what’s popular over there, it has filtered across the country and that seems to be mainly what they have in the Midwest. While there are of course some of those fancy US-style sushi rolls that are decent, I’d almost always rather eat plain old traditional workin’ class salaryman sushi. Less focus on making something crazy and just focusing on fresh ingredients that speak for themselves. I think when the Choshimaru (kaiten sushi place) in Chiba near my old apartment had the “aurora salmon” on special for 150 yen a plate a few summers back I ate like 10 plates worth in one sitting. You can’t really beat fresh fish like that. Melts in your mouth. And now I am drooling all over my laptop. Even the cheap places like Kappa Sushi are about 20x better tasting than most sushi I can remember eating stateside. I haven’t tried much in California though, and I’m sure they have some pretty good places out there.
Prices are also going to be a main problem, because even if I’m able to find a place here in town that has great quality sushi, I’m positive the price for standard grade (good) sushi will be several times more expensive than even a high-end place was in Japan. I understand that transportation costs, etc will factor into that but there will inevitably be a markup just because there isn’t much variety and this is a specialty food here.
So yeah sushi in Japan = fresh and delicious. Sushi in St. Louis = scary and intimidating. I’ll try to get out and actually give some of these places a chance – maybe a place that seems more like a somewhat authentic Japanese restaurant rather than a trendy place catering to Americanized varieties. How did this entry turn into me rambling about sushi? Eh. I think in the long run, sushi is going to be the equivalent of pizza and Mexican food when I was living in Japan. Amazing and abundant in one country, more rare and not nearly as good when you’re living in the other. There were a few decent places I knew in Chiba/Tokyo that had pizza or Mexican food, and even a few really great ones. But for the most part they were few and far between. Sushi places in St. Louis will likely be even harder to come by. I have noticed though, that my #1 favorite food genre, Chinese, is pretty much universally good (as long as you choose a decent restaurant, but they’re not as hard to find I don’t think). Maybe because whether you’re in America, Japan, or probably anywhere else, you can find places actually run by Chinese people. We are all over the place, after all.
On the passive To Do list: find a decent sushi place in St. Louis. Also while I’m at it, if I can find a good Korean BBQ that would be awesome too. I am open to recommendations.