Amuse-bouche

Eat­ing fish in the 505

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Nouf Al-Qasimi

Get­ting great fish in New Mex­ico isn’t uni­corn hunting. And if the thought of eat­ing sushi here is un­set­tling, it shouldn’t be. Santa Feans love to dis­cuss what they think the town “needs” in terms of food and drink — but let the ev­i­dence show that bet­ter fish is not of those things. Whether you’re con­sid­er­ing d sar­dine or a skein of wild salmon roe, t some sources are cer­tainly su­pet the real red flag with re­gard to fish comes with sloppy food han­dling, which can hap­pen any­where, even with gulls cir­cling overand head the st­ing of salt in the air.

Our ob­ses­sion with fresh­ness — and the no­tion that fish caught at the dawn of the day you con­sume it is uni­ver­sally prefer­able — is part over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion and part myth. The qual­ity control that de­ter­mines shelf life has less to do with the length of time that seafood has been kept on ice and more to do with its fate in the cor­po­real af­ter­life. The FDA puts the chill on serv­ing raw fish un­less it’s been frozen first, to kill “par­a­sitic worms that can in­fect and in­jure con­sumers,” ac­cord­ing to their Food Code, mak­ing thawed fish the na­tional stan­dard for things like sushi, ce­viche, and cold-smoked salmon. The ex­cep­tion is tuna, which is not eaten fresh de­spite its pu­rity; it re­quires a few days of care­ful ag­ing to make its flesh sup­ple and to de­velop a sa­vory fla­vor within, which is some­times ac­com­plished by wrap­ping it in glu­ta­mate-rich kombu, the in­gre­di­ent that led to the dis­cov­ery of umami. New York-based Ja­panese fish-ag­ing mas­ter Eiji Ichimura earned two Miche­lin stars and a three-star rat­ing from The New York Times be­fore launch­ing a solo en­deavor in Jan­uary. At his new epony­mous restau­rant in Tribeca, Ichimura is exploring tech­niques where en­zymes work their magic to ten­der­ize and in­ten­sify fla­vor.

“The con­cept of let­ting cer­tain types of fish age be­fore they’re eaten isn’t pro­pri­etary or even new,” ac­cord­ing to a 2016 Food & Wine ar­ti­cle. Af­ter all, sushi orig­i­nated as salted fish aged in fer­ment­ing rice. Meatier fish — like tuna, mack­erel, and sar­dines — are more sub­ject to spoilage and of­ten des­tined for can­ner­ies, where pro­cess­ing is im­me­di­ate. In sushi, mack­erel is al­most al­ways lightly cured, even when it ap­pears to be raw.

Salmon fil­lets that are not pre­vi­ously frozen are not suited for sear­ing medium-rare un­less you’re feed­ing your en­e­mies, be­cause of un­pleas­ant haz­ards like tape­worms. But salmon are of­ten blast-frozen at sea, thus pre­serv­ing their just-caught state — any­thing that thrives in the Yukon River or sub-Antarc­tic wa­ters is not going to wither in a freezer. In 2010, the con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion Ecotrust pub­lished a multi-year global study of salmon that de­mys­ti­fies il­lu­sions about sus­tain­abil­ity, de­bunks ir­ra­tional con­cerns over wild and or­ganic ver­sus con­ven­tional or farmed, and en­cour­ages a wider em­brace of frozen salmon for its much lower en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. “In fish-lov­ing Ja­pan, which gets much of its fish by air, switch­ing to 75 per­cent frozen salmon would have more benefit than all of Europe eat­ing lo­cally farmed salmon,” ac­cord­ing to the study.

For al­most 25 years, Jeff Koscomb has owned and op­er­ated Above Sea Level, a Santa Fe com­pany re­spon­si­ble for sup­ply­ing most, if not all, of the city’s fine din­ing restau­rants. “Peo­ple’s top con­cern is fresh­ness,” said Koscomb, who re­ceives daily ship­ments and pro­vides same-day de­liv­ery. His in­ven­tory trav­els here in the cargo holds of pas­sen­ger jets from a con­stel­la­tion of ori­gins, and he em­pha­sized that his com­pany is de­fined pri­mar­ily by lo­gis­tics and a strong re­la­tion­ship with pur­vey­ors. For­mer Santa Fe chef Deena Chafetz has spent most of her ca­reer cook­ing seafood up and down the East Coast, in­clud­ing a seven-year stint at a Ja­panese restau­rant . based in Oak­land, she said, ere, I’m c efs in

While there’s a cer­tain ro­mance to the idea of chefs buy­ing di­rectly from the ven­dors who fish-and-gather them­selves, the ad­van­tage is ul­ti­mately im­ma­te­rial. Koscomb’s whole­sale prices are sim­i­lar to those of Chafetz’s sup­pli­ers. The mar­ket price for Cape Cod sea scal­lops is iden­ti­cal whether you’re buy­ing from the lo­cal Whole Foods Mar­ket or a fish­mon­ger on the Cape — just feet from the wa­ter and with the mid­dle­man re­moved — which is typ­i­cal of the high­way rob­bery for fish sold in sea­side towns.

