Thursday, February 19, 2015

Let’s Eat Some Raw Fish

Chunks of raw fish can enter the body either as something completely blissful, or as something morally corrupt. In my experience as a sushi eater (which spans a commendable +10 years), you either get beautiful, fresh, exceptional cuts of fish, or you get raging diarrhea. There is no middle ground.

That is why when you (the starry-eyed, fish hungry customer) walk the thin line between pain and happiness that comes with choosing a sushi restaurant, a couple things might be worth remembering. The first is to be open-minded; the second is to go forth with a thirst for adventure. Being open-minded will make you enjoy the food more, and, in the event you end up choosing the wrong restaurant, the adventure will make the diarrhea a little more bearable.

With that being said, I took my good-natured vegetarian friend to Sushi Bistro this weekend, and my stomach has never felt better. Luckily Sushi Bistro is on 6th and Balboa, which is just a stone’s throw away from my apartment. Every time I’ve gone they never disappoint. Being just one of over thirty sushi restaurants in the Inner Richmond alone, Sushi Bistro goes above and beyond to prepare unique, delicious rolls that are literally fresh-to-death.
(Pun intended.)

Weekdays are usually pretty mild, but night times and weekends can get busy. My friend and I went on a Saturday around 6:30 and had no problem getting seats at the sushi bar. The two of us kicked things off with the house Miso soup ($2.50), a vegetable tempura appetizer ($7.95), and a bowl of cucumber sunomono ($4.95). The bistro, with it’s deadly atmospheric pairing of tasty and trendy, is a little on the pricey side compared to other small restaurants in the area, but SB gives you what you pay for with quality and creativity.

Our soups are brought out quickly, followed not long after by the cucumber sunomono, which is one of my all time favorite menu items. SB’s cucumbers are cold, fresh, thinly sliced, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and pickled in a sweet vinegar, similar to the pickled veggies on a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich.

“It’s tasty,” says Sarah the vegetarian with a bemused look on her face, “but it kind of just reminds me of sweet pickles…like, the only real difference is they threw on some sesame seeds…big whoop.” She means well. And I’ll be damned if she doesn’t just have a way with words. I explained to her later on how pickles are made.

Next came the veggie tempura appetizer:

For me, good tempura is all about consistency. The tempura flakes on their own aren’t very salty, and thus don’t over power the vegetables with grease and salt. The light battering on the veggies made them soft and chewable, while the tempura flakes added an element of soft crunchiness. The fried sweet potato and zucchini were the audience favorites, while a sad piece of tempura-fried cantaloupe came in last. Sarah muttered for a long time about how fried cantaloupe just didn’t seem right.
While we browsed the menu for our next courses, the wait staff rushed to and fro down the back hallway that led to the kitchen. The restaurant grew busier and livelier as the dinner rush reached its plateau, but each of our waiters was curt, professional, and friendly. Our water glasses were always filled before they were empty and the waiters were quite patient with us as we called them back time and time again to order more food.

Now, having been friends for over 10 years, I knew full well what I was getting myself into taking a picky vegetarian to a sushi dinner. But, in an effort to see the glass half full, I thought of it as an opportunity to try the veggie sushi she always raves about. Still, with 23 signature sushi rolls (some topped with lobster AND smoked salmon) tantalizing me on the inside menu, I couldn’t help but wish, at least a little bit, that she liked fish. Even just for an hour. Instead, the wishing was interrupted when I low-key choked on a sesame seed mid bite as Sarah points to “baby lobster” on the sashimi list and sighs, “um, that’s the saddest name ever.”

Since it looked like there was no righting the wrong the baby lobster had done, I allowed two of our 3 main course picks to be vegetarian…against my better judgment.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Sarah had ordered the Fortune Roll with added cucumber ($7.95), along with a plain avocado cucumber roll ($4.95). I didn’t get a chance to read what was in the Fortune roll, as I was busy scouring the signature list for some much-needed protein. However, upon receiving the rolls it became clear that only two variables differentiated the two. Other than the extra light coting of tempura batter and a drizzle of eel sauce on the Fortune roll, the two were exactly the same: just brown rice, avocado, and cucumber. [Sigh.] If her taste in sushi reflected the way she decorated, her apartment would only fart throw pillows from Pottery Barn.

My selection, however, was exceptionally awesome. I’d always been curious about the house’s special Ahi Tuna Poke ($14.95) because A. specials are usually special for a reason, and B. because having tried the most perfect cubes of spicy ahi tuna on a trip to Hawaii some years back, I have been trying ever since to find something comparable to satisfy my cravings in the city. There seemed no better time to put Sushi Bistro’s ahi poke to the test.


