Friday, November 20, 2009

Restaurant Review: Naked Fish Sushi and Grill

There's a new sushi place in town! It's located in front of Harvey Washbangers, where Doc Green's used to be. We all knew Doc Green's wouldn't survive, because who wants to pay $10 for a side salad?

A Google search of "Naked Fish Sushi & Grill" yielded results that indicate the restaurant is part of a growing chain, with at least three restaurants, including ones in San Francisco, Las Vegas and College Station. You're not the only one thinking these are an odd combination, given College Station isn't exactly a dot on the national culinary map. However this could just be a result of not having a consistent web presence. And based on the Yelp results, the place has been open a little less than two weeks.

The decor is funky and new-looking. I particularly enjoy the digital picture frames at each table and fiber optic lights. The space is small so it's likely you'll get to know a bit about your neighbor. The hostess is wearing an approximation of a kimono and will greet you with a little Japanese. As an interesting note, the table staff and manager all spoke Japanese and were shocked when the Lovely Spouse did as well.

Beers were very well priced at $3.50 a bottle and there was a good selection, including Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. The menu is surprisingly extensive, but rather light. The selections were what you would expect to find in most American sushi restaurants, as well as a few "house" rolls that were distinct to Naked Fish.

The spouse and I ordered two rolls, an order of sea urchin (which can't currently be found anywhere else in College Station), an appetizer and the sushi sampler. A word of warning: this was too much food for the two of us. The Burning Man roll was a futumaki size roll that included eel, but was not hot in any way. The volcano roll was a huge mass of stuff on top of california rolls. These were a bit odd, but keeping in "tradition" with the new American sushi style. At some
point I'm going to learn that I prefer the Japanese style sushi rolls, but I still keep ordering the
funky new American style rolls. Anyways, the rolls weren't bad and didn't taste bad by any step in my imagination. It's just it seems I prefer maki to a pile of sushi. Anyways, the sea urchin was good, albeit obviously 1000+ miles from the West coast. Normally sea urchin is buttery, salty and just a bit fishy. This was a tiny bit fishier than desirable, but not bad. The Lovely Spouse said his sushi sampler was fantastic, particularly the yellowtail. And the California Rolls were good, as expected.

The spouse's sushi sampler came with a salad and "clear soup" that very closely resembled miso soup, but without the miso and lots more scallions. The salad dressing was lovely, with loads of ginger. It's funny that I mention the salad, considering the previous occupant of the restaurant space. :-)

The one really big complaint I had about this place was a phenomenon that I hope is not becoming ubiquitous in sushi bars and Japanese restaurants: sake bombs. What's a sake bomb, you ask? It's a shot of sake dropped into a half glass of beer. Ideally this is done in groups where everyone races to the bottom of the glass of beer. What makes this irritating? The yelling that goes on beforehand. It's usually some form of "Sake bomb! One! Two! Three! Go!" I don't mind this after 10 pm on a weekend at a bar. I do mind it at 8 pm midweek while enjoying a quiet dinner with the Lovely Spouse. Call me an old fart, if you will, but I find it disruptive and immature, and best left to a bar environment. Some of us have reached the age where we no longer feel the need to announce to the world that we are drinking something alcoholic. It's really not that big a deal. And what's the point of even decorating a restaurant as such if you are trying to promote yourself as a frat house?

Alas, I digress.

Will I be going back to Naked Fish? Sure. Gotta try a place at least twice. :-) The service was good and friendly, the Asahi was reasonably priced, and the nigiri was good.

Would I recommend this place to others? Yup. You've been warned about the sake bombs.

Just a note before I finish this post: Many apologies for the long time between posts. Between traveling and getting sick I haven't been in the mood to discuss food all that much. I'm back now, although I'm going to warn you there will be further disruptions with the holidays coming up. :-)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Since you asked: places I eat when I'm not planning on writing a review in Maryland

I wasn't planning on writing reviews of anything I ate while up in Maryland. The trip was in order to attend a friend's wedding and to just kind of hang out with the family. BUT since some of you asked, here's where I ate, keeping in mind I've been living outside of Maryland since 2002.

1. Gunning's Seafood. It's between BWI and my folk's house, making it an ideal location to find a few Maryland specialties that, for some odd reason, people just don't make in Texas. I specifically went for the soft shell crab sandwich, which was all that I remembered. Crispy fried and served on white bread with lettuce and tomato, along side Utz's chips. They also had something called "pepper rings", which were bell pepper rings deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. Sounds nasty, but it was surprisingly good, although I could only eat 2 of them. The meal was complete with Maryland Crab Soup, a stew of crab meat and veggies seasoned with Old Bay. Mmmmm.... There's nothing fancy about this restaurant, and much of the food is fried casual fare. But it's the stuff you miss when you move out of the region, prepared the way you remember.

2. Eggspectations in Columbia, MD. A Canada-based company that is slowly moving south along the Eastern Seaboard, it's pretty easy to guess that they serve breakfast all day. What might not be so obvious is that their Happy Hour is one of the most popular in town. Half price appetizers and drinks within driving distance to 7 or 8 colleges and universities makes this a no-brainer for people who want something tasty on a limited budget. It's also near my sibling's house and is very child-friendly. So we typically go there each time I visit. On this trip the folks weren't hungry so they just ordered dessert crepes, which were made to order and filled with not-to-sweet fruit and bavarian cream. I ordered the vegetarian lettuce wrap special, which was just as messy as lettuce wraps everywhere. Kids meals consist of standard kit fare at a reduced price, including chicken strips, pasta and fries.

3. G&M Restaurant in Linthicum Heights. Strange location, with Baltimore City off in the distance, and even stranger exterior hide the newly renovated interior and surprising quality of food. There is an on-running debate in Baltimore about who has the best crab cakes. G&M and Obrycki's in Fell's Point typically are at the top of everyone's list. Obrycki's is typically where tourists and other out-of-towners are sent because the location is so easy to find. However, if someone is willing to make the trek, G&M is worth the effort. It's a truly old-school restaurant that's been cranking out typical regional food, including Baltimore-style prime rib and liver and onions along with their award winning crab cakes for almost 2 decades. Everything is well made, from the salads on down to their constantly brewed fresh coffee. They have pastry chefs on staff, as well as seafood and beef specialists. The crab cakes are worth the fuss, and are about the size of a softball. Portions are very large.

4. Mango Grove in Columbia. Back when I lived in Maryland I frequented Mango Grove for it's light vegetarian Indian fare. It was the only place I knew of that served a paper dosa as well as the best malai kafta I've ever had. Since I moved away they purchased what used to be a rather nasty Chinese restaurant next door and converted the Chinese restaurant part to a Northern Indian restaurant that features meat dishes. And they continue to serve vegetarian fare in the Mango Grove portion of the building, as well as the new part. It's a welcome change as I have family members that are adverse to the mere idea of eating vegetarian. I still prefer the malai kafta to everything else on the menu, though. :-) I also recommend the veggie samosas, mango lassi and nan. I'm told the chicken and lamb tikka masala are also quite good. They have very recently opened up an Indian grocery store in the shopping center near the restaurants. I recommend checking them out if you wish to make some of wonderful Indian food on your own.