Friday, January 13, 2012

Delicate Foods

Tonight, my wife and I went for a sush-dinner at Hana Tokyo (in Alexandria). We've been going to this place for years now. For the most part, it's always been a really good experience. Prior to tonight, the only thing approaching a bad experience was getting there on a busy night and not being able to get seated quickly.

Tonight, we were able to get seated quickly. While the place was slammed like it usually is on a Friday - their hibachis are very popular, apparently - we'd called ahead to make sure we could get a table. I dropped Donna off at the door and went to find parking. By the time I got there, they were just about ready to seat us at the sushi bar.

We like going here because they frequently have interesting specials (though, with as frequently as they have otoro, they should just have it on the regular menu). We split a Dragon Roll order. I got my usual salmon roe nigiri with uzura and a Philadelphia hand roll. I also ordered the otoro, eel, cobia, Japanese snapper and mackerel. Donna ordered her stuff, and then we proceeded to wait.

After our food was presented, we started to eat. Donna had "textural-issues" with one of her items and asked if I found it similarly "not quite right". Taste wise, it was fine, but the fish, tonight, just wasn't a firm an crispy as it usually is. The otoro wasn't quite as buttery as it normally is. Even my salmon roe wasn't quite as perky as normal for our meals there.

At the end of the meal, the chef asked how our dinner was. I asked if they'd had to buy from a different source, today, noting that the texture had been not up to their usual standards. He had the manager come over and ask us more about the meal. When I pointed out that, in the (probably five or so, at this point) years we'd been coming there, we'd always been very pleased with the meal - which was why we'd been repeat customers for such a long time. He asked if the texture on the fish was wrong, to which I'd answered that, while the flavor had been as expected, yes, the fish didn't have the pleasing mouth-feel that it usually does. So, supposedly, he'll be talking to his suppliers at their next order.

That's the funny thing about fish - particularly uncooked fish: it's very fragile. Even if it starts out as high-quality stock, if there's too much variance in temperature between catch and delivery, it causes the cell structure to start to break down. Delicately crispy fleshes, such as that of cobia, become mushy. Buttery cuts, such as the otoro, lose that butteriness. Roes lose their perkiness.

If you eat your fish cooked, much of the textural subtleties tend to be lost, any way. Variances in the delivered meat is much less important because the cooking breaks the meats down, any way.

I don't consider myself to be a sushi snob, but, sometimes, it's just not quite right. And, that was what tonight was: not quite right. I've had sushi at places where it was decidedly not right. I've even had it where it was utterly indifferent. When you have a place that performs as consistently well as Hana Tokyo does, it's kind of jarring when they have a miss.

Oh well, we'll be back again. They've had several years of good performance. So, hopefully, tonight was just an off night that was beyond their control.