I look back in regret at the first time I ever tried sushi.
During one of my visits to Taiwan as a teenager, my part-Japanese auntie took us to a sushi restaurant. Taiwan was a Japanese colony for 50 years, and when the Japanese left, they left behind much of their culture, including a food influence. I, having shared many wonderful meals with this aunt, couldn't wait to see what came out from behind the swinging kitchen doors. Several anticipation-filled minutes later, two waiters walked out, each carrying a large uncooked fish. They placed the fish, a tuna and a salmon, on our table and sliced perfectly thick slabs of sashimi for our whole group. And what did I think? I thought it was gross!
How little I knew. To this day, I feel terrible for my aunt, the perfect Asian hostess, who spent hundreds of dollars on fresh fish, feeding us ingrates from America.
Flash-forward to present day, and I, ironically, am a fiend for anything sushi. However, any fan of the raw fish phenomenon knows that going out for a sushi dinner costs heftily, not resulting always in a full stomach. Because of my pricey inclination, I tend to keep my eyes and ears open for any sushi specials around town. Sometimes, that leads to a disappointing deception by way of the dollar California roll, but other times, it leads me to a Sushi Yama.
Sushi Yama offers a $1 nigiri sushi (sliced fish over a mound of rice) special twice a week (Tuesdays and Saturdays). Since they have to keep loafers like myself in mind, there is a maximum of 10 pieces of dollar sushi allowed per table. This is not a big problem for me or my dinner cohort because we have been aching to try Sushi Yama's meatier options, namely the fried chicken gizzards.
When our nigiri arrives, I notice that our yellowtail, salmon, scallops, and fish eggs all look fresh, but there is nothing that strikes me as extraordinary compared to other sushi restaurants in the city. Anything special or out of the ordinary is not noticed until after I take my first bite: The mound of rice under the thick slice of fish is incredibly tiny. I am not going to pass myself off as a connoisseur of sushi, but I can say that I appreciate this teaspoon-sized bite of rice. In an attempt to save money, many sushi restaurants, especially at buffets or sushi special nights, put entirely way too much rice in both their nigiri and rolls. Fortunately, Sushi Yama doesn't subscribe to this philosophy, and the fish is allowed to shine. A large dollop of wasabi adhere the rice and fish together, providing the diner with a bright and surprising bite. The clear winner amidst our nigiri sampler was, by far, the scallop. I could have blown our nigiri maximum allowance on the sweet and juicy scallops, alone.
I didn't have much time to lament the last bite of sushi because the chicken gizzards, in all its magnificent fried glory, soon arrived. Gizzard, for those who have never tried it, is a stomach-like organ in the chicken's digestive tract. With thick and muscular walls, when battered and fried, the gizzards are chewy and delectable. You may have tried gizzard and not even known it. It's a popular ingredient in Pho Ga, or chicken pho. However, the best way to eat this popular Asian street food is fried. Sushi Yama's rendition is a tad on the greasy side, but still as alluring as a 25-year-old Liz Taylor. A gizzard was still steaming and crackling when I hastily popped it in my mouth. Overtones of salt, garlic, and oil burst in my mouth with every chew. Along with the Agadeshi tofu (which I ordered, again), the gizzard is the masterstroke that will keep me coming back for more.
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Any dish that followed the gizzard would have had a difficult time being more than a mere blip on my already-rocked flavor radar, but regardless of when during the meal it arrived, the curry katsudon would have had a poor reception. Katsudon, the Japanese version of fried pork chop over rice, is a difficult dish to botch, but somehow, Sushi Yama managed to do it. The panko-breaded pork chop was not only both dry and dull, but entirely overwhelmed by the lumpy curry gravy. If the gizzards were a sight to behold, the katsudon, with its murky brown sauce over mushy white rice, was a sight to be forgotten.
My aunt will be visiting me in Dallas next month, and I haven't quite decided, yet, if Sushi Yama will be one of our food stops. I can only hope that taking her to a restaurant I deem as one of the best Japanese eateries Dallas has to offer won't be adding on to the insult I inflicted many years ago.
Who am I kidding? I'll play it safe and take her out for a steak.