It tasted just a beautiful as it looks. Though I was a little thrown when the tuna was served on a bed of mixed greens, instead of the white or brown rice I’d grown accustomed to seeing it paired with, the whole thing was stupid good. The thin, crispy wonton strings added a classic Asian flavor to the prime cuts of tuna, while the creaminess of the avocado slices perfectly balanced the hints of slight soy marinade that seeped out of each ahi piece. Even though there wasn’t much left of it by the end I still insisted on a to-go box, knowing I would be up in a couple of hours sleep-eating it in front of an open fridge. It still makes for some leftovers if you don’t wait more than a day to eat it. After that, no matter how legit the sushi was, you start dancing with the devil.

To finish things off we filled in the cracks with mochi ice cream, tiny balls of chewy Japanese rice dough filled with flavored ice cream. The mochi are sold individually for $1.65 and come in flavors like green tea, mango, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, and red bean to name a few.


Sarah settled on chocolate at the last minute and I chose green tea. It’s difficult to describe the taste and texture of mochi just because there’s really nothing else like it in America that I can think to compare it to. I’ve always wanted to live in Japan anyway, but once I found out they were basically the mochi mecca of the Pacific Ocean it was a real game changer.

Even though my mind and stomach felt like we’d gotten a substantial amount of food, I was pleasantly surprised when the bill was only $52.80 altogether. Our waiter was happy to split the check down the middle for us, and my and Sarah’s totals came to a respectable $26.40 a person. We each left a $5 tip because our various waiters were nice and I hate to look cheap by not leaving enough. After the last waiter packaged my salad for me, Sarah and I rolled off our bar stools and waddled home, full to bursting with dank sushi and adventure. And we both lived happily ever after.

The End.


Miso soup // 2.50
Cucumber sunomono // 4.95
Vegetable tempura appetizer // 7.95
Avocado cucumber roll // 4.95
Fortune roll + cucumber // 7.95
Ahi tuna poke special // 14.95
Mochi // 1.65

Sushi Bistro
431 Balboa St. (6th& Balboa)
Open 7 days a week
(415) 933-7100

* Great for small groups, can get loud on nights and weekends, not the most kid friendly but definitely not kid unfriendly, full bar complete with sake, beer, wine, and other fancy drinks, you could find cheaper sushi, but I don’t know why you would.

**Editor’s note, I did, in fact, sleep-eat my leftovers that night.

Dog People. Dog Person.

The rain this past weekend transformed Mill Valley’s residential dog park into a muddy and treacherous cesspool. Since weather conditions were less than ideal for a Saturday afternoon, it seemed that most of the dog-loving patrons who normally frequent the park had opted out of what was surely a disaster waiting to happen. Any dog at the dog park on this particular Saturday afternoon would have been covered in mud, nose to tail, within minutes. Still, one tiny middle-aged man and his equally tiny dog decided to live life on the edge.
The Mill Valley dog park is, in all fairness, just like any other green and scenic park in Marin County. A paved path lined with bushes and small trees ran the outer length of a large field. Half the field was secured with a chain-length fence where the dogs were set free to socialize.
I watched the tiny middle-aged man and his dog from one of the two benches inside the fence. He was dressed in a dark, hooded raincoat and had brought an umbrella with him even though the rain had stopped a several hours before. He was broad and squatty; I remember thinking that if I’d stood close to him for any reason, I would’ve surely towered over him. A few pieces of shaggy, salt and pepper colored hair had loosed themselves from under his beanie. It looked as if he might have once had a head of very dark hair, but whatever his age, there was now a lot more salt than pepper. He wore rectangular black-rimmed glasses that, combined with his squatness and goofy beanie, made him resemble a good-natured toad.
His dog, which also sported silly outerwear of some kind, had a tan, wiry coat and looked too much like a Chihuahua. It never ran or chased a ball or even bothered to socialize with the decoy dog I’d borrowed from my friend as an excuse to be in the dog park.
The man walked slowly around the inside of the gate with his sausage-like fingers laced behind his back. Every now and then his gaze turned toward the sky as if he were expecting the rain to start back up at any moment. Then he looked back down at his bug-eyed dog. It trotted along a few feet ahead of him with its tiny nose to the ground, giving one of its paws a skittish shake every couple steps. The man smiled faintly at his dog whenever it did this as if he found it amusing.
The pair circled the inside of the gate twice before finally retiring to the bench next to mine. The wiry little dog jumped onto the bench and wiggled its way onto its owner’s lap. Despite its seemingly delicate steps the dog hadn’t done very well avoiding the mud and, as it crawled into the man’s lap, little smudgy paw prints began to appear on his raincoat. He smiled faintly at this too, but never said a word. 

