Something fishy

I must sheepishly admit, I’m a fairly new arrival to the sushi party. I’ve always been intrigued by sushi in theory, and the creations I’ve seen in person have been nothing short of gorgeous. But, like many folks of the Midwestern persuasion, the thought of putting a slab of raw fish in my mouth, chewing and swallowing it kinda grosses me out. I usually prefer my fish cooked through and well done, thank you very much. I’ve had a hard time bringing myself to really give sushi a fair shake.

You’d have thought I’d learn to love sushi after spending nearly two years in Los Angeles. My La-La Land sushi introduction took place at an all-you-can-eat buffet and, sadly, it was not a very happy one. As I might have mentioned a time or two before, I’m not really a buffet gal. I’d much rather order a plate of something I know I’ll enjoy than sample a dozen or so different things and come away wishing I would have just gotten a full serving of the one or two items I liked best. Such was the case here.

My uncle, with whom I shared many great dinners during my LA days, took me to a sushi buffet place he liked. Imagine a Golden Corral serving sushi with a Korean barbecue section thrown in for good measure and you’ve pretty much got the idea. Instead of savoring the meal, we basically rushed through the line with my uncle loading me up with a roll here, a bite there… by the time we sat down, I had no idea what was on my plate. I ate tentatively; none of it struck me as particularly fresh or memorable, and I came away feeling disappointing.

I mean no disrespect to my uncle; I certainly appreciated his generosity in including me for dinner, as he did on a regular basis, and I hope he’s not offended if he reads this.  I guess I was just hoping for more of a leisurely, sit-down experience at a high-quality sushi bar where I could just trust that the chef would serve us whatever he’d cut and rolled fresh on the spot. On this night, though, it was not to be.

I’ve always been open to trying sushi again, but the only fish my husband will consider eating comes battered, fried and served with chips, so I’ve been dangling out here on my own for years, waiting for someone to come to my sushi rescue. It wasn’t until a few months ago that a couple of my sushiphile friends took me under their generous wings and eased me into giving it another shot.

These two lovely ladies and I convened at Sakura here in Indianapolis for dinner and I put myself in their capable hands. I was a little nervous about the idea of diving right into the deep end of the pool; little did I know about the sheer number of sushi options that don’t involve raw fish. I was pleasantly surprised (and a little relieved) to discover shrimp tempura roll, asparagus roll and the item that would deliver a powerful punch of love at first bite – the spicy soft shell crab roll. Rounded out with a bowl of edamame and a plate of light-as-a-feather crispy tempura vegetables for sharing, it was an unexpectedly filling repast. I loved the ritual of pouring the soy sauce and mixing in the wasabi with your chopstick, and the delicate skill required to use chopsticks in first place. There’s something sort of mad-science, techy cool about it.

I did taste the (raw) spicy tuna roll, but it wasn’t my favorite of the choices. The raw concept is still going to take some getting used to for my palate, but I’m off to a good start. Honestly, it’s really just a mental hangup and has nothing to do with taste or texture. I’ll get there. Someday. Until then, I’m happy to play the field.

I’ve been back to Sakura a few times since, mainly for lunch, although I’m perfectly open to trying other sushi restaurants on for size as well. Every now and then, I’ll even think to myself “Mm, sushi sounds really good right now.” Actually, I’ve been nursing a soft-shell crab roll craving for about a week now, but just haven’t had a chance to indulge it. I was thrilled beyond belief when my friend Christina sent me a text late this morning telling me not to eat lunch, that she was bringing over some Sakura take-out. What a thoughtful pal! (Thanks, girlfriend!!!!)

Sakura’s California roll and soft-shell crab roll

Would love to hear recommendations for other entry-level sushi rolls I should try — sound off at will, fair readers!

Oh sushi. I think this could be the start of a beautiful relationship.