So many hand rolls, so little time
Some folks measure a community’s growth by the number of housing starts, increase in kindergarten students or whether we need a new cemetery.
I prefer to gauge progress by the shifts in the cultural horizon. Last week, an event occurred in Carson Valley of such cosmic proportions that it takes two to tell the story. Within days, we had opened our very own, first-ever Starbucks store and, at the other end of town, a sushi bar.
There’s something in me that balks at paying $3 for a cup of coffee I am perfectly capable of brewing at home for about 4 cents. So I skipped the Starbucks grand opening in favor of spending a mere $36.46 on sushi which means — say it with me — “cold boiled rice.”
I recruited my friend and cosmopolitan coworker Karl of the Cast Iron Stomach for a trip to my very first taste of sushi. Being Minden, at first I feared it was “Sue’s sheep bar,” so I tried to be open-minded.
The Sushi Bar is tucked in a corner of The Daly Scoop, heretofore a cafe and ice cream parlor. Proprietor Lori Daly Baxter said a series of events, fueled by customer requests, led her to open the sushi bar. By Saturday afternoon, the eight-stool sushi bar was crowded and chefs Armando Martinez and Ernesto Trujillo were plying their trade. They joked about learning Japanese cooking in Tokyo, Mexico. Both had been chefs at the Sushi & Teri restaurant in Carson City.
Despite our 30-year age gap, Karl and I have a few things in common. He is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and I eat like I’m 6-6. He opted for the $14.95 all-you-can-eat special. Since this was my first time out, I thought I would just nibble on a few items and ordered a la carte.
I counted 99 items on the sushi bar menu. Surely I would find something I could stomach, but I harbor that desert-dweller’s phobia of fresh seafood. How long does it take to truck seawater eel to Minden? Are those quail eggs from Carson Valley quail? Isn’t Tokyo 5,223 miles from Minden?
The chefs offered to switch me to all-you-can-eat as I closed in on the $14.95 mark. I sat there staring at little things staring back at me from the display case, and I didn’t think that was possible. Once again, I was wrong.
The staff is well-prepared for the skeptic. “Here, try this.” “Did you have the upside-down shrimp?” “Make her a lily roll, she’ll love it!”
There was the problem of utensils. Dozens have tried to teach me how to maneuver chopsticks. I can’t do it. Karl came close, but at the last minute I panicked and asked for a fork.
He had a few tips to enhance the dining experience.
— When opting for all-you-can-eat, drink as little as possible. As the water hits the rice, worlds collide.
— Take your time. Karl prefers to start with the showy items like the cal rainbow (crab, avocado covered on top with tuna, salmon, yellowtail and tobikko). When he starts filling up, he switches to traditional raw sushi. Then he takes a break and moves back up to the signature servings.
I had no such strategy. Put it in front of me and it was gone. Everything they recommended, I loved. Somewhere along the way, Lori slipped crackers topped with fried brie and jalape-o jelly in front of us. Gone in 60 seconds.
What she had discovered in the few days the sushi bar had been open was that she could please any palate. If Japanese egg wasn’t to your liking, you could still order your basic grilled cheese.
The only concession she made to diners’ delicate stomachs was in the design of her new menus. At one point, she had the chopsticks and rice bowls next to the ice cream cones. But, perhaps anticipating skeptics like me, she moved the sushi gear to the right so the name of the restaurant is flanked by the tools of the trade.
The beauty of the food preparation appealed to the artist in Karl. The setups come with little pitchers of soy sauce, wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and slices of fresh ginger.
“What’s that for?” I asked Karl.
“To cleanse your palate,” he said.
Cleanse my palate? Who has time?
Sheila Gardner is the night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.