Monday, July 28, 2008
Gen pouts as the Happy Hour comes to a close.
Whenever Restaurant Week hits the city, I always tell myself that I'm gonna go out to those restaurants that I've been wanting to hit but never do. Then, when Restaurant Week arrives, I find myself either too busy or just not that interested in going to the restaurants participating. Because the truth is that I really don't need a gimmicky event like Restaurant Week to get me to check out a place, I just need time and a desire to eat there.
After hearing some so-so reviews from friends, Tsunami wasn't high on my list of "must eat" places in Baltimore, but when Chef Mike sent a text for a Restaurant Week dinner, I figured "what the hell."
It's six p.m. and high noon for Tsunami's Happy Hour where sushi is half-off. Problem is that "sushi" is a misnomer since they mean maki sushi and not the nigiri sushi that I prefer. This preferential treatment towards rolls is an ominous sign about their attitude towards sushi and their clientele base.
Too Blue Cocktails.
By the time I arrive, my friends are in full swing, chugging down various blue-tinted cocktails. I'm not partaking of alcohol on this excursion, so I decline their generous offers of libation - instead focusing on a glass of water and the always addictive edamame.
Tsunami is located in a restored building that once was a brush factory. About six years ago, I had the opportunity to tour the building with it's multi-storied 1800s machinery and leather drive belts. It was a fascinating factory and the restoration seems to be a good one. Upstairs is a chic bowling alley where you can rent a lane for an exorbitant $40/hour. Chic, trendy and expensive? Thanks, but no thanks.
The restaurant shares it's kitchen, bathrooms and connects with it's neighbor, Lemongrass. Evidently both are owned by the same Annapolis based restaurant of the same names.
One would think that an organization with four restaurants under its' belt would have some sort of functional website. Not so with Tsunami. A visit to their website turns up a splash page where you can choose either their Baltimore or Annapolis sites. Choose Baltimore and you get a "Coming Soon" notice. Click on "Annapolis" and a new browser window opens with a separate URL and then...well, nothing happens.
A call to the restaurant for location confirmation and a mention of the missing website to the hostess results in a quip about the restaurant being open since November 2007 and there is a website. I guess the splash page telling interested clients that the website is "Coming Soon" qualifies as an active website to these people.
I like fish. Unlike some of my friends, I like my sushi raw. I had originally been planning to order a large round of nigiri but when informed that the happy hour price only applied to rolls, I thought better of it and ordered just one. It's a shame though, because had the happy hour special applied to the nigiri, I would have spent a lot more than the roll.
How was the roll? Perfunctory. It wasn't bad. I just wasn't great. It wasn't notable. Thin cuts of fish on slightly dry rice. Nothing to rave about, but not bad enough to send back either. Considering the number of Asians running the kitchen, I wonder if this standard of sushi is held because management just doesn't care or that the clientele is too focused on rolls and cooked stuff in rolls that it really doesn't matter. As a result, I'm actually happy that I didn't order an onslaught of nigiri.
While the rest of our crew ordered the Restaurant Week Prix Fixe Menu, I decided to go with selections from the main menus' appetizers. First off, is the seemingly rapidly spreading Ahi Poke - that dish of Hawai'i origins. In the islands, just about any raw seafood can be made into poke. Got some fresh octopus, skipjack or 'opihi? They can be made into poke. Just cut 'em up into 1/2" hunks, mix it all up and it's ready to go.
But the trend in fine dining poke is to cut the fish into small dice and serve. Some places, like Roy's, do a nice job with ahi poke. Other places are outright disasters. Tsunami's poke is somewhere in-between. Presentation is very smart with the poke wrapped in a slice of cucumber. The fish is of nice quality and the basics of onion and sesame oil are there. It's just missing something: salt - either in the form of proper alaea salt or shoyu. I detected a trace of salt in the mix but not enough to make it pop. It's the juxtaposition of the roasted sesame oil and the saltiness that makes poke the hit that it is. I ended up mixing in some soy sauce to compensate and all was fine.
For my "main course," I decided to go with another appetizer and ordered the sliced beef and a side order of steamed rice. I'd like to tell you more about the beef but I rely on a restaurants' online menu for names and descriptions of dishes, but since Tsunami is contented to have almost nothing for a website, I have no real details to offer you, gentle reader. What I do remember is that the dish came with a small salad, some twists of green onion, something tempura battered and fried (cheese, I think) and while the beef was a nicely cooked medium, it lacked flavor and required a liberal application of salt.
To add to that, our server completely neglected to place my order for a side of steamed rice. Luckily, Reese's dish of steamed cod wrapped in banana leaf featured a side of steamed rice that she wasn't going to finish.
Pork Fried Rice
Of all the dishes that rolled onto our table, the stand out was the pork fried rice that a couple of the others had ordered. The flavors were good (at least from the spoonful I had) and the pork was braised to a tender texture. However, don't ask the server what the pork is braised in - that leads one in a discussion that goes round and round and eventually nowhere:
It's braised in its' own juices, was the original reply.
That's nice, but braised meat doesn't start out that way... A simple measure would have been to run to the kitchen to ask the cooks what the pork was braised in, but that seemed too obvious to try at the time.
The steamed cod sat across the table from me and I had a bite. The texture was pretty good. I'd say it was cooked perfectly. The banana leaf gave it a bit of sweetness. Unfortunately, it just didn't go anywhere else. Once you savored the sweetness and tender texture in the first bite - that was it. Nothing more. No depth. No complexity. What a shame 'cause it looked really nice.
I decided against the prix fixe meal because I've been losing my desire for desserts lately. Just too much sweet at the end of big meals. I want something punchy. Something vibrant. Not something that's going to weigh me down like sweets and ice cream.
All in all, it wasn't a bad time. It wasn't a stellar time. The food was rather perfunctory - kinda like an Asian place designed for unadventurous white people. Exotic-looking but bland. Toss in some rice lanterns, a couple of Buddha statues and the obligatory chopsticks and you've got an Asian-themed restaurant. Wash the natural brick walls in deep blue and you've got a hip night spot for trendsters.
But if you're the kind of diner who's looking for authentic flavor, there are a few hole-in-the-wall places that do better and are worth the effort.
1300 Bank Street
Baltimore, MD 21202