Sure, that roll was pretty good, and the yellowtail was luscious. But does that mean this is an amazing sushi bar or just an OK one that serves decent fish? To determine the quality of the chef and the restaurant, here are the five must-have orders:
Tuna is the king of all sushi ingredients. Fatty tuna (toro) will almost always be delicious. But it is by tasting the regular part of the tuna, called the akami, through which one can judge the quality of the fish that the chef has chosen at the market. It is a direct reflection of his eye and talent.
There are several types of shiromi (whitefish), and they are all at their peak at different seasons throughout the year. Seeing and tasting which shiromi the chef serves—sea bream, amber jack, flounder, sea bass, yellowtail, or yellowjack—is a good barometer of his expertise.
If tuna is the king of sushi, kohada is its soul. This little silver fish (hikarimono) is a finicky one that spoils easily. It must be salt-cured, then vinegar-marinated to the precise degree to bring out its beautiful flavors. This single bite best reveals a sushi chef’s skills and intuition.
Live sea eel must be expertly butchered, simmered to just the right degree of fluffiness, then flavored with thick nitsume sauce. Every restaurant has a unique nitsume recipe that is often passed down from generation to generation and is the pride of a sushi chef.
The flavor, consistency, shape, temperature, and presentation of the traditional egg cake must come together perfectly in this seemingly simple yet deceptively complex bite. Tamago is the face of a sushi restaurant—one it usually shows at the end of the meal.
Photographs: Courtesy Flickr/kawanet, Flickr/hungrynerd, neogaf.com, Flickr/avixyz, Flickr/stu_spivack