Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why food is meant to be cooked (at least in my world)

The grim verdict is in: my taste buds do not like being subjected to sushi, both the cooked and raw kind.

The night started out innocently enough: I was actually looking forward to trying sushi because maybe, just maybe, I would like the cooked rolls. Then I would no longer be known as the only person at the table who doesn't eat sushi when I go out with my girlfriends.

We ended up dining at Niko Niko Sushi, which is located in the trendy Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. For those who would like to undergo a similar trial by fire and dine at the same establishment, you can find the restaurant's location information here.

Niko Niko is a chain sushi joint that is supposed to be quite good, per Yelp reviews, which are quite informative when hunting for good eats in a city. The place was not only recommended to the person who took me there (who, for the sake of anonymity, will remain anonymous to avoid embarrassment), but was also tried by that same person the night before to make sure the food was fresh and that I'd like it (yes, I know, I have awesome friends like that!).

We ended up valeting the car across from Niko Niko at the Dresden (the hip restaurant/lounge made famous by the movie "Swingers") since parking in L.A. on a Friday night is always horrendous. It was $2.50 to park for those dining at Dresden and $5 for all others.

We were planning on returning to the Dresden after for drinks, so we cut through the restaurant to get to Niko Niko. As we were putting our name in for a table, the parking attendant started yelling at us from across the street that we had lied about going to the Dresden and that we owed him money. Apparently, he had followed us through the restaurant. Even after explaining that we were coming back for drinks, he still made us pay the difference. I was so peeved that we showed him the Dresden receipt later to get a refund. I didn't really care about the $2.50, but rather the way he went about it: yelling and making a scene as if we were intentionally trying to swindle him out of $2.50.

The first thing I noticed when entering Niko Niko was the ominous "B" rating that hung in the window. Those who are not familiar with L.A. County might not be aware of this system: the Los Angeles Health Department inspects restaurants based on food handling practices, preparation, sanitization, etc. Restaurants receiving an "A" rating mean they are clean, decent, have correct food handling practices, etc. A "B" means the restaurant could have slight food handling issues that have been missed by staff, but regardless, I usually tend to avoid "B" restaurants since I've had two bouts of food poisoning in the last year alone. There are also "C," "D," and "F" ratings, but no smart person would ever eat at such a restaurant (at least I hope not).

The "B" rating was probably a sign (no pun intended) that the night was going to go downhill from there.

The second thing I noticed was the smell of the restaurant: overly fishy. I know it's a sushi restaurant that deals mainly with fish and therefore will smell fishy by default, but fishy taste and fishy smell are two things I absolutely can't stand in a restaurant.

We then proceeded to order. I didn't want to appear like too much of a sushi newbie, so I ended up taking pictures with my Blackberry camera phone instead of my Canon PowerShot, so I apologize in advance for the poor picture quality.

First up was a bowl of edamame, which I suggested since I love it (it's my favorite part of Japanese cuisine).

Then the true test of the iron stomach began: the first roll up was the Niko roll, which was cooked and contained tempura shrimp, cream cheese, and rice. It was also wrapped with seaweed, which immediately grossed me out (sorry, I eat with my eyes).

I was told to take a piece and shove the whole thing in my mouth and swallow. So I did. And it would not go down, as hard as I tried. Even biting it into smaller chunks didn't help. It was so fishy tasting. My friend frantically motioned at me to swallow...but I couldn't. My eyes started to water as I pictured myself throwing up in the restaurant in front of my friend and humiliating everyone. I gestured at my friend's napkin in a panic, and once in my hand, I spit the whole thing out. And what did I then proceed to do? Instead of apologizing to my friend, I nervously looked around to see if any of the nearby sushi chefs behind the counter had noticed my near throw-up incident or had gotten offended.

Next up (as if one torturous roll wasn't enough) was the Snow Cone roll, which had baked lobster in it and some sort of sauce on it.

This one I liked the best out of everything I sampled because:

a) it was served warm (I hate cold seafood)
b) it did not taste overly fishy
c) I refused to look at or acknowledge that it contained seaweed
d) I closed my eyes when shoving it into my mouth
e) I smothered my pieces in my mixture of soy sauce and wasabi (see pic below), thus annihilating any and all remaining fish taste (and quite possibly my taste buds, who still haven't forgiven me for Friday night)

However, despite my disclaimer that I liked this roll, I would never in a million, billion, gazillion years wake up one morning and be craving it. In the context of all the other sushi I tried, this one was passable. And I say passable very lightly.

The third roll I sampled was the TNT roll, which had baked shrimp and lobster.

Again, I didn't like this one because it was overly fishy tasting and served cold. My poor friend ended up eating practically 3 whole rolls alone, while I munched on a second bowl of edamame (yum) and had only about 3 pieces of the Snow Cone roll. My poor friend didn't even dare suggest that I try shashimi (raw sushi) given my initial adverse reaction to the cooked stuff.

Then the worst part of the evening began: I started burping sushi...and all I could taste was fish (sorry for the gross details). The solution? I ordered a Diet Coke, which was like finding an oasis in the dessert. The carbonation helped, as did the drinks I had after to get rid of the fish burpies. I can easily say that the Diet Coke was my favorite part of the meal.

My friend has since profusely apologized over and over for the dinner, especially since I threw up the first bite. And my friend also confessed that the food wasn't nearly as fresh as the day before, so I take some comfort in knowing that it's not hinging on only my sensitive taste buds.

After drinks at the Dresden we headed over to a nearby coffee shop in Hollywood named the Bourgeois Pig. I recommend going here if you want to get a good kick out of all the baristas. Each time I've gone I've had interesting stories to share with friends when getting back.

I ended the night on a positive note: I ordered a soy cafe latte. Despite the dinner, my happy ending came in the form of frothy and delicious coffee. If coffee was a man, I'd marry him, for I could gaze upon such a delight daily:

So what is the moral of the story? Sushi is an excellent future dining option for me if I ever have to lose weight before a big event, as I'll only eat a few bites, if even that.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my night transpired.

What has been your sushi experience? Do you eat it or have any dining recommendations?


  1. Oh I never eat the cream cheese rolls...for some reason cream cheese just makes them gross imo. My boyfriend was a sushi noob and he started on spicy albacore rolls but he also likes tempura shrimp rolls. I still haven't moved him onto 'real' sushi, ie nigri.

  2. I am bummed for you! I wish you started with some really basic rolls, such as "tuna" or "salmon" and since you like warm - maybe just "eel." It looks like you want super fancy, and got burned.

  3. What guileful person would relegate such a sweet person to a sub-par sushi joint? You certainly deserve better. Might I suggest going to this place instead, http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-izaka-ya-by-katsu-ya-los-angeles. Be adventurous, try some of the raw stuff and write about that experience.


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