Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sushi Masa

I had to read the many Yelp reviews about this Ward Centre institution run by a sushi master and a bit of a scary enigma. They mostly talked about Masa like he was some unpredictable, formidable god of doom (think Soup Nazi), with some -- those humble, persistent, open and brave enough to break his silent, stern walls -- loving him, others (used to the ginormous haole-ized Mainland sushi) hating him.

When Ed and I lived in Hawaii (we left 12 years ago), we used to frequent Sushi Masa at Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, Hawaii, when there was an Andrew's upstairs and Yum Yum Tree downstairs, and none of the new complexes across the street. Back then, Masa had a waitress and you could go inside the main dining room for a full menu lunch, or dinner. He pretty much stayed at the sushi bar up front or in the kitchen to the side, making the food, and nodding at customers amiably. Even then, we were wowed by the freshness of the seafood in his unrivaled California rolls. You blew a lot of dough for his sushi but it was always worth it.

Fast-forward to last week, when we stopped there again for a quick lunch. I'd looked up the hours beforehand and knew the place should've been open (Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.), but it looked closed. The main dining room had some rope barring entrance. The sushi bar fronting the main interior thoroughfare of Ward Centre (across from Genki Sushi... that probably didn't bode too well for Masa) was empty. Ed thought the place was closed and was about to recommend Genki as a substitute when I spied Masa himself hunched over eating and reading the newspaper inside the main dining room. I asked him, twice, the first time he didn't hear me, if they were open, and he finally motioned to the seat yes, but not in the main dining room. He also said there was no full menu, just sushi, which I took to mean no miso soup and rice for our son James, 8.

But it turned out I was wrong. Masa indicated, when Ed asked timidly, that yes, James could have miso soup and rice. We were too afraid to ask him to take out the seaweed and green onion, he was so gruff at first. When James wanted seconds, I drummed up the courage to ask, but only that he remove as much as he could, which he did, with what I thought was a barely detectable smile.

But his sushi wins customers over more than his personality. I started with an order of sake, raw salmon. At first, I didn't recognize it, it was such a deep different color, cut thicker than usual. The flavor, however, blew my mind. So rich and fatty, so perfect. I immediately followed up with two orders of California roll while Ed bravely requested no sesame seeds and tobiko eggs rolled onto the exterior.

OMG. The California rolls were exactly as we remembered from before. So fresh. The rice was fresh too, not stale and not too sweet or vinegary, and just the right amount, not too much like they tend to pile-drive on the Mainland. A lot of Mainlanders complained in their Yelp reviews that their sushi were too small for the price, but I disagree. They have never had authentic sushi, which is smaller, with the perfect ratio of rice to fish. You're not supposed to take two to three bites to finish a piece of sushi. You're supposed to pop it in your mouth. With Masa's, you can.

We were rewarded at the end of our meal with a smile from this master sushi chef and a joke about how he can tell I rule the roost. He was particularly gentle with our son. When we received the bill -- it's true, he doesn't itemize a thing -- it was for $45.

That was our splurge for the vacation.

If you're a chicken, don't even bother. Sushi Masa is for warriors who can face their fear.

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