There I was, holding an itsy-bitsy quail egg with one end knocked off, staring at its dark, mysterious content, and wondering what I should do with it. “Just drink it like a shot,” my wife suggested, “and tell me how it is.” And so I did. The inexplicable liquid tasted of soy sauce, sake, and lemon juice, with none of the sliminess of egg white. A soft, slightly elastic capsule yielded to the bite with a little hesitance, which I assumed to be the egg yolk. “Like nothing I’ve ever had,” that was my verdict.
That was my experience with the Quail Egg Sushi at Sushi Rock, during an early birthday dinner for my wife. This cozy, unpretentious Robata bar just celebrated its 20-year anniversary last year, and continues to garnish its fun, innovative menu with the familiar tunes of the 70’s. From beautifully arranged sashimi bowl to house-smoked salmon presented under a glass canopy filled with white smoke, you’ll never run out of surprises here.
One wouldn’t find the variety of Yakitori from the standard entree and sushi menu. Behind the sushi bar, an enormous blackboard listed the chef’s selection of grilled delicacies. Our choice was the ribeye and mushroom Yakitori, skewered on bamboo stick and grilled over red-hot ember. The steak carried a hint of smokiness from the dripping, a more savory and delicate alternative of the wood smoke. The chef reserved only the heart of the ribeye for this dish, and trimmed off the excess fat to help preventing soot and flare-ups.
We enjoyed the opportunity to taste the house-smoked salmon, in the form of Nigiri sushi. The salmon was lightly cured so it wasn’t overly salty like the packaged ones from supermarkets. The soft, mild-tasting smoke seemed to be from a mellow blend of hickory and apple. It would have made the sushi perfect if the Shari (the nugget of rice under the fish, as part of a Nigiri) wasn’t so densely compressed. Mastering the art of shaping the Shari is a life-long endeavor, after all.
One unfortunate shortcoming was that the grilled sea bass, though cooked to perfection, was a bit less than fresh. I could detect a noticeable bitterness which I had to mask with soy sauce to be palatable. Also, the thin layer of semi-sweet glaze was too dull to provide adequate seasoning to the fish.
Compared to our somewhat disappointing experience with the sushi rolls at Fujiyama, Sushi Rock’s rolls were a lot more down-to-earth and honest, and they served the right purpose. Each roll was crafted in a comfortable one-bite size, with simple ingredients, and not drowning in fancy specialty sauces. In-between all the commotions created by my hungry toddler, I had an opportunity to watch one of the chefs slicing a roll behind the sushi bar. It was merely one slicing motion of the knife. The decisiveness, the precision, the concentration, the perfect use of the knife’s curvature… it just reminded me of a master samurai wielding a katana.
So, who’s to say Japanese culinary art and American rock and roll can’t go hand-in-hand? It makes perfect sense here at Sushi Rock. My recommendation: order a bunch of Yakitori as if you are having Spanish Tapas, and then finish it off with a big plate of sushi rolls.