Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Crab Stick: Asian Tea House Sushi Meetup

The only thing I hate more than fake superheros is fake food, and I don't mean those plastic grapes that the people I work with would eat if I put a bowl of them in the break room.

No, I mean stuff like Crab Stick - pulverized fish (usually Alaskan pollack) that is reformed with "meat glue" (transglutaminase - an enzyme that reforms the puree into a solid), and maybe starch from wheat and tapioca or corn and vegetable oils and MSG and salt and it's dyed red and then shredded to have the texture of crab. It's the Chicken McNugget of sushi, and is decidedly a cheaper alternative to real crab (or real fish for that matter), which is why we often see it being served in our sushi restaurants. And it's crap.

Which is why the Crab Stick-in-my-throat overload at the Asian Tea House last week was such a disappointment. I was with a group of over 50 people organized by the Sushi Lovers Meetup here in Albany, NY - a lively group of folks who actually LIKE eating sushi with others that LIKE eating sushi and we don't need to listen to your weird "bait" jokes. We arrived and were seated at 6:30, and had our first dish at 7:15 - (45 minutes to chew on fried won tons): a lovely bowl of Hot & Sour soup. It was a bit gooey for my liking but warm and dense with mushrooms, egg, water chestnuts and tofu. It had a sneaky heat and was actually slightly sweet - a first for my tastes - but good.

The hot and sour soup was rich and tasty
Then came the first crab-attack. This dish they called their "house specialty" - Sushi Pizza. It was triangular nacho chips covered in Crab Stick "salad" (tossed with mayo and chili oil [I'm guessing] so it was bright orange), topped with fried panku flakes. It was pretty and also pretty disgusting.

Sushi pizza was pretty and pretty disgusting
Next came a platter of pan-fried spicy won tons filled with chicken. These were salty and garlicky, served with a warm, slightly sweet chili sauce laced with curry powder, which was kind of weird but OK.

Fried won tons filled with chicken
Next was another round of fried things - pork filled dumplings that were really chewy and cold and tasted like garlic. So were filling up on fake crab and fried things. Where's my sushi???
Fried dumplings filled with pork
Two salads arrived at the table - seaweed standard laced with sesame oil and topped with cucumber (actually very tasty) and more of that Crab Stick salad mixture (the salad was exactly what came on top of that "pizza" served earlier), and also topped with fried panku. Yuck.

Above - seaweed salad, and below the "crab" salad. The plates themselves were very attractive.
Aha! Finally a platter of sashimi - tuna (albacore), creamy salmon, red snapper (this was the best of them), yellowtail, and something they call "white tuna". This was NOT tuna, IS NOT tuna: this was Escolar, tasty, greasy, and one of the reasons you might want to avoid it is because it makes you want to go poo. It is cheap fish and not something you want to eat too much of.  Note it is banned for sale in Japan because it is considered toxic. A fish they won't eat but we will??? OK that's a new one.

Red snapper (front) and then from left to right: tuna, salmon, "white tuna" and yellowtail
This was promising, but the next platter was not sushi as I had hoped, but a plate of "rolls", and there was more of this Crab Stick in or on everything. I thought the mortals we were sharing the table with were more discerning about their sushi, but they dove into this stuff with gusto. Or maybe they were just really really hungry. By this time I'm picking out the Crab Stick. I asked myself, Self: what were they hiding under those mounds of Crab Stick salad??? It's like Uh-merican food buried under cheese. The presentation was shoddy and gooky looking.

Crab stick in the roll on the left and mounded on top of the rolls on the right. Who knows what's under there.
Then "jalapeno shots" - a bit of raw tuna, fresh jalapeno, vinegar, sweet. I liked it very much.

The next platter was........................ and we waited over a half hour for it.............................wait for it.....................  was more of what we just got (see the ones with the little dots of sriracha pepper sauce?), and a shrimp roll with avocado and Crap Stuck Crap   Crab Stick that was bready and even had a fried won ton in the middle, and bland, and weird. AND, TAAAAAAAA DAAAAAAAA --  FINALLY, 12 sushi (which is plural of sushi) also on this platter. The 6 of us at our table quickly devoured these and were left wishing there was more.
Weird shrimp roll had more of that Crap Stuck Crab Stick in it.
And we waited and waited and another platter of sushi eventually arrived and it was very good. Thick pieces of red snapper, silky smooth salmon, earthy yellowtail. No tuna. Nothing fancy. The rice was decidedly sweet but properly prepared. I would LOVE to have eaten more but we had now been there almost 3 hours, we were tired and I still had the forces of evil to deal with overnight, and we were hungry when we arrived and ended up filling up on fillers, and it was time to go. 
The sushi, when it finally came, was delicious
Bottom lines: the service was friendly but way too slow, and there certainly wasn't enough help to manage the room properly (dirty dishes were left lingering, water jugs needed filling, etc.). We were told that the restaurant was overwhelmed with such a large group (even though we were expected, albeit a few more than originally planned), but I am suspicious that maybe the long wait for the sushi and the cheap eats beforehand ensured we were full and too tired to eat much more than the sushi that was offered at the end. OR it could be they just didn't have enough fresh fish to go around. Or both. Anyway, they're bottom line goes chi-ching with cheap eats and fillers and long waits ($25 per person including tax and tip IS a deal, but that still doesn't meat I want to eat junk food). My unasked for advice?  Go and try the sushi and sashimi in the dining room proper but be wary if you are planning a group event.

And no doubt there were sushi snobs in that room full of Sushi Lovers, but nobody complained about the food, just a bit about the service (and online/later), and they enjoyed each others company. So I kept my big mouth shut, which for me isn't an easy thing, and I saved my valued opinions (HA!) for Albany Dish.

The Sushi Lovers Meetup really is a nice bunch of folks.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: I hate plastic tablecloths except on a picnic table.


LorreS said...

Were there plastic table cloths?

Zena G.O.F. said...

Yes they kept sticking to my sweaty forearms. (:

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