Nine miles north of Taos in Ar­royo Seco is Aceq (480 NM-150), Above Sea Level’s most re­motely lo­cated ac­count. At Aceq, owner and som­me­lier Michael Wa­gener’s Wis­con­sin roots en­twine with global com­forts both novel and fa­mil­iar. When his nostal­gia for the lake­front ma­te­ri­al­ized on the menu as fried smelt, the dish was met with hes­i­ta­tion. Wa­gener as­serted that a solid rep­u­ta­tion puts peo­ple at ease with the un­fa­mil­iar, which in the case of those smelt meant telling pa­trons where the fish came from and how it was caught and then in­struct­ing them to eat it whole. He said, “Un­less you’re on the deck catch­ing it your­self, this is as fresh as seafood gets any­where in the coun­try.”

“Peo­ple need to know it’s safe to eat sushi, and we’re here to help them with that en­deavor,” said Koscomb. With chang­ing menus, it’s not pos­si­ble to list ev­ery ver­sion of crudo, tartare, or poke in town, so with a nar­row fo­cus on sushi and sashimi, here are eight places to re­li­ably get your fish fix. We used crispy salmon skin, the ba­con of the sea, served in con­i­cal hand rolls (temaki), as the yard­stick for com­par­ing knife skills and butch­ery, along with dif­fer­ent ef­forts made in gar­nish­ing, sea­son­ing, and fry­ing to or­der. Loy­al­ties may vary, but keep in mind that even the best raw ma­te­ri­als can’t make up for poorly pre­pared sushi rice. When done right, it’s half the plea­sure.

The modesty of its low-pro­file lo­ca­tion makes the menu at Tokyo Café (1827 Cer­ril­los Road) feel weighty with gam­bles, and while the salmon-skin roll here is noth­ing spe­cial, the tem­pura-fried spicy tuna roll is crispy creamed de­light, and the warm eel over rice is re­fresh­ingly un­bur­dened by its epony­mous sticky sauce.

At Kohnami Restau­rant (313 S. Guadalupe St.), sashimi is sliced into smooth, fat slabs, and the Geisha roll — three kinds of fish wrapped in cu­cum­ber — is among the less tra­di­tional and more widely ac­com­mo­dat­ing items. Theirs is quite pos­si­bly the least sub­stan­tial salmon-skin roll in town, filled with crushed pink feath­ers of fish, but when the weather’s right, a shady spot on the pa­tio here should soothe any burn of dis­ap­point­ment.

With the same own­er­ship as Kohnami, San Q Sushi (3470 Za­farano Drive) has its fol­low­ing, es­pe­cially with the ab­sence of nearby com­pe­ti­tion, but keep the or­der­ing sim­ple and ex­pect to leave smelling like tem­pura. Spe­cial rolls here are a lim­ited se­lec­tion from Kohnami’s menu, and the com­bi­na­tion of shrimp tem­pura and tuna in the nearly iden­ti­cal Play­boy and Perse­phone rolls are as fla­vor-gorged as gate­way sushi should be.

While Masa Sushi (927 W. Alameda St.) is not the place to go if you’re on any kind of sched­ule, the food is al­most worth the time you might spend wait­ing. The spe­cial rolls daz­zle, and the salmon-skin hand roll is an au­di­ble ex­plo­sion of smoky rich­ness and crunch with the dreami­est of ra­tios. Salmon lovers will find the spicy salmon roll a more dis­tinc­tive al­ter­na­tive to the usu­ally milder tuna, and sashimi is served in lux­u­ri­ous por­tions.

Since mov­ing down­town in 2011 af­ter a decade in its St. Michael’s Drive lo­ca­tion, Izmi Sushi Bar (105 E. Marcy St.) has ac­quired the ur­ban set­ting to match its ex­cel­lent ser­vice and pris­tine fish, and the prices re­flect the shift. This is where to get ac­quainted with New Zealand marine­farmed king salmon, now rated “Best Choice” by Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium’s glob­ally ob­served con­sumer guide, Seafood Watch. En­joy it as ni­giri, draped over pearly sweet rice. The Ichiban roll — with shrimp tem­pura, tuna, yel­low­tail, and av­o­cado — is mounted with lush black caviar.

Kai Sushi & Din­ing (720-2M St. Michael’s Drive) puts forth a sleek vibe from be­hind the sushi bar, and the salty-sweet salmonskin hand roll is flush with dewy rice. Try the Red & Red, a but­tery wal­lop of tuna in­side and out with a saucy splash of ponzu.

Forty-two years into the game, Shohko Café (321 John­son St.) has the most estab­lished fan base. Ex­pect all the clas­sics done prop­erly, if in smaller por­tions and at a higher price; sashimi will run you a pre­mium. The salmon-skin roll has a core of nutty bur­dock root, and all the usual sus­pects will be just as good here, if not ex­em­plary.

Jew­elry box-sized Sushi Land East (60 E. San Fran­cisco St., #102-A) turns out su­perb sushi rice, which can be scooped from small bowls topped with the chef’s choice of raw fish. This is where to come for uni, oys­ters, monk­fish liver, and fresh sar­dines in sea­son. The salmon-skin hand roll pales next to gems like the spec­tac­u­larly com­plex Su­per Eel roll. If you like tarted-up rolls that don’t bor­der on lu­di­crous, this is the place for you.

Our ob­ses­sion with fresh­ness is part over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion and part myth.

Kai Sushi & Din­ing

Brent Jung and his mother, Hyun­sook Lee, own­ers of Izmi Sushi Bar; file photo

Izmi Sushi Bar

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