The first was OM Modern Asian Kitchen with its delicious and eclectic choices of Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian. And unlike most Asian restaurants in Tucson, OM has a small, but well-chosen selection of wines.
In my continuing quest to determine the three best Asian restaurants in Tucson, Ms. Stella and I headed over to Kazoku Sushi & Japanese Cuisine on East Speedway for lunch. As we walked in the front door, the chef, who was behind the sushi bar preparing the day’s meals, greeted us with a warm smile.
The hostess, a slight, pleasant Asian woman, seated us promptly. While Ms. Stella chatted with her about certain particulars on the menu, I had a chance to look around.
I could tell from the décor that I was in a Japanese establishment, but the signs were subtle. And, unlike so many Tucson restaurants, everything was exceptionally clean. Even before our meals, it was easy to tell that the owners and personnel take pride in their attention to detail. I think the word I’m looking for is “fresh”. The whole place was appealingly fresh.
After one more glance at the menu, Ms. Stella said, “I think the chef is Korean, not Japanese.”
“Oh, really?” says I.
“Yes, in Tucson most Japanese restaurants have a Korean chef.”
We ordered three dishes to share.
- The chef’s special: sashimi with different fishes: tuna, yellowtail, albacore, and salmon. (The reason why they distinguish between tuna, yellowtail, and albacore escapes me since yellowtail and albacore are both kinds of tuna.)
- A plate of nigiri sushi: two pieces each of tuna, salmon, red snapper, and smelt roe (smelt eggs). I explained to Ms. Stella that as a boy I used to put salmon eggs on my fishing hooks as bait. I don’t think she believed me.
- Shrimp tempura roll.
On the table was a small sign suggesting that Kazoku serves Sapporo beer. I asked Ms. Stella if this was authentic. She said no. Japanese sake is authentic. I ordered a Sapporo anyway.
A miso soup came with our order. It had a light taste and did not have the chunky seaweed or tofu you often see at other places. Ms. Stella explained that miso soup may have different combinations, with or without the solid ingredients. Either way is normal.
We finished our soup and our meals were served soon thereafter; the food perfectly arranged and cut just so. I fumbled to get my chopsticks in sufficient working order so I could grasp one of these little morsels.
Stella said sashimi should be eaten before other strong flavors affect the palate. One may also have some shredded daikon radish between different varieties of sashimi to clear the taste buds.
Clumsily I reached over, picked up one tuna sashimi, dipped it in the little dish of wasabi and soy sauce. The sashimi was excellent – incredibly fresh fish.
Then it came time to try the nigiri sushi. I picked up one, dipped the bottom rice portion in the dipping sauce and took a bite … and then another. Now this I like. First bite – surprise. Surprise because I didn’t think I would like it.
Second bite – delight. I’ve tried sushi before, and never cared for it. But this was rich in complex flavors, the rice a little sweet, a hint of avocado, and something else I couldn’t discern.
While I was enjoying my new-found taste sensation, Ms. Stella was looking at me as if I had just committed the utmost in bad table manners. “What?” I asked. And then I remembered, I am still a neophyte at all things Asian and Ms. Stella is my honorable tutor.
“Well”, she said, “first you pick up the sushi from the sides, not over the top,” and proceeded to demonstrate, “Like this.”
“Then you dip only part of the fish, not the rice, in the soy sauce. Whether you dip it in wasabi is up to you. The rice is already mixed with a dressing consisting of rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and sometimes the fish already has some wasabi on it.”
“Then you don’t just take a bite and then another. You put the whole sushi in your mouth at once,” which she did. I couldn’t believe she eat the whole thing.
I tried it, but decided that I prefer to take my sushi in smaller bites.
Ms. Stella then informed me that it is considered acceptable to eat sushi without chopsticks, using only my fingers. Fine with me. I have more control over my fingers than I do chopsticks anyway. This time I didn’t bother with chopsticks, just used my fingers. So I proceeded to pick up a sushi with my fingers when I realized that she was looking at me again. “What?”
“Not like that,” she said. “Use your thumb and middle finger on the sides with your index finger on top, like this.” Another whole sushi disappeared in her mouth. She smiled, apparently well satisfied.
Then it was time to try the smelt roe, tiny red fish eggs wrapped in seaweed. Ms. Stella seemed to like hers, but to me it didn’t have much flavor. Oh well …
The shrimp tempura roll consists of shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber. “Western-style sushi”, Stella said. I told her that I like the shrimp tempura best. She smiled, “Of course”.
At that point, I noticed many slices of something greenish and asked her what they are. “Pickled cucumbers,” came the answer.
Sceptically, I took a timid bite. OMG! Delicious. I offered Ms. Stella some and finished the rest myself.
Having devoured everything on our plates, our table was quickly cleared. The portions had been generous and I was feeling pleasantly stuffed.
But our dining experience was not yet complete. Two dishes of plum ice cream arrived. Can’t recall ever having plum ice cream, but I’ll be back for more. This was a real treat.
On the way back to drop Ms. Stella off at her workplace, she told me that Kazoku was one of the best Japanese food experiences she has had in Tucson.
“All the fish was fresh, and the sushi were made well – not too much rice, and the rice was of good quality. Kazoku can be compared to good Japanese restaurants in any big American cities.”
The bill came to almost $50. For lunch mind you. But I guess that’s the price we pay for fresh salmon from Scotland and fresh tuna from Japan served in Tucson, Arizona. That said, I think it was worth it. A very pleasant dining experience. Kazoku: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Oh, one more thing. As we were leaving, Ms. Stella paused to speak to the chef. I was out of earshot but when she turned back to me she was smiling. As we got into the car, she said, “Yes, chef is Korean.”