Asahi Sushi Offers Much to Get Excited About
"Look at this avocado," Shannon says, using the Voice of Authority. She hefts a hunk of California roll gracefully between her chopsticks. "Not a trace of brown. It's fresh, bright green, and there's a ton of it. Someone went to a lot of trouble with this avocado. Definitely the mark of a great sushi restaurant."
How, I am wondering, can the quality of raw fish be judged by an avocado? But I don't have time to dwell on it because the Voice of Authority has moved on to other subjects, everything from the best place to buy shoes in Fells Point to zero tolerance.
There are seven of us sitting in the front window of Asahi Sushi. We are delighted by the restaurant's salmon- colored, fish-shaped clock, by posters of Japanese women in kimonos playing table tennis, and by the authentic-looking Love Boat ($29.95, designed for two or more people) being sailed over our heads by our demure but friendly server. We have ordered a slew of appetizers, a shrimp-tempura dinner ($12.95), and several hand rolls, but the food arrives in the order it's prepared, so we launch our meal with the Love Boat.
Happily, all of our companions this evening -- A.G., Jackie, Cathy, Kim, and Shannon the Voice -- are sushi mavens, so they explain to C.C. and me the varieties of sushi and sashimi set before us. The yellowtail and salmon rate raves. They're so fresh you can taste the ocean, A.G. says. Cathy extols their velvety texture. I notice the delicacies' beauty: The salmon is artfully arranged in overlapping waves. This is food you want to look at as least as much as you want to taste it. C.C., determined to avoid eating the raw stuff, chooses cooked shrimp and broiled eel; the rest of us opt for the raw deal -- sweet shrimp, surf clam, red snapper, squid, and herring roe. The snapper and the roe are, to me, unpleasantly fishy, but Jackie loves them for that fishiness, and for their freshness. Chopsticks go clickety-clack. "This is the best piece of yellowtail I ever had," the Voice declares.
The Love Boat is swiftly emptied of its cargo, so the arrival of our appetizers is timely. Seaweed salad ($3.95) is bright green and crunchy -- not what I'd expected -- with a vinegar kick. Biting off the little heads of baby octopus ($4.95) is not for the tender-hearted, but the wee octopods, cooked to a burnt orange glow, are crunchy without being tough, and they taste of toasted sesame. Miso soup ($1) arrives (too late, according to the Voice, who feels strongly that one should never be obliged to wait for soup). The only, and last, miso soup I'd tried was chalky and bland, enough to make me swear off it. Asahi Sushi's version is silky and pleasantly salty. Color me converted.
When edamame ($2.50) appears, we turn to A.G. expectantly. She demonstrates the art of popping the boiled soy beans from their shells, after which we all follow suit. And they're great. The beans are tangy with salt, crunchy, fun to eat -- the ideal snack food. Pajun ($3.95), a Korean-style pancake, contains minced oyster, shrimp, squid, and generous amounts of scallion. The soy-based dip livens it up. Ditto for the meaty pan-fried dumplings ($3.95), bursting with minced beef inside their delicate crepe crescents.
Just when we begin thinking that our eyes may have been bigger than our collective stomach, our server delivers little wooden trays loaded with tuna sushi ($3.75), tuna roll ($3.50), Boston roll (shrimp, cucumber, and crab, $4), Philly roll (salmon and cream cheese, $4), and rainbow roll (tuna, salmon, and fluke outside, crab and avocado inside, $5.50). Shannon waxes poetic about the avocado again -- this time about the size of the pieces, which are unusually large. But by the time her oration ends, the rest of us have finished off the rice-wrapped morsels. I am still struggling to bite into a piece precariously balanced between my chopsticks. Cramming it whole into my mouth is impossible, yet the abundant rice scattered on my shirtfront is proof of the two-bite method's fallibility.
We're groaning with surfeit when our server brings us not one but two trays of gyoza (dumplings), compliments of the chef, who's probably never seen so many women consuming so much sushi. On the heels of the dozen dumplings comes C.C.'s shrimp tempura ($12.95), which boasts large prawns along with broccoli, onion, and sweet red pepper. The tempura is good, but Kim says it's not as ethereal as most of our meal has been. C.C. enjoys it, but finds the dish slightly greasy. But better greasy batter-fried shrimp than anything raw, as far as she's concerned: Years of peering through a microscope at colorful parasites have taken their toll on C.C.
Dessert, a choice of red bean- or green tea-flavored ice cream (each $1.95), generates debate. The Voice likes the delicate taste of the green tea, but she is shouted down by the red-bean fanciers, who cite its sweet creaminess. Me, I'm just glad it doesn't come in avocado.