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Talking Tsukemono with Erik Aplin of ICHI Sushi

Photo: Alanna Hale

Japanese cuisine is perhaps my favorite, or at least certainly in my top three. If I were stranded on a desert island, I’d be just fine so long as there was ample seafood, rice paddies, and someone to turn it all into perfect sushi every day. Hands down our favorite sushi place in the city is ICHI Sushi, and its izakaya bar, NI, in the back. We’ve been fans since their early days, occupying a tiny and fairly charmless space that housed our previous favorite, Yo’s Sushi Club, on a nondescript corner of Mission Street in Bernal Heights.

The current space is airy and slick. As you enter the hallway covered with an Erik Marinovich mural outlining the practice of eating sushi, the staff collectively belts out an enthusiastic Irasshaimase!”

You’ll more often find us in the back at NI, ordering their deservedly famous yuzu chicken wings and whatever vegetable they’re turning into a goma ae with black sesame. It used to be that there was no sushi at NI, as the chefs at the front work at capacity to keep the sushi bar fed, but lately they’ve been offering rolls from the back kitchen, which they will also make as hand rolls. And we always, always order the tsukemono, or assorted pickles.

When ICHI was still at the old space, I once asked chef Erik Aplin whether they were doing any tsukemono; they didn’t list it on the menu. He gave me a knowing look, and promptly poked into the fridges. Moments later, he presented a dish with a small selection of pickles. They were just beginning to really delve into tsukemono, and at that time weren’t ready to list it on the menu. I don’t remember everything on the plate, but I’ll never forget a small dollop of creamy white stuff that could have passed as some kind of cheese. It was tofu that had been fermented in miso, and I had never had anything like it before, or since.

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Hoshigaki, realized

They said it couldn't be done. Or maybe they said it shouldn't be done. Perhaps they said they had never done it. Whatever they said and whoever they are, I did it.  Several weeks ago, I hung several peeled hachiya…

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Sebo: C’est bon

The great thing about going to see a fellow food blogger in a theatrical performance is that you can totally make it look like you are out there supporting one of your own and patronizing the arts, knowing all the while that it’s a thinly veiled excuse to go eat someplace new.*

I had recently been told of a newish sushi place in Hayes Valley that had garnered some esteem from reliable sources. My sushi jones has gone largely unsatisfied for quite a long time now, especially in the hunt for the elusive and transcendent mirugai. I want my giant clam, and I want it now, dammit.

Joining us for the show was our friend Hugh, who, like me, is a complete and total sushi whore. Hugh and I have very closely aligned tastes when it comes to the stuff. Uni? Definitely. Ankimo? Bring it. No fish (or fish part) is too exotic or bizarre to escape our curious palates.

Because we had a show to catch, we arrived on the early side at Sebo, claiming the first table of the night (though the bar was already occupied). My first question, natch, was whether they actually had mirugai, or whether it was just on the menu, like so many cruel teases I had been tormented with in the past. Oh yes, our charming and knowledgeable server assured us, they had mirugai. In fact, they cultivated a relationship with their fish monger specifically to bring in more exotic and interesting fish to serve at the restaurant. Their philosophy, she said, was that if you are interested in California roll, there are 400 other places you can go for that.

You don’t say.

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Yo’s Sushi Club: Fish in the Mission

Yos_1I’ve been suffering a serious sushi jones for a long time now. We’ve finally given up utterly on any of the places in the neighborhood. Hamano has descended to new depths of awfulness. I want to like Amberjack, but find everything they make completely bland, starting with the sushi rice. Bland sushi rice sucks the flavor out of anything that sits on it. Deep Sushi is too much form over function, though the actual sushi is acceptable. And Tamasei, taking over the old Matsuya space, wins points for quirkiness but doesn’t do it for me in the fish department. It’s time to fall back to the tried and true.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve been fans of Yoshi Fujita for a long time now. We first found him at the now-defunct Grandeho Kamekyo on Valencia Street. Immediately we loved Yo’s upbeat personality and canny eye for rockin’-fresh fish. Plus, he would stock things that at that time were not so common in the average sushi joint around town, like uni (sea urchin) and ankimo (monkfish liver). We would go often with our friend Hugh, who like me is an adventurous sushi eater, and we would roll our eyes orgasmically over the delectable delicacies. Yo disappeared suddenly from Grandeho, reappearing as the chef at Daimaru on Sanchez/16th when it opened, which promptly became our new favorite restaurant.

(Photo: Jonas T. via Yelp)

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The Butterfly Effect, Part 5

The Butterfly Effect
Part 5: A food "personality"

Iron Chef

KagaI’ve always had a thing for foreign television. I love the glimmerings of insight into other cultures, as expressed through the lens of the glowing box. Television is in many ways simultaneously the zenith and nadir of modern culture, a place where anything can happen, for better or worse.

Our first major foreign TV obsession, in the early-mid-nineties, was a game show on Univision called El Gran Juego de la Oca. This was played on a large game board, like the game of Life, in an expansive studio. Contestants would roll "dice" (using a remote control; the dice would just appear digitally on-screen). They would progress the number of spaces rolled, at which point the host would inflict torture upon them for money.

The forms of torment were varied and arcane. In one case, a woman had to dive into a pool of water and navigate through a maze of netting. Along the way there were occasional barriers of netting that had to be cut through … because the oxygen was on the other side. In another case, a woman (they were mostly women) had to adorn a big, puffy suit and enter a cage full of snarling German shepards to pull sticks of "dynamite" off the walls, extract herself mostly intact, and use the "dynamite" to blow open a box which contained one of the svelte, scantily-clad assistants that just lounged around the board like Christmas tree ornaments.

Some of the Herculean tasks were more benign. Another (yes, female) contestant had to wear a suit covered in bird seed, lay on the floor and be pecked by chickens — while they asked her to do math problems in her head. (Martha claims this is the cruelest one of all…) Another time one had to visually assess three of the hunky, gold-Speedoed ornamental men, then tell which was which by fondling their chests while blindfolded.

Of course all of this was in rapid-fire MadrileƱo Spanish, which we didn’t understan a word of. As each stunt was being assembled, the announcer would be rattling away like a machine gun. Our blood pressure would rise, hoping he was explaining how safe each of these stunts were, or at least how well insured the show was. True to form for many Spanish-language shows, Oca ran for something like three and a half hours. It was a grand way to blow a Sunday afternoon.

Oca stopped running around 1995 or ’96, and we were left without a new source of quirky, incomprehensible entertainment. But it wasn’t long before our other friends who were fans of international esoterica alerted us to something else. A ground-breaking show that had everyone scratching their heads yet unable to tear themselves away. A cooking show from Japan — but not just a cooking show. It was also like a game show. No, more like sports. Well, if you consider professional wrestling a sport. If my memory serves me correctly, this show was of course Iron Chef.

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