Friday, December 15, 2006


Warning: parts of this article contain Sushi Evangelism. Reader discretion is advised for sensitive groups.

It's becoming very easy to find places to eat sushi. It's even easy to find places to eat good sushi. There are lots of little restaurants where you can get some and think "yep, that's pretty good raw fish." But when does sushi transcend "pretty good raw fish" and become an excellent meal? Here's the part where I think every sushi eater has a completely different opinion: that their preferred sushi house/bar/restaurant is the very best there is, and that you needn't waste your time at any other locales.

Yeah, I'm no different.

And so when I volunteered my dad's lunch hour to buy me some free food yesterday, my obvious choice of restaurant was Wasabi House. There's really nothing obviously distinctive about Wasabi House: it's neither super-commercial nor "hole in the wall," there are appropriately Japanese people working and appropriately Japanese decorations on the walls, and the front of the place has a large cutting board, several large knives, and lots of rice and dead fish.

The thing that stands out about Wasabi House is the quality of their most basic types of sushi. Sure, they've got their house specials (one of which is something delicious called "dragon roll" that is certainly worth trying), and it's not hard to pour effort into one or two rolls and make them outstanding. Where Wasabi House becomes wonderful is in things like spicy tuna and spider roll. Every self-respecting sushi place has these... and yet, at Wasabi House, they're just better than anywhere else I've tried. Again, I believe that any sushi fan probably has the same opinion of their favorite place, and that brings me to a question. How do you differentiate high-quality sushi? If it's amazingly good at everywhere you try (and I'll be the first to admit that there probably are places as awesome as Wasabi House), how do you determine what's truly the best?

Following the Asian food theme, after a particularly difficult Problem 3 on a diff eq exam earlier this week, a few friends and I went to a place called Spoon. "Wait... that doesn't sound Asian!" No, it really doesn't, which is why this really is a paradox of a restaurant. It's clear that this restaurant is torn between wanting to cater to some sort of trendy urban crowd and wanting to sell high-quality Thai food. I'm not exactly trendy, so I can't comment on the former, but the latter is a resounding success.

First, a bit about the atmosphere. We've got a nonsensical English name, a full bar featuring American alcohol, and decor and background music that appear to have been inspired from Sprockets. And for all that, the quality of Thai food for the money is excellent. The menu is simple, serving Thai dishes for eleven dollars each (Pad Thai is cheaper, and there are a few more expensive seafood options) and all of the ones that I tasted were delicious. I had chicken Panang, which was basically chicken and vegetables in some chili-coconut sauce (granted, that's an accurate description of about half the Thai dishes out there), and there's no question that I'd order it again.

Now let's talk about "authenticity." A lot of snobs would probably complain that I wasn't eating "authentic" Thai cuisine. The same people would likely argue that my favorite Chinese place, Big Joy, isn't really Chinese. So my question here is define authenticity. One common criterion is "you know a Chinese restaurant is 'authentic' when you see Chinese people eating there." Or for particular dishes: a dish isn't "authentic" unless it originated in China. So look at Maggiano's, a popular (and delicious) Italian restaurant. I've seen Chinese people eating there, but I'm not sure if I've ever seen any actual Italians there... does this mean Maggiano's isn't authentic? Italian people don't really eat lasagna and chicken parmesan?

If you've been looking at what I've been listening to the past few weeks, it's been Christmas music. 'Tis the season, after all. Here are three of my favorites:

What's It Gonna Be, Santa? is probably the best contemporary Christmas CD out there. It has a mix of secular and religious, mostly well-known music but a few originals, too. Of course I'm biased toward Chicago being a trumpet player: most music can be greatly improved with a little brass added. Surprisingly, I've heard some of this music on the radio lately, where it is a refreshing alternative to hip-hop Christmas and 40's crooning. One note in particular: "Child's Prayer" from this CD is one of the only situations I can think of in which I don't mind children singing.

If you're looking for traditional Christmas music, there's really no place to go better than the ASO under the direction of Robert Shaw. Both The Many Moods of Christmas and Christmas with the ASO are among the best in this subgenre, with Many Moods featuring more well-known music and Christmas with the ASO showcasing orchestral music befitting the season. The ASO's renditions of "O Come, O Come Emanuel" and "Adeste Fideles" are both particularly worth listening to.

And if you ever have the chance to hear the ASO do it live, the Morehouse Glee Club's "Betelehemu" is absolutely not to be missed.

Currently listening: "Three Doors," VAST

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