I was recently on a business trip to So Cal and was positively jonesing for some sushi, so did what all mere mortal foodies do, I went to my favorite websites for suggestions. I found a place I was unfamiliar with, Sugarfish, as if living in Phoenix automatically makes one familiar with all restaurants 400 and some odd miles away. Sugarfish is, well, sort of in a special sushi class of it’s own.
Just looking at the menu online you can tell it’s not your typical sushi joint, for one, they only do sushi, none of the over sauced rolls you find everywhere that I despise so much. If you need that much sauce on a roll, it makes me suspicious of the quality of the fish!
I arrived to a pretty much packed establishment, all the young and beautiful people of SoCal packed together like so many sardines, or whatever sort of small fish the young and beautiful people devour. Sugarfish seems more like a small cocktail bar than a sushi joint, very small, sparsely decorated but tasteful, blue light as I recall. One of the beautiful people greeted me and showed me to a stool at the bar, and it does feel like a bar because the sushi chef, the rice, the fish, not there, hidden away in the back because I suppose that whilst the beautiful people like their sushi, all the preparation, just too…icky.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop. I was actually enjoying myself there, it was just like being in some…nevermind, I said I’d stop. Very pleasant atmosphere and you feel like you are with, if not the upper crust, whatever sits just underneath the upper crust.
I looked at the menu and saw that they handle sushi a little different, each piece, or a very few pieces will be delivered at a time so as to be enjoyed immediately. They also serve their rice, and this is what makes Sugarfish so different, the rice is warm. GASP! I’ll give you a moment to recover your senses. Yes I said it, warm rice…not the cool sticky rice we all have ingrained in our minds, soft, warm rice…and it does make a difference.
I opted to go the easy route for my first visit and selected the “Trust Me” that included something on the order of…let me look it up…hey I was right, 12 pieces of sushi for about $30. My first two pieces arrived, along with polite advice as to whether the chef suggested it be tried without the usual soy sauce and wasabi I tend to like at about the same consistency as catsup. I popped the first small piece in my mouth and…wow…the warm rice just…I wasn’t sure how to describe it, this really was a new culinary experience. We’re so accustomed to cold rice and cold fish that, warm raw fish, it just makes it so…buttery would be a good start. The warmth also seems to subdue the fish and emphasize the rice. Being a rice lover, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I tended to chew slower, rolling the flavors around in my mouth. It was more akin to experiencing sushi rather than eating it. I was almost sad to swallow, and I don’t really think I ever used the wasabi or soy sauce, I was so focused on the delicacy of the flavors.
I’d seen an episode of Anthony Bordains No Reservations where he visited a sushi bar in Tokyo and was served by a man who he seemed to really REALLY respect. Savoring each piece gave me flashbacks to watching Tony dine. One perfect piece at a time.
The second plate came, in a way I wasn’t sure that at almost 50 I could fully appreciate all the subtleties of the fish. Maybe I’ve eaten too many strong or harsh things, to much wasabi that took away my breath and made my eyes water and had dulled my taste buds. While intriguing, I honestly had a difficult time differentiating one type of fish from another, the rice was what my mind seemed to lock onto each time, and I don’t have the disadvantage of being a smoker.
I usually have suggestions, ideas that I think would add to the experience. Aside from a suspicion that slightly larger portions would help with the differentiation, I really wouldn’t change a thing, this really is an experience. I can’t even recall what if anything was played for music, it’s like you are pulled inward by the warm rice and buttery fish, an internal experience. I just know I enjoyed it and would encourage all sushi lovers to give it a try. Maybe you’ll love it and come back, maybe you’ll be one and done. Either way, you will have had the experience.