— Carolynn Carreño
Cheat sheet for aspiring aficionados
Requesting certain items in a sushi bar will mark you as an adventurous, knowledgeable diner. Here's a sampling of sophisticated items to order:
Uni (sea urchin). Look at it in the case. If it is rough-looking like a cat's tongue, it's likely to be of excellent quality.
Toro (fatty tuna belly). This cut of tuna is so marbled, it can be more than 25% fat. Some people think it's best eaten as sushi, so the warmth of the rice and the sushi chef's hand warm the fish slightly, imperceptibly melting the fat. Others prefer it as a cut roll (negi toro) with scallions, which help cut the fattiness.
Awabi (abalone). Hard and chewy, with a lovely, delicate flavor, either as sashimi or sushi.
Shira evi (tiny shrimp). These tiny worm-like shrimp from Toyama prefecture in northern Japan are a rare delicacy, and very expensive. Slightly sweet, they're served either as sashimi or sushi.
Chu-toro (between toro and tuna) the meat between the back and the belly, it is less known than maguro or toro.
Iwashi (sardines). Must be very fresh to be good.
Engawa (halibut fin). The four pieces of muscle on either side of the halibut fin are prized for their oiliness and assertive flavor.
Sawa gani (fried tiny crabs). Available year-round, but at only a few sushi bars.
Anago (saltwater eel). More likely to be cooked to order than unagi (freshwater eel), which is generally shipped from Japan precooked.
Shima aji (baby yellowtail). Tender and delicate, usually wild.
Ikura (salmon eggs). Salmon eggs have a very short season, so the majority of those served here are shipped frozen, packed in salt and then rinsed with a reduced sake mixture. Ask for fresh eggs. If you happen to hit upon the season, you're in for a popping little treat.
Kazunoko (herring roe). Tightly packed roe with a crunchy texture and slightly bitter flavor.
Hikari mono ("shiny fish"). Some kind of "shiny fish" is traditionally served at some point. It could be Spanish mackerel, kohada (a Japanese fish in the same family as herring and sardines) or saba (Pacific or American mackerel). Ask the chef what kind of hikari mono he has in season.
Ankimo (monkfish liver). Steamed and served warm or room temperature, as sashimi or sushi, it's like a cross between foie gras and poached salmon.