There's a popular sushi place nearby called Arigato that I frequent whenever I need a quick hit of sushi. In fact, Arigato is where most people in my part of Sac go for their fish fix. I can call up my order at any moment - every self-respecting Sacramentan has the menu memorized, it's one of the ways we identify our own - and pick it up in about ten minutes. My usual: a Spicy Johnny Roll and a TNT Roll. If I'm dining in I'll grab a bowl of miso soup and some hot tea as well.
Arigato's sushi isn't exactly ephemeral, eye-opening, or even all that great, but it is half-price all the time. Furthermore, they're located in a middle class area of a lower class neighborhood and providentially near the California State University, Sacramento campus where hungry students roam. A combination of low prices and locale have made it a commercial success. They're now open until midnight and recently revamped the decor from J-Pop hip to a throwback Vegas-eighties kitsch that make me wish I would go spontaneously blind when I walk in the front door.
Still, one can't complain too much. The food is palatable and affordable. Any eater can certainly do worse.
Having a source so close I was surprised when BF mentioned that he wanted to learn to make sushi. While he's adept at the grill I had never seen him actively pursue a type of cuisine that I hadn't sort of nudged him into myself. It was downright surprising, if not just a bit odd. This was culinary equivalent to the president suddenly coming out to the press room to say we would invade Denmark. It just sort of left me in a "Wha?" state.
I encouraged him but with a slight of eye I rolled the plan as nothing more than a simple passing feign of interest. Yet he spent days watching tutorials online and asked me to help him do research to find a comprehensive sushi cookbook. I unburied an old sushi knife I had received in a conference goodie bag years ago (I had never used it due to its frustrating slant and bevel that made it perfect for cutting through sticky rice but useless for any other task). I explained he could line one of my bamboo placemats with plastic wrap and use that in place of a traditional bamboo roll.
The day came when he told me he was going to make sushi for dinner that night. I smiled and played the thankful food blogger, happy for a night off from cooking and happy for a potential blog post. Yet I had no high hopes that this would be anything grand.
I arrived home from work to find the kitchen a disaster. Plates and bowls stacked upon each other, starchy rice covered everything, at least four knives were strewn about haphazardly. I thought to myself that this is why I hate when others cook in my kitchen.
Yet, as I glanced at the counter I saw rolls of neatly trimmed ribbons of dark pink salmon stacked next to batons of cucumber and avocado. The air was sweet with the smell or rice, chilies, and soy. I realized I might have been a bit quick to judge. Apparently, he had made sushi.
BF motioned me to the table. Sitting on a plate were the handmade sushi rolls which looked, well, like sushi. This isn't to say it wasn't what I was expecting, it's just that I didn't know what to expect.
They were humble looking. Unlike the kaleidoscopic rolls you see in a restaurant covered in ruffles of avocado and buried in tobiko these where simple, dressed with a basic chili-mayo sauce. Next to the plate was a bowl, surprisingly, gratifyingly, of freshly grated wasabi. (I despise the phosphorescent blobs of wasabi served at 99% of sushi houses. It's all raw heat. The fresh wasabi was a horseradish with rumbling pungency that perfectly balanced the buttery flavors of the fish and fruit tucked in the rolls.) Lastly, there was a bowl of soy dipping sauce mixed with a bit of sugar and chili.
Taking a pair of chopsticks I rubbed a bit of the wasabi over the roll and then plucked it up for a quick dip in the soy before popping it in my mouth.
Lord, I forgot just how simple sushi is supposed to be. It's a cuisine born out of impoverished beginnings. You don't need the deep-fried, crab covered, unagi sauced, lemon spritzed jumble that defines modern, American-style sushi. Homemade in a small batch BF had crafted rolls that highlighted their ingredients. Rice, fish, cucumber, and avocado. A few condiments on the side to compliment these basic ingredients completed the experience. This was some of the best sushi I had ever eaten.
Even economically this meal was amazing. Once the key ingredients had been purchased - rice, vinegar, and nori, which would last for months - the rest was easy. BF estimated that considering how cheap sushi fish was, even at its freshest, the cost was minimal. After buying a pound of salmon, plus an avocado and a cucumber he realized he could make about six eight-piece sushi rolls, each roll coming out to a total cost of about $1.50.
I've requested that he continue to learn to make sushi of all kinds. My hope is to be spoiled rotted with fresh fish.