Monday, May 02, 2005

Saturday's Meal At "Willie's Steakhouse" - Long Play version

So, I think I've finally digested the meal I had while I was out with my mother this weekend. As mentioned, the establishment served both sushi and high-end steak. So, for whatever reason, if you've ever found yourself on the receiving end of a craving for unagi maki, tako-su, Delmonico steak with a madeira sauce and asparagus with hollandaise - simultaneously - this is your place.

A rough pictoral breakdown follows:

7:15 - We arrive just in time for our reservations. We are ushered into our seats in a cramped space against a diagonal wall. The patron seated at the table across the aisle from me eerily resembles a girl I used to live with in college, seated with a guy who is clearly not her husband. Upon closer reflection and stares, she is not the girl in question: she does not squeak when she laughs. And mom makes me stop staring because it's "impolite". Stupid social conventions.

7:20 - The waitress arrives to take our drink order before I can look at the wine list. I panic and order sake. They only have hot sake. I am perplexed that a restaurant that otherwise has such an extensive wine list would only have one kind of sake. But, it's Friday and my desire for a buzz will not be stopped by a limited sake selection. I order it. The waitress cards me. I make a mental note to tell my mother to give this woman large sums of money in reward.


Mom orders a brandy and club soda. She reminds me to stop staring at the nice girl at the other table.

7:35 - Our drinks arrive. The waitress takes our appetizer and entree orders. We decide to order sushi for our appetizers and steak for our entrees.

I order:


My mother is addicted to soft shell crab. She gets:

Spider Maki

I order something called "Steak a la Stone" as my entree. Mom gets the Delmonico.

I'd show pictures as this point, but, well, it's steak. It looks like...steak. Except large. And covered in sauce. We'll come back to this.

8:00 - The sushi arrives. I overlook the fact that my scallop order was supposed to have been sashimi, rationalizing that extra starch will absorb more alcohol. Besides, I'm not eating the bread, despite the excellent olive oil with roasted garlic to dip into. I'm squished against a diagonal wall hoping no one drops something hot on my head; why bitch now?

My mother's order comes with 8 large (futo maki, large...pieces) pieces. Mine comes with 2 of each. I horde. She shares. I love my mother.

Some sushi snobs will tell you that items that have been dipped in tempura and rolled in rice and seaweed are some kind of crime against sushi. Emperors in the Edo period weren't having tempura maki while they played court games! And, I'm sure the Earl of Sandwich wasn't having a Big Mac. Look, if you are at all skittish about sushi (eek! it's raw and scary!), cooked items are a perfect jumping off point. And, batter fried and rolled in rice? Well, that sounds like the dinner of champions to me.

But, seriously, if you've never had soft shell crab - try it. Crab is sweet and rich, with just a touch of the ocean. The shells of a "soft shell" crab (it's molting, yum!) are quite tender if you get them in the right season (easier than a left on shrimp shell, say). When coated in tempura batter and fried properly, the combination of savory crunch with sweetness and brine is transcendent. The best "spider" maki I ever had was in the form of an entire half crab, tempura-ed and rolled with asparagus in a cone shaped "hand roll" fresh from the fryer. This roll was close. Rolls that include tempura items need to come to the table directly from the fryer or risk getting soggy. This was fresh from the fryer and included a touch of avocado and spicy mayonaise - a common preparation. The balance of flavors was done well. The tempura was crunchy and sweet, without being greasy. The spice in the mayo sauce helped to cut the richness of the roll.

Onto the raw items. Raw items are always a little leap of faith. They must be fresh and I managed to order 2 things where I would notice immediately if that were not the case.

How can I talk you into trying fresh raw scallops?

If I tell you that when you eat them right out of the shell, they are all at once delicate, creamy, and sweet? That a touch of soy and wasabi or spicy mayo and sesame enhance those qualities to turn the experience into something almost ethereal? Or even that they taste nothing like fish?

When I was a wee chicky of 24 or so, I had cultivated a relationship with the chef at my local sushi bar to the point that I (and guests I was with, if they were amenable) would get off menu items. One such experience was my first raw scallop. He presented it to me, whole in the shell, and then proceeded to shuck it, remove the roe (someday I will try scallop roe), slice it thinly and present it back to me in the shell. I ate it while other folks at the bar and passersby to the teppan-yaki tables looked on curiously. I felt a little nervous about it, but, because of the attention, important. Because it was a definitive "first taste" experience, I can't say I've ever had anything like that before or since. So sweet. Clean. Creamy. Vital. It was alive mere seconds before. I've had a lot of good scallop since then, but trying to chase that memory is like trying to relive a first kiss. Often your first can be your everything.

Uni is a more risky proposition.

They call it roe. Actually, uni is the gonads of the sea urchin. The whole thing. Sorry, no poetry there. Scoop, dump, serve. Avoid the needles on the shell.

However, in terms of complexity of flavor, uni ranks up there with such full flavor delight as "tomalley", lobster liver. But, it exceeds it in sweetness and balance. To taste perfectly fresh uni is to taste a perfect day by the sea: a lung full of fresh sea air, just as the tides change, after a full day on the beach, right before sunset somehow. A mouthful of high quality, fresh uni is everything that is good about a summer's day on the ocean. No soy or wasabi required.

A mouthful of off uni is kitty litter.

Fortunately, this uni was everything I could've hoped for. And the house hot sake went with it perfectly. What more could I want?

Now, this is getting a bit lengthy.

And I have children to work with in the morning.

I will finish the remainder of the story tomorrow. I need to be fresh to discuss the minutiae of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Harry Potter" tommorow ("Harry Potter" seemed like a way to lighten the mood after "Night"...).

Tonight, I would like to commend the fine folks in Spain who created Codice ; this fine red blend I'm drinking. Wine Spectator gave it an 87 and it costs $9.99. And when you eat it with a good quality swiss cheese, it has chocolate notes.

Check back tomorrow for the red meat portion of the proceedings and subsequent champagne abuse.


Lightning Bug's Butt said...

All I know is, I love me some steak.

Timmy Mac said...

The only time I ever puked in public was the time I tried uni, and it happened 4 seconds after that shit hit my tongue.

Maybe it was bad, maybe it was because it felt like snot, but I ain't never, ever, ever gonna try it again.

But I'm with you on the scallops. Yum!

Lance Manion said...

With a name like Willy, you know he's about the meat! LM