Sushi stRoll: Tokyo Shanghai Bistro
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 19, 2011 @ 1:09pm
Feeling a little adventurous, I decided I’d go for a solo sushi run to Tokyo Shanghai Bistro (494 Elmwood Ave.)—it didn’t hurt that I had a $25 gift certificate from dressing up as a sheep with an uncomfortably large head. The stop, Part IV of our Sushi stRoll, was a refreshing change from our last destination, Wasabi a little farther north on Elmwood, partly due to the menu choices and partly because of the overall experience.
Seated at Tokyo Shanghai Bistro’s slightly-narrow sushi bar, I had a perfect sight-line to gawk at an itamae at work—chopping, mixing and wrapping with speed and precision. It’s fascinating, and probably really invigorating if you’re a few mini wooden fishing boats dotted the counter, lending a more authentic touch (and tempting me to play with them.) Accustomed to ordering “Chef’s Choice,” I asked the pleasant server, Jack, to let the sushi chef pick the best three special rolls (with the exception of the Caribbean Roll, since I’m allergic to bananas).
Before we get to the rolls individually, it’s worth noting how impressive the presentation was. A clear glass with a red light was placed in the middle—stuck to the plate with a dab of wasabi—with white strings absorbing the red light and curling their way from the glass.
The Volcano Roll, the Tornado Roll and the Black Betty were deemed the ideal trio, I was told, and it was a commendable move that they verified the three with me before they were served (not a must, but an appreciated practice nonetheless). According to Jack, the rolls were chosen for their popularity and not their freshness—but the latter wasn’t an issue, fortunately.
The Tornado Roll (shrimp, smoked eel and avocado on the inside, with spicy crabmeat seaweed salad topped with tobiko and chef’s sauce on the outside, $12.95):
Tokyo Shanghai Bistro is proud of its fresh avocado—I literally saw an “alligator pear” perched on the counter—and the pureed fruit featured prominently in all three rolls. The chewiness of the shrimp complemented the smooth avocado (in a “steak-with-mashed-potatoes” kind of way), and the spicy crabmeat & seaweed salad topping was served in thin, crunchy strips—almost like coleslaw—but it wasn’t very spicy. The eel was buried slightly by all the other flavors, which shouldn’t be too surprising.
The Volcano Roll (California roll tempura style with spicy crab meat, spicy tuna and tobiko on top with eel sauce, $10.95):
The theme with the Volcano Roll (I’m not sure if this was “natural disaster day” at the restaurant, with “Volcano” following “Tornado) was adding layers of complexity to an otherwise straightforward roll. Beginning with a simple California roll—cucumber, crab and avocado—the itamae surrounded the roll in a crunchy tempura wrap and topped it generously with a spicy mixture.
The crab meat, tuna and tobiko (eel roe) combination on top was again slightly like coleslaw in consistency, but this time it had a strong spicy flavor and distinctive orange color. My favorite roll of the trio, the spicy topping and the crunchy tempura coating made me to hurl myself back into the volcano for more.
Black Betty (shrimp tempura and spicy tuna inside with smoked eel, tuna and avocado on top, $11.95):
The reverse of the tornado roll, Black Betty boasted a crunchy inside and soft outside. Strips of eel, tuna and avocado were laid diagonally across the roll to intentionally mix flavors on each piece. Of the three rolls, this one demanded wasabi the most—without the condiment, though, I tried to distinguish the myriad of fish flavors.
The tuna stuck out in particular; it was smooth and lustrous—almost like cranberry sauce—and was close to butter in consistency. The shrimp tempura inside the roll, however, was a disappointment—lots of tempura, little fish. If you’re a lover of subtle fish tastes—and can truly judge quality tuna—the Black Betty is for you. If you’re about powerful flavor and competing textures, aim for the Tornado or the Volcano (this is starting to sound like a Chinese Zodiac calendar).
The bonus with the Black Betty were two pieces of shrimp tempura housed in the middle of a roll covered in eel. By this point, I was pretty full, but the tempura coating was appropriately light and flaky, and there was plenty of shrimp this time. The eel added a slightly salty taste to close the roll.
— The music played in these sushi restaurants is comical; we’ve heard Backstreet Boys’ “Shape of My Heart” and Mandy Moore’s “Only Hope” on our last two stops. Why the fascination with early-2000s pop hits? Unclear.
— Jack, the server, explained that Tokyo Shanghai Bistro will be changing its sushi menu soon so there are fresh, unexplored options. The “Red Dragon Roll,” spicy tuna under fresh tuna, will return soon—sounds ominous, right?
— Tokyo Shanghai purchases its fish from New York City and hosts a half-price sushi night on Tuesdays to cycle through stock. Is this an indicator that the fish is the freshest on Wednesdays and Thursdays? It could.
— The portion sizes were tremendous; one person shouldn’t expect to be able to eat three special rolls. Splitting three special rolls between two people would be my suggestion.