Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blue Fish House - not so Japanese

"Authentic," under one definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means "conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features "

I have talked a lot lately about whether food is "authentic." Perhaps I should not. When it comes to ethnic food, I know very little about authenticty. The best I can do is guess at what is authentic. I consider indicators like:

1-Are the customers ordinary Americans or members of the particular ethnic group? (The restaurant loses even more authenticity points if the customers are fat Americans).

2-If I have been to the homeland, does the food at the restaurant resemble food in the homeland?

3-Are the ingredients and techinques exotic? Or does the food use suspiciously American techniques, like deep frying?

Of course, even authentic food can taste bad. And sometimes inauthentic food can taste pretty good.

Such is the case with the Blue Fish House, a vaguely Japanese-style restaurant on Richmond near Kirby. They serve noodle dishes, pan-Asian dinners, nigiri sushi, sashimi, and seafood rolls. They have none of the indicators of authentic Japanese cuisine. Rather, they seem to take a lot of Asian food ideas and throw them together in a way that pleases Anglo-Americans. And it works. The proof is the large crowd of white people -- particularly young attractive women.

On a recent visit, I focused on seafood rolls. (I won't call them "sushi rolls" because technically a roll is not sushi, and because most of these rolls use more fried seafood than raw fish). Each roll was a nice balance of textures with strong flavors that appeal to an American palate. One roll came with fried oysters and a spicy pepper sauce. Another roll came sweet teriaki-flavored eel covered with crunchy seaweed. All the rolls tasted great, but the rice did not seem to have the correct sushi rice texture.

As an appetizer, my seven-year-old ordered "fish nuggets." She liked the crunchy panko tempura fried exterior and the sweet vinegary sauce on the side. I ordered an appetizer of eel in a very sweet teriaki sauce. It was far sweeter than the real thing, but tasty.

True to American tastes, a number of dishes are fried, and most dishes have a very sweet or spicy sauce. The rolls are an American "innovation" on Japanese-style cuisine. But they are absolutely, positively, not Japanese.

Blue Fish House has few Japanese-American customers. It fails to capture the subtlety and balance of traditional Japanese food, opting instead for big American flavors. To find authentic Japanese food, go to Nippon on Montrose. They have a big Japanese crowd. But if you like your seafood rolls with some crunch and lots of sweet and spicy flavor, try Blue Fish House. It is an American seafood restaurant that tastes pretty good.

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