Tunnel Explorer: How Do You Roll?

Tunnel Sushi. Just the sound of it makes me shudder a little bit. Even more so than tunnel filet, this just sounds like a recipe for disaster. When I first learned about How Do You Roll?, I was less than enthusiastic.

Of course, I take my job as Tunnel Explorer seriously. Last week I extolled the virtues of rediscovering old favorites. This week, I took my stomach in my hands and set out to try some subterranean sushi. That's how I roll.

How Do You Roll? operates on (what I, at least, believe to be) the slightly misguided assumption that people really, really want to design their own maki sushi rolls. With around 40 different options from which to construct your roll, ranging from an array of vegetables to crawfish and escolar, it's really just a disaster waiting to happen. I'm willing to bet there have been more than a few errors in judgment. Like a kid at the soda fountain, haphazardly constructing a "suicide," you know some poor soul chose to combine nearly every item on the menu in one roll, resulting in more than a few nearly inedible pieces of sushi.

Of course, there are surely just as many people capable of restraint, who will cautiously customize an exact replica of every spicy tuna roll in town. Those people aren't really getting the point, either. If you're going to do this right, you have to exercise both restraint and creativity, pairing a few simple flavors, thoughtfully considered. That's what I did, and it came out okay.

Escolar, green onion, jalapeno roll topped with sesame, ponzu dip: Nice temp on the fish, which exhibited no refrigerator chill. The escolar had a clean and buttery flavor, and a nicely firm but yielding texture. The rice was more than a bit dry, no doubt an artifact of the prefab prep done to facilitate high speed service, with each bamboo sushi mat pre-tiled with rice. Sharp, clean green onion; fresh, crunchy jalapenos had a nice, bright flavor, but could use more heat. The ponzu was a nice touch, but could stand to be more stridently tart, and with more soy depth of savoriness. Nori wrapper was a bit tough, like it was dried improperly. Sesame seeds enhanced the buttery fish flavor. It was nice, though the flavors were a bit muted.

Unagi, tomago, asparagus, jalapeno, tempura crunch, and Japanese mayo: This was certainly not an unpleasant bite, but it was very difficult to pick out individual flavors. The unagi was very mild, almost not there. There was no firm, flaky flesh sensation, no gentle tug of skin. I kept wanting a bright, fresh crunch of asparagus to butt up against sweet, savory unagi, with richness from the egg and astringent heat from the jalapeno, but it was just not happening. The tempura crunch was only kind of crunchy, and tasted like nothing. Think slightly stale Rice Krispies, and you're on the right track. The Japanese mayo was rich and tangy, and should pair well with the spicy/sweet eel, but the flavors just didn't stand out.

There was a bit of sloppy technique in the roll, and especially in the cuts made by the Maki 3000, or whatever brand of mechanized roll cutter they employ; the end pieces, in particular, were ragged and overly tapered. The rice issues afflicted both rolls, with some unpleasantly crunchy, almost dehydrated grains on the outer edges. Overall, though, the rice was prepared properly, with a subtle tangy sweetness and slightly toothsome texture.

Was How Do You Roll? excellent? A resounding no. As I told one of my coworkers, as he cocked his eyebrow at my selection of tunnel sushi for lunch, it's not a place I would seek out if I were craving sushi. If, however, I happened to be craving sushi while at work, I'd probably give it another shot. Love it or hate it, that's probably about the best litmus test you can apply down here.

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