By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
From this you can deduce that the Japanese are optimists and the Germanic tribes represented a huge untapped market for antidepressants. This is why, when you walk into Sushi Zushi, you're met with solid walls of optimism. Every member of the staff says uerukamu, or some such word that is Japanese for "welcome" (there are at least four words for this). They also say arigato, which means thank you, only no one in the place seems to be Japanese and some members of the staff have to check with management to see what the words mean when pressed. Imagine if some sadist drilled them with Japanese profanity during the training sessions. It wouldn't matter; it all sounds poetic. And not even the men behind the sushi bar appear to be Japanese, so the offense would drop into the "what if a tree fell in a forest and no one heard it?" category.
Sushi Zushi was once Citizen, Mico Rodriguez's and chef Chris Ward's attempt to craft Frenchified Japanese cuisine. But many pleasant eating experiences did nothing to extend its life, and it was purchased by Al Tomita, who launched this three-unit chain in San Antonio. Near the end, Citizen's sushi bar was a chorus of clean, sharp pleasantries. At moments, it offered some of the best sushi in the city.
That bar hasn't changed much. The same curved back-bar with reddish slate embedded with hexagrams from I Ching, the seminal Confucian book of changes depicting success and well-being. The sushi, alas, has changed. Not that it isn't competent. It is. It's just a competence speckled with raw fish acne. (Saying on a Sushi Zushi T-shirt: "Life is too short for scary sushi." Indeed.) Some of it is warm. Some of it, like the flounder--strips of white fish with pinches of Asian basil--is sinuous and a little fishy. Octopus is tough, smelt roe is fluffy and separate. Bonito is topped with pinches of Asian basil.
Bonito is also called a skipjack tuna. With a deep red color and a rich racy flavor, bonito is seared, framing the deep rosy piece of fish in dull grey outlines. It flakes easily, even if it is a little dry. Hamachi (yellowtail) is buttery smooth and well-chilled. Yet this bar had no uni (sea urchin gonads). We asked for it at each visit and were told "yes, we have it," before the truth--"no, we don't"--came out.
The slices of raw fish and other sea creatures on the Sushi Zushi rice billets are generous. And the new elements are pleasant, so much so that you can almost feel the life extensions unraveling. These specialty rolls are things of beauty. Tiger Eye is smoked salmon and asparagus wrapped in baked squid. The warm squid has ridges and crunch, which slyly flirt with the vegetables within. The flavors are rich, and thin plumes of salmon smoke foil the sharp asparagus pungency elegantly. The roll pieces are seasoned with slight brushes of eel sauce. In the center of the plate, rising out of a cupped piece of rippled squid, are stalks of carrot and asparagus. Behind this a huge Asian basil leaf spreads, rising like an enormous fan.
Sushi Zushi roll is beautiful, too--a riceless thing served on an opaque glass plate. Instead of seaweed, the roll slices are bound in thin sheets of cucumber wrapping cream cheese, smoked salmon, asparagus, avocado and pieces of chopped imitation crab. The pieces ring long thin sheets of cucumber that are cupped and sharply pointed, rising from the murky plate like shark fins. The riceless demeanor is a pleasing departure from the sticky rice parade that dominates the typical sushi meal, an easy 75-day life extension.
But how does one calculate life extensions from a fish cheek? The fish cheek seems to be hacked from somewhere behind the gill. Meat of the hamachi kama, or yellowtail cheek, is spongy and dull on the top side. But flip it over, where that cheek is kissed by grill bars, and the flavor broadens. In some areas, the meat takes on a rich, gamy hue instead of clean sweetness, but this may just be the cheek's charm.
Yakimeshi rice is the value stud in this lengthy menu that includes yakitori, tempura, ton katsu (Japanese pork cutlet, a comfort food) but no teriyaki, which has become the standard emollient to allay sushi fears. The rice rests in a deep bowl, fried and studded with assorted lightly cooked vegetables: bell pepper, carrot and onion. Upon this is dumped a choice of chicken, beef and seafood or an assortment thereof--or not if you're strictly a vegetable eater. The chicken version is hearty, with white and quite a bit of dark meat. It's simple, well mannered and, at four bucks, filling. It's hard to get your jaw to move for four bucks at the typical sushi bar.