Sushi for the uninitiated: Fargo restaurants offer spice, flavor, varietyFor the uninitiated, sushi can be intimidating. At least, that’s how it was for me. That’s why I was a bit unnerved when my editor recently tasked me with taste-testing various sushi spots in Fargo, despite the fact that I hadn’t eaten the Japanese cuisine – made of cooked rice and seafood – for perhaps a decade.
By: Sam Benshoof, INFORUM
For the uninitiated, sushi can be intimidating.
At least, that’s how it was for me. That’s why I was a bit unnerved when my editor recently tasked me with taste-testing various sushi spots in Fargo, despite the fact that I hadn’t eaten the Japanese cuisine – made of cooked rice and seafood – for perhaps a decade.
In the days before it began, I readied my stomach for what I imagined would be six plates of raw fish and possible Mercury poisoning.
But luckily, a friend of mine who is more experienced in the ways of sushi was willing to guide me through the daunting challenge. Shane Ulven, an accounting specialist at Cargill in Fargo, joined me on the adventure.
Starting off, I quickly discovered that between the colorful arrangements and variations on spice, flavor and preparation, there’s much more to sushi than the uninitiated, like me, might think.
Osaka Sushi and Hibachi
1111 38th St. S., Fargo
We kicked off the eight-day-long taste test at Osaka Sushi and Hibachi, the newest sushi spot in town, where we ordered the Dragon Roll, made of toasted eel, cucumber and avocado.
With the first bite, my misconceptions of sushi quickly went out the door. The eel hardly smelled or tasted like fish, in part because it was cooked.
In fact, the more I ate the more I realized that there was hardly anything fishy about the roll. Rather, the flavor came mostly from the peanut-flavored sauce, which itself wasn’t that distinctive.
Not that that was a bad thing – starting with a milder roll like this is a good way for a sushi novice to get started.
The dish, Shane said, “would be good for beginners who don’t like a fishy taste.”
Wasabi Sushi and Asian Grill
623 NP Ave., Fargo
The next night at Wasabi, we tried the Spider Roll, made of tempura-fried soft shell crab, asparagus, avocado and cucumber topped with spicy mayo and eel sauce.
At first, Shane found the spice of the mayo to be almost too much.
“You don’t really taste the crab,” he said. “The spice might be overwhelming it.”
Overall, though, we agreed that the balance of crunchy vs. soft texture was excellent, which made for a very satisfying roll. It was early, but Wasabi was the favorite.
Kobe’s Japanese Cuisine
4228 15th Ave. S., Fargo
Moving on to Kobe’s, our second stop of the night, we ordered the Spicy Girl Roll, made of lightly fried calamari, avocado, mango and spicy salmon, with a spicy sauce on top and a sweet honey sauce on the plate.
The roll had a softer texture, lacking the satisfying crunch we enjoyed at Wasabi. The calamari, which I thought was a little too chewy, probably contributed to that.
Despite that, the competing sweet and spicy flavors won both of us over, and at the end of the night, Shane provided the best analysis of the dish: “This spicy girl will definitely be getting a second date.”
Samurai Asian Fusion Cuisine & Sushi Bar
1775 45th St. S., Fargo
Valentine’s Day at Samurai Asian Fusion Cuisine brought a challenge. Shane and I were just two guys on a taste test regardless of the holiday, but all around us couples on dates filled the tables and booths.
The abundance of lovers was somewhat unexpected, but apparently sushi restaurants are becoming something of a trendy date spot. So, for all you singles who want to get into sushi: Valentine’s Day is not the day to do it.
And, to dispel the notion that perhaps those two well-dressed guys splitting plates of sushi were also on a V-Day date (not that there’s anything wrong with that), on this night we brought along a girl friend of ours, for the sake of appearances.
Here we tried the Samurai Roll, made with spicy tuna, yellowtail and spicy crab meat with spicy mayo and a crunchy covering.
I found the dish to have a nice mix of texture, especially with the crunch on top. Shane, though, wasn’t as big a fan of the taste or texture of the yellowtail on the inside of the roll.
But, we both agreed that the roll’s flavor was great.
“The spice is fantastic,” Shane said.
Yuki Hana Grill & Sushi
1450 25th St. S., Fargo
On Thursday, I made my way to Yuki Hana, this time without Shane. It was my fourth stop in three days and sushi fatigue was starting to set in, but I pressed on with the Dakota Roll. Made of crab, spicy tuna, sprouts, cucumber and spicy mayo, it sounded promising.
There were only two or three other tables of diners at the time, yet I was surprised how long I had to wait to get my food.
Once it arrived, the roll’s spicy mayo had a good kick, and mixed with a faint sweet taste. I enjoyed the flavors very much.
The only drawback here came from the texture of the roll – the cucumber was probably meant to provide more of a crunch to counter the softness of the tuna, but it just wasn’t there.
101 Sushi Bar & Korean BBQ
4480 23rd Ave. S., Fargo
Here, in a strip mall in the southern part of town adjacent to a martial arts academy, I ended my sushi taste test with a Dancing Eel Roll.
Made with tempura shrimp, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado and topped with cooked eel, the roll was impressive. After five similar meals in the past few days, I thought it might be hard for the last roll to leave a lasting impression, but this one did.
In general, eating eel was the newest experience I took away from this taste test. I expected the fish to be slimier. But here it was cooked and covered in an eel sauce, which had a sweet barbeque taste.
The sauce, along with the added crunch of the shrimp and cucumber, combined to make the Dancing Eel Roll one of my favorites.
After eating enough sushi to keep me full of seafood for months, both Shane and I agreed Wasabi was our favorite, though for me 101 Sushi came close. Both places offered rolls with a better mix of textures and more distinctive flavors than the other four restaurants.
So in the end, despite the barrage of sushi over the past few days, I feel much more comfortable with the cuisine than when I started, though I recognize I’m by no means an expert.
For example, most of the seafood I had during the taste test was cooked, as opposed to raw (which is probably for the best, because that much raw fish in such a short period could potentially be dangerous). The raw side of sushi is something I’ll get to in the future.
But not for a while. For now, I’m burned out on the stuff. Eventually, though, I’ll be ready to explore the cuisine again, perhaps this time being the one to guide an intimidated friend along the journey.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535