Collie Girl Conquers Greener Pastures in America

In stark contrast to the rolling green hills of the Irish countryside, the hustle and bustle of San Francisco would be hard to swallow for most, but 23-year-old Bríd Flynn is all smiles. Pouring me a glass of Pinot Grigio in the living room of her cozy outer Sunset apartment she coos, “It’s just a thank you present from some friends who stayed with us last week, sorry it’s not the good stuff.”

I assured her the Pinot was no better than anything in my fridge, and we raised our glasses to the city. Bríd has jokingly called herself a San Franciscan since her arrival to the U.S. this past August. She made the journey with her close friend from home, Aoife McGahon, 23, and the pair have had the time of their lives learning the ropes ever since. “We love it here,” she says of the city, “six months has already gone by so fast.”

Bríd and Aoife were able to find jobs through the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center, an organization that provides Irish immigrants with helpful services such as job listings, apartment rentals, as well as useful city information and living tips. The IIPC works directly with many Irish-owned companies around San Francisco and places Irish immigrants in jobs working alongside or with other Irish natives. Bríd landed a job at an Irish/American startup called Rua (Irish for red), where she does outsourcing administrative work for small construction companies in the bay area. “It’s not really what I want to be doing forever, but it pays the bills for now. I was hoping when I signed on to be doing something that would relate to my field of study, but the people who worked with me were all so lovely, I felt bad being unsatisfied at first with my job—I should be lucky to have one at all, to be fair.”

For someone so young, Bríd has already known her fair share of hardship. Born February 1, 1992, Bríd grew up during a time of great economic prosperity in Ireland, known as the Celtic Tiger. During this period, the country experienced rapid economic growth unlike anything recorded in previous decades. From 1995 to 2000 the Irish economy expanded at a rate of 9.4%, and continued to grow at a rate of around 5.9% the following decade.

“I grew up, my teen years at least, in the Celtic Tiger, up until I was about 18. Most families weren’t struggling—I wouldn’t say that most families were wealthy necessarily, but there wasn’t as much of a struggle.” Bríd grew up simply, but she was still able to spend summers going to Dublin and shopping with her friends a couple times a month. Her parents would even giver her up to 200 euro on occasion for shopping for going out. Although she applied for a job when she was 16, it was less out of necessity and more for experience.

Things took a turn for the worse in 2008 when the country’s economic climax ended and Ireland fell into a deep recession. The country hadn’t felt such strong repercussions since the downturn in the 1980’s, and its affects were felt nationwide. “It definitely hit a lot of the smaller towns and villages, but it was absolutely nationwide. Everyone felt it.” Although Bríd’s family were lucky enough to keep a roof over their heads and food on their plates, some weren’t so lucky. Millions of people lost their jobs and unemployment skyrocketed to a height of 15.1% in 2010. Her father and brother, who worked for the same construction company, were both laid off that year, losing their jobs at the same time. Her father, Martin, had worked for the family owned construction company for over 25 years, and felt the recession’s brutal sting as he watched the company he had dedicated most of his life to go out of business.

 “It was hard, but once the recession hit, to be honest, I think it was kind of a positive, a good smack in the face to everyone because it actually made us realize that we can’t continue living like this for the rest of our lives—we have to work harder and do everything for ourselves, and realize that we can’t be spending all this money on materialistic things constantly.” She paused to sip her wine. “It hit us bad, but it didn’t even hit my family as bad as it could have, and I’m grateful for that.”

Her mother, who worked as a secretary, also lost her job during the recession. Her older sister, Olivia, who was training to be a nurse, couldn’t find work in Ireland and was forced to move to Australia to try her luck there. When her brother, Cathal, was laid off with his father, he made connections in England and was able to land a job as a site construction manager in Reading.

“My dad lost his job in 2010 and he was unemployed for 2 or 3 years. He managed to get another construction job a couple years ago and he is still there and he’s happy,” she laughs “he’s just so happy to be working. He didn’t know what to do when he lost his job; he was always trying to do something in the garden or around the house to keep himself busy.”

Bríd too felt the repercussions of her country’s recession. After graduating from Dublin City College in December 2013, she found herself unable to land a job that would ever help her in her career path. “I found basic retail work at a shop in the Dublin airport, but I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere.”

That realization drove her to seek out greener pastures and only added fuel to the fire of adventure. “I’d been to Cape Cod once in 2012 on a J1 and knew I needed to come back to America. Even if I just got another retail job there, I knew it would be a better place to make connections and I’d have more luck here than I would have in Ireland.”

“I love it here” she adds, “if they would let me stay forever I would.”

Although her one-year working visa is up in August, Bríd still has another six months to experience life to the fullest in San Francisco. She plans on taking a trip to Lake Tahoe next month. She smiles a full-faced grin and says jokingly, “I’m going to do as many American things as I can before they deport me.”