A number of years ago when lawyering was not even a twinkle in my eye, I traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona on overnight business. For dinner that evening, my employee suggested of all things — that we have sushi. Ever dubious, I asked, “Sushi in the desert?” Well, he found a restaurant and we tried it. And let’s just say it wasn’t good.
Fast forward to 2015 and little has changed fine dining-wise in the desert. In particular, going out for sushi is a bad idea. Save for those folks who think ‘good sushi’ is oxymoronic, you still won’t find good — much less excellent sushi among the saguaro, scorpions, sand and sidewinders.
Phoenix sushi establishments can of course, buy overnight flash-frozen ‘fresh’ sushi-grade fish for a price. But the thing is — the farther from the coast — the more problematic a dependable palatability. At age 19, I learned that good sushi is not only about freshness, texture, and quality but about firm, dense, aromatic rice. I was fortunate to learn this from an Issei Japanese cuisine gastronomer who was my guide.
Last night with no thanks to Yelp, once more I stepped into the breach of my better judgment and tried a well-established local sushi eatery that was new to me. Like virtually all sushi establishments in the desert, it was another one of those prolific nondescript strip-mall restaurants. Not cute on the outside or the inside.
For not the first time, I was again burned in the desert. I’d forgotten the six essential things I’d come up with long ago to avoid wasting good money on bad sushi. Hope springs eternal in the human belly — “but man never is, always to be blessed.”
First, as any casino buffet employee can tell you, ‘all-you-can-eat’ is the triumph of quantity over quality. Steer clear of all-you-can-eat sushi.
Second, when the sushi chefs only speak Spanish, the odds are good they weren’t classically trained in Japan. Third, if the crab served is the pulverized, shaped, colored and cured fish variety, so much for authenticity.
Fourth, in the way you should bypass Mexican restaurants without any Mexican customers or for that matter, any ethnic restaurant sans its share of knowing native connoisseurs, avoid a sushi restaurant bereft of Asian diners. Fifth, if they don’t have uni on the menu, question their bona fides. And sixth, if the people recommending a sushi establishment to you think mayonnaise and cream cheese smothered cooked fish is sushi, your prospects are dimmed considerably.
In sum, if Portland, Oregon where I spent time last summer is Foodie Heaven, Phoenix and Maricopa County remain Foodie Hell. Forget my “Pho King VIP” credentials or the local paper’s smarmy boosters, you won’t find this town listed anytime soon on any credible top-rated restaurants list whether for sushi or anything else, not for instance, either here or here or certainly not here.
Photo Credits: Many types of sushi ready to eat, by Nesnad at Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; half_fish.jpg By matthew_hull at MorgueFile free photos;Crab Sticks, by Natto at ja.wikipedia at Wikimedia Commons, released under the GNU Free Documentation License; Waiting for Ramen, by Travis Wise at Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution License.