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The Search for Sushi: Oh Where, oh Where is my Salmon Baton Rouge?

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© 2011 Helana Brigman
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Having recently been gifted a copy of Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires, I thought it extraordinarily appropriate to discuss the state of sushi (as I know it) in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge is a fascinating town when it comes to restaurants.  We have local favorites such as The Chimes, but we also have a growing variety of cuisines quite literally “popping up” around the LSU campus.  Recent construction has planted a new sushi restaurant (of which I have yet to try) nearby along with Buffalo Wild Wings and a Little Caesar’s for the ever-hungry college student.  No longer do Serrano’s, Reginelli’s, Koi, and The Chimes hold a monopoly on what students can eat on the perimeter of the LSU campus.  No, larger chains promise to offer an even wider variety of foods and for about the same price.

These developments interest me, but not as much as the curious abundance of sushi restaurants interests me.  Sushi remains one of my favorite cuisines–the flavors, the fresh ingredients, the sauces and mysterious “crunchies” that adorn the rolls, oh my!–but I can’t seem to have a satisfying sushi experience in Baton Rouge.  Either the food is great, but the service is not, or the service is great, but the food is not.

Perhaps these great service and great sushi just don’t go together…like putting a rosemary rub on lobster, it just doesn’t work.  But here in Baton Rouge, there is no shortage of “sushi” restaurants and I wish to explain exactly what you’re paying for at several locations.

For the first of several reviews, here is The Search for Sushi: Part 1, Wasabi

Wasabi-or the $25 off deal that lead to a rather awkward evening.

Last Saturday night, my dinner date and I went to a restaurant we had never tried before under the promise that they had sushi and we might save $25 with a pre-purchased coupon.

The restaurant, Wasabi, is beautiful on the inside and our waiter is rocking one of the coolest handlebar mustaches I have ever seen.  Our evening starts out nicely (at first), but the freezing 50F air conditioned section we’re seated in (despite the fact that it’s 35F outside) begins to grate on our nerves as we order.  I order sushi and my date orders a salmon hibachi dish.

My sushi arrives on a white plate looking ever the part…with the exception of a brightly colored orange mayonnaise that douses one of the rolls.  Instantly, it is clear to me that this is not a sushi restaurant.  This is an Asian restaurant that happens to serve sushi.  They try to use the same white plates, they make the rolls, but when it comes to presentation, even a moderately expensive roll is covered in orange goo, detracting from the fact that this roll has crawfish in it and promises to be yummy by itself.

I am served, but my date is not.  We wait ten minutes for his hibachi dish to come out, lightly picking at the sushi on my plate (I don’t want to be rude and I always believe that eating before your dinner companion is one of the rudest things you can do).  Finally, in a flurry, a stout woman comes to our section wielding a hot plate in the air: “Steak Hibachi?!” she yells.  Not only does she not know which table this dish goes to, but nobody has ordered steak.

Handlebar mustache arrives and points to our table, but before they can place the plate down, my date points out “I ordered salmon, not steak.”  Although I didn’t see the subsequent eye rolling that occurred between Handlebar and Stout Yelling Woman, I understand a series of looks were exchanged to say, “NO.  He ordered steak, he’s just telling you he ordered salmon either to make me look bad or to change his mind.”  Whatever the case, my date is a kosher pescatarian and I can assure this waiter he did say “Salmon.”

So, we wait and continue to pick at my sushi which is half gone at this point.  The sushi is unmemorable, rolled in a thick layer of rice and always touching the weird orange mayonnaise.  In another five minutes, the waiter procures a new plate, but the grilled salmon is covered in a brown, sticky marinade and the closer one eats towards the center, the fish suddenly becomes…raw.   Clearly, this was a quick slap and fix job.

These are only part of the series of awkward service encounters we experienced.  My date is not brought the rest of his meal (the soup and salad it comes with), our tea is never filled when we ask, and the sushi on my plate becomes an incromprehensible goo the longer it sits there.  I can’t even imagine taking it home (what would it look like the next day?).

A series of weird back-and-forths occur when my date pays the bill.  He has purchased a $25 off coupon with the purchase of $35 worth of food.  We’ve somehow been charged $34.88 and some things are missing from our bill.  Normally, this would be a happy discovery, but Handlebar attempts to reject our pre-paid coupon because of a twelve cents difference.  We happily point out he forgot to charge us for the tea.

As my date pays for the ticket, he discovers he has been charged forced gratuity. Perhaps because of the parade of mishaps? Or perhaps because we were able to use our pre-paid coupon? We’re not 100% sure, but it suddenly becomes apparent that we don’t know what we’ve tipped for exactly.

Overall rating: 2 1/2 sushi pieces out of 5.

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