Fishing for sustainable sushi and un-engineered eats.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Drums can help heal the heart, drive the dance floor and, now – at the flip-floppin’ new Yama Sushi (646-9262) – prep the palate. A welcoming percussive thumper stands by the door of the Del Monte Center addition where El Indio once lived, with a sign that asks guests to announce their entry with a little boom boom – and, if that wasn’t exciting enough, an even louder sign: 50 percent off all rolls.
From there it’s on to one of a range of seating options in the spartan space – tall five-tops in the entry bar, a handful of booths, enough tables to seat around 40, and 10 stools at the long marble sushi counter. We settled in at the bar for some hot sake, cold Asahi, a big bowl of miso ramen with barbecued pork and veggies ($8.95) and a couple of rolls.
Then came a less encouraging sign. When asked where the salmon and crab on the menu hailed from, the senior chef said, “the Atlantic” and “from the company,” respectively. The attractive Crazy Horse’s crabmeat and shrimp tempura with avocado and macadamias ($10.50 before discount) and Carmel Beach with tuna, salmon and albacore ($11.50) looked less enticing. We retreated to options approved by the Seafood Watch Sushi Guide, and a superb halibut nigiri ($4.95) and a serviceable shitake maki ($4.99 before half-off) helped us cope.
It’s a typical dilemma for sushi fans wanting to support both fisheries and their hamachi habit: boatloads of unsustainable no-nos like imported shrimp, yellowtail and bluefin, and very few “best choices” like Arctic char, U.S.-farmed tilpaia or striped bass. Weekly oceans writer Kera Abraham has been on her own green sushi odyssey. She’s found there are only two certified green sushi joints in the country (Portland’s Bamboo Sushi, which might franchise to SoCal, and San Francisco’s Tataki) – and locally, none of the black cod or wild salmon sushi she’d love.
“I think it’s a real business opp for someone to do it here, home of the sardine, where you can’t find a restaurant with iwashi [sardine sushi],” she says. “Though I did have some slammin’ mackerel, skipjack/bonito, halibut and albacore sashimi at Robata in Carmel [624-2643], all good Seafood Watch choices. Pricey but delicious.”
Lower prices will persist back at Yama, where staffers say the half-off deal is permanent. Let’s hope their absence of sourcing and sustainable awareness is a lot shorter lived – and remember it takes customer advocacy to drum such awareness up.
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Elsewhere some simplicity came before the scary stuff: First Michael Pollan hit Jon Stewart with his best advice on eating healthily for both the body and the bigger picture during Monday’s Daily Show: “Eat food,” he said. “Not edible food-like substances.”
Only it’s not so simple. Though the natural food movement and restaurant trends toward basic, fresh, flavorful ingredients have helped elevate our collective food IQ, Pollan noted that high-frustose corn syrup makes up a whopping 20 percent of American diets.
He was on to promote his new book of conscious grubbing guidelines, Food Rules. This Saturday, an education on the oft-ugly whens and whys of how our food system has gone awry rolls on Cannery Row, as part of the NO-GMO Film Festival at the IMAX (see story, p. 36). Food, Inc., featuring the commentary and research of Pollan and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, is a must-see. The Future of Food also shows; a free 6pm panel with Schlosser follows the $6-a-pop films, which also include The World According to Monsanto and The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.
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Another slice of raw news: Sushi by the Bay on Fremont in Monterey (644-9626) is under new management, though staffers say the same menu is in place, and popcorn lobster and the Las Vegas roll remain top sellers… A baby bummer for local farmers market fans: the “TGIF” farmers market at Seaside’s City Center – starring live music and ethnic foods some 50 booths deep – was slotted to start Jan. 15, but word from the Sand-Sea Chamber is that it’ll be another couple of months until launch. The public line is that they’re fine-tuning for optimal excellence, but smart salad says there’s more drama to this script than its directors are advertising (see story, p. 8)… A bigger bummer for lovers of good reggae and raviolis. The joint that served so many sturdy pizzas, plates of pasta and a more-than-healthy helping of independent reggae, hip-hop and rock is in an economic headlock that forced them to reluctantly cry, “Uncle”: Randy and Sarah Young are looking to unload their lease at Giovane’s in Salinas. Randy says he won’t mind “taking on a partner and kicking it up again,” but for now a bright light in valley nightlife has gone dark… Moses is leading the people – to more good beer. First Monterey Beer Festival chief and longtime Peninsula purveyor of superb suds and fine wines Jeff Moses was on the Mancow radio show (“He’s got that rapid-fire way of talking – I may have missed a few of his questions,” Moses says, “but I did OK overall”) then featured in Draft Magazine. Now the Great American Beer Festival in Denver has asked him to show his Short Pour Film Festival – a round-up of action and animation shorts, music videos and uncommon commercials, all about beer, running three minutes or less, by established and emerging film talent – at the largest brew party in the country. Its debut will happen here first, at the Monterey Fest in June. More at www.nightthatneverends.com. (Bye bye.)