Sushi stRoll: Blue Fin Asian Bistro
blog by BuffaloDotCom • July 31, 2011 @ 9:44am
In Buffalo.com’s newest food series, S.J. and Ben tackle the challenge of sushi, the Asian culinary delight that causes locals to salivate with excitement or shudder from fear. There’s really no middle ground—you don’t hear many people say, “Meh, sushi isn’t too bad.” Fortunately, the Buffalo.com content staff thrives when sampling outside-the-box things, and while S.J. is the veteran sushi buff of the duo (S.J.‘s edit: This is completely untrue), Ben T. has the appropriate heritage on his side. “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
Even though sushi has slithered its way into the mainstream, the notion of eating raw fish and seaweed in small portions still makes many Buffalonians bristle. Because we’ve been habituated into expecting large portions of food—see most Italian restaurants in the city—the small, delicately prepared and elaborately presented sushi rolls seem especially foreign and scary. Why have four bites of sushi with those maddening chopsticks when you can have a volcanic mound of spaghetti parmesan?
Sushi is a production that far transcends the physical food. Skim through Eugene Ciurana’s sushi guide, and you’ll snicker at the occasionally sensual, borderline creepy tone he uses when describing certain rolls or pieces of seafood. Sushi can be an obsession, a sign of class and sophistication, a solemn tribute to Japanese/Chinese history. How will our local establishments fare?
Blue Fin Asian Bistro, advantageously placed next to SPoT Coffee on Elmwood, has only been open since fall 2010 when it replaced Italian restaurant Brodo. Facing strong competition from neighbor Wasabi, often touted as the top sushi joint in the city, Blue Fin can’t skimp in quality if it hopes to survive.
To get a good grasp of the menu—at least the cheaper, more introductory rolls—S.J. and Ben T. opted for the lunchtime “Three Roll Special,” which included three classic or hand rolls for $9.99. Considering each classic roll usually runs for $4 to $4.50, we thought this was a bargain.
Ben T.’s rolls:
Chicken and asparagus roll: You wouldn’t find this roll at a Japanese sushi bar—sushi explorer Ciurana would probably glare at me for my choice and lend an insulting “WTF!”—but I envisioned it as a gateway roll for the tentative sushi-goer. Fortunately, the asparagus wasn’t soggy, even if the chicken was a tad dry. Since both tastes were a little bland, a slight dunk in soy sauce was required. Cue Anger Management quote: “You gotta dunk that #$@^!”
S.J.’s note: “This doesn’t taste like sushi.”
Spicy crunchy shrimp roll: The itamae—the sushi chef—went a little overboard on the crushed tempura batter in this roll, resulting in a bombardment of crunchy grains—my mouth took a while to adjust. It wasn’t very balanced, unfortunately, but the shrimp had a luster that would make William Grimes proud. As S.J. will probably agree, the roll wasn’t as spicy as we’d prefer. I’ve had better crunchy rolls before.
S.J.’s note: Yeah, Ben’s right. Wasn’t very spicy. Wah, wah.
California roll: Again, Ciurana would call me inauthentic—or a “wimp”—for ordering a California roll. The idea of eating a “crabstick” shouldn’t really excite anyone (I do really, really enjoy mock crab, for some reason), though to Blue Fin’s credit, the avocado and cucumber provided a fine contrast in texture. Buffalo Eats blogger Donnie raved about the avocado in his blog post from last September, and I couldn’t agree more. The degree of freshness was excellent, even if we weren’t dealing with raw fish.
S.J.’s note: What is this rabbit food?
Eel avocado roll: Have you ever seen an eel? It’s a disgusting-looking water critter, but it is mighty tasty! The name probably scares most people away, but eel rolls tend to be surprisingly palatable for the sushi-scared. This roll was particularly smooth and sweet, thanks to a touch of avocado and a sauce reminiscent of a barbecue sauce. The toasted sesame seeds that lightly coated the rice combined with the sweet flavors reminded me of the Mexican sesame candy I used to eat as a kid. My favorite roll of the day.
Ben T.’s note: S.J. is the eel expert, but I did note the pleasant sweetness too. If there was a roll that was a little slimy in consistency, it was this one. Is that a bad thing? I’m not entirely sure.
Spicy crunchy tuna roll: A little spicier than Ben’s spicy shrimp roll. A little too fishy-tasting for me, and too heavy on the crunchies. Tasted like the crumbs at the bottom of a box of Rice Krispies.
Ben T.’s note: The same issue applied with my spicy crunchy shrimp roll—the crushed tempura was overpowering. I didn’t find it to be much spicier than my slightly different choice.
Smoked salmon: Pretty simple roll, but I was OK with it. The salmon flavor wasn’t too strong, and the smokiness wasn’t overpowering either.
Ben T.’s note: It was decent except for the seaweed wrapper. It’s supposed to be dry and crunchy, not moist and rubbery!
The rice wasn’t cold, which is a compliment. According to the New York Times article, the rice should be “chewy with a glossy sheen,” and not especially cold or warm. Although the accompanying rice vinegar will provide some taste, the rice is meant to accentuate the ingredients wrapped within.
Here’s a handy site to determine which variety of sushi you should choose based on the freshness of the fish.