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The Nigiri Platter features two pieces of three types of fish on sushi rice.
By Erica Cusumano | STAFF
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Scintillating sushi
By Kathleen Ostrander

Health-conscious diners who wanted small tasty bites of food are responsible for helping to spawn the growing trend of restaurant sushi bars. Diners belly up to the bar, sometimes with chop sticks in hand to demonstrate their sushi knowledge as well as their manual dexterity with wooden eating utensils.

What started out a little more than two years ago as a small sushi menu at Pao, 2824 Plaza Drive in the Gables, has burgeoned into more than 30 offerings.

Restaurant owner Curtis Hudson, who also owns Café Brio, said sushi specials became six standard sushi offerings and the menu has taken off from there.

Sushi actually started out as a way of preserving fish. In its earliest form, rice was used as a sort of sandwich material around pieces of dried fish to extend that edible.

Indeed, roughly translated, sushi means vinegared rice or pickled rice. Seaweed, or nori, was added later around the rice and fish to stave off sticky fingers.

Now sushi is the general term for artful concoctions of raw fish or shellfish in rolled-up rice.

A usual sushi plate consists of the rolls, wasabi, which is the bright green Japanese version of horseradish, a dipping sauce and ginger pieces.

Traditional wasabi is ground from the wasabi pea; it is not the fake green reconstituted horseradish favored by some restaurants. Real wasabi adds heat, but also cleanses the palate. Most diners use it in small doses.

Pao sushi chef Erik Larson learned his craft from lots of practice as well as helpful tips on the Internet.

The Web has a plethora of sushi sites, including sushifaq.com and eatsushi.com in addition to videos on how to make your own sushi.

(Hint: It takes lots of practice to get the rice sticky enough, the fish the right size and that whole rolling technique correct - hurry on off to a sushi bar to watch the sushi chef while trying some of the myriad sushi offerings.)

Larson said the whole health-conscious craze fuels sushi sales, but it's also fun to eat and share.

Hudson advises sushi amateurs should start out with a California roll. At Pao the California roll has crab, avocado, carrots, cucumbers, scallions and sprouts and its rolled inside out and topped with sesame seeds.

He said #17 on the sushi menu is very popular. It is Cajun tuna, tempura lump crab, blackened yellow fin tuna, sambal aioli, scallions, cucumber - the rolls are made inside out and topped with the lump crab.

Sambal is a spicy relish of chili, tomato and vegetables. Larson uses it as well as other sauces and reductions to brighten the plate.

Sushi is supposed to be an eating as well as visual experience.

#22 is also popular. It is the Firecracker Shrimp Roll with chipotle basted shrimp and some other ingredients that pack crunch and heat.

Grab some friends and head on out to the sushi bar. At Pao, Larson will be your guide.

As you admire his plating artistry, beware of the M-80. Not for the faint of heart, the concoction with pickled habaneras as well as a pickled jalapeno topping features a burn that will raise the sweat on your brow. 


Sushi smart?

Tobikko - flying fish roe, it's red and crunchy and generally served as a sushi garnish

Aioli - mayonnaise flavored with garlic

Sambal - an Asian relish of chili, spices, tomato and vegetable

Maki - bite-sized seaweed square coated with rice and filled with fish and vegetables

Nigiri - little fingers of rice topped with wasabi and a filet of raw or cooked fish or shellfish. Generally the most common form of sushi you will see outside of Japan

Sashimi - raw fish fillets without sushi rice

Remoulade - a cold horseradish sauce flavored with spices, herbs and capers

Nori - edible dried, pressed seaweed

Sriracha - Thai hot sauce




Story published Friday, December 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 7 )

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