Thursday, March 03, 2005
It’s not just about the food...
I like to eat at home because I like to eat food that's made to my taste. I like to eat at restaurants because I want to have a good time while enjoying good food. I consider service, ambiance, and atmosphere to all be a part of the dining experience when I go out to eat. And there is no place that fits the bill as well as Yuzu, my choice restaurant for sushi, as the perfect place for me to out after a long day at work. Yes, it is a 45 min drive from Dublin, and yes, the price is steep for a weekday spur of the moment meal. But nowhere, absolutely nowhere I've been out to eat, is as enjoyable as Yuzu when I consider all the aspects of enjoyable dining.
To get the maximum effect of Yuzu, you MUST sit at the counter. This is really where the action is - the closer you are to Chef Yoichi Arima, the more you get out of every dollar you spend here. The restaurant is small, seating only 25 people or so, and Arima-san definitely pays close attention to the table seats. But when you join him at the counter, you become his friend. And his jovial attitude unites us all at the table. Conversations start flowing between strangers, and we leave as friends with smiles topping off our full bellies.
Although all of my visits to Yuzu have been fun-filled with great company, my last visit to Yuzu was the absolute best yet! What do you get when you have three food bloggers at the counter which seats five?! A great time and new friendships!!!! I met my first fellow food blogger, Molly, who manages the very descriptive and beautiful Spice Tart. The conversation was flowing so well that Arima-san was even shared his new magic tricks - which is definitely worth requesting. If you get to Yuzu, ask him to predict whether you are going to Heaven or Hell!
Of course, the love for fresh fish and good food is no doubt the uniting factor between all of us at Yuzu's counter seats. Arima-san gets his fish from the same source as Sakae in Burlingame, which has been around for over 15 yrs, serving the area's wealthy chu-zai-in (displaced Japanese businessmen here on assignments) and other willing connoisseurs. In other words, they get the best of the best in the area, because that's Sakae's niche. When I go to Yuzu, I let Arima-san do all the driving. As with all restaurants, some things are better than others on certain days. He makes me a sashimi plate (fish sans rice) first, moves onto a few dishes from the kitchen, and finishes me off with sushi. I've learned to appreciate this flow from my mother, who always said she got too full too quickly if she ate all sushi. Apparently, my tendency to want variety is genetically driven, since I also appreciate being able to sample a wide range of textures and flavors in a sashimi plate. If I were to consume the same number of fish variation as sushi, Arima-san would have to roll me out of his restaurant. The items from the kitchen can vary between fried dishes, fresh oysters, or a salad mixed with fresh fish. I am particularly fond of the snapper with okura in an ume plum marinade.
Arima-san will sometimes have his best fish saved for last, and give it to me as sushi. Other times, I request what I liked the best from the sashimi plate as sushi. I ALWAYS finish with ikura, since I love ikura. Their ikura is marinated in soy sauce - if you enjoy fish roe, it's worth checking out the difference between the marinated kind there and the non-marinated kind elsewhere - very different in terms of flavor and texture.
There are sushi restaurants that serve good sushi closer to Dublin for maybe even less. But I find myself going back to Yuzu. Yuzu is more than a sushi joint for me. It's becoming my home base - a place where I can count on to satisfy my belly and my spirit.