Genius is part nature and part nurture. No matter what they’ll tell you, the accident of birth: the raw material is only refined into perfection with the proper effort. But no matter how much effort one puts forth, excellence at the level of the world-class can only be achieved with the proper gifts of nature. And in that respect, Chicago sushi will always be Salieri to the West Coast’s Mozart.
There was a line in Good Will Hunting where the professor says to Will: “There is but a handful of people in the world who can tell the difference between you and me…but I’m one of them.” I don’t presume to be an authority on sushi preparation but when it comes to consumption, I believe my excess to be widely known. I don’t believe it unfair to say that a judge of quality is one who has experienced a fair amount of quantity.
Until one has had uncured king salmon sashimi, I don’t believe that one can profess to have had salmon sashimi at all. In Chicago, the extra day of travel forces most providers to bathe their stock in some form of salt preservative. And here was I thinking sashimi needed to be fresh. I happen to love salt. But I sure know its taste. The salmon in Seattle is truly fresh. Even the cheap places serve it.
What about the octopus? If I ever am permitted in Korea or Japan, I would love to sample some raw, Oldboy style. But until then, I must consign myself to the undercooked sashimi that Seattle offers. I’ve had raw octopus (but not live) once in my life and that was at an LA place that closed 3 months after opening. Made me wonder what else they served.
I also tried the geoduck sashimi. If you know your clams, you will know that this phallic-looking thing that is indigenous only to the west coast of Canada and the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest. Panopea generosa is extremely long-lived and individuals approaching the century-marker are not uncommon. They have few natural predators with humans, of course, being the worst. China has almost as ravenous an appetite for ‘duck as it does for pig. I have pulled them from the ground while laying on my belly and reaching 3 feet down into muddy, 50-degree water. Because of this, the dismal laws of supply and demand dictate that Geoduck can approach US$150/pound. But this is not a bio-econ-lesson. It is a testimonial that Geoduck sashimi was NOT palatable for me. Before this, there were 2 pieces I didn’t care for much: Uni (sea urchin) and Saba (mackerel). Now there is a third.
And now for the statement that will rule out most wannabes: the rolls were meh. At Shiro’s they are a grudging concession to the hipsters that just LOVE sushi but “…don’t eat any of that raw stuff” (unless, of course, it swims in spicy mayonnaise.) Every roll we had was made with haste and sans imagination. Knowing that this is what makes up most Americans’ idea of sushi, if it purely makes up yours, then you will be disappointed. Shiro’s effort is put into sashimi, where it belongs. And oh, how amazing the result.