Local Spotlight

Sushi Rice and the Omakase at MF Sushi

For me, eating sushi -- enjoying sushi -- used to be measured by the quality of the fish. As I've come to learn more about sushi, however, I now understand that you can't measure the quality of sushi on the fish alone. In fact, the critical component in all forms of sushi is seasoned rice -- whether it be nigiri sushi (hand pressed), chirashi sushi (sushi rice topped with sashimi), or sushi maki (rolls). Sushi rice should be body temperature and lightly seasoned with vinegar, enhancing the natural flavor of the fish.

In this week's cafe review of MF Sushi, I talk about sushi chef Chris Kinjo's mastery of the sushi rice, and how supremely fresh, precise cuts of fish, nikiri soy glaze, wasabi, and skilled preparation of sushi rice, combine to create a perfect piece of nigiri sushi.

We also cover the format of dining known as the omakase. Coming from the root word "entrust," an omakase is basically a chef's choice dinner -- you leave it up to the chef to give you what he wants to give, and he will give you the best he has in the house.

Even though it's all up to the chef, you are within your rights to set some parameters around the meal. During my last omakase, I sat next to a young couple who had never experienced it before. When the chef asked them how they were doing -- to gauge whether he should continue to give them more courses -- they responded eagerly with "Everything is great." By the time I sat down next to them, they'd already what they described as "at least 20 courses," looking fatigued and not knowing when the omakase would end.

"You can tell him you're full, you know," I intimated quietly. The girl, obviously relieved, thanked me for telling her. "We didn't know you could do that. We thought he would just come to a stop at some point, but it kept on going."

That's the other thing about the omakase -- sitting at the sushi bar allows you to get to know the sushi chef, and vice versa. You can ask him questions. You can, and should, offer to buy him a beer. You're building a relationship with the sushi chef so that at some point, you don't need to say anything but sit down and enjoy. But initially, you should tell the chef what you are comfortable with.

It's okay to set the budget, if you have one, and to tell the sushi chef your preferences. You can let the chef know "I'm not comfortable with sea urchin," or in my case, "Please don't give me any 'fishy' fish like aji (horse mackerel) or salmon roe," because I don't enjoy those types of fish. On the other hand, I love buttery fish, and I've been known to tell the sushi chef "Give me everything buttery and fatty" at the beginning of the meal. And definitely, when I'm starting to get full, I'll let the sushi chef know so that he can finish out the meal the way in which it was conceived, oftentimes with two to three additional courses.

MF Sushi is not for the recreational sushi eater -- someone who eats sushi rolls for fun, likes the fried stuff with cream cheese on top, or who isn't comfortable with raw fish. It's not a chain restaurant the likes of Miyako or Ra Sushi, where the emphasis is more on the social aspect than on that perfect cut of fish or that perfect piece of sushi. It's for someone who can appreciate fine fish and rice prepared in the traditional Japanese method, someone who is looking for, and is willing to pay for quality. And if you're okay with that, you'll love MF Sushi.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham