Thursday, 30 May 2024

Foodie Freak: Watercolors Restaurant on sushi night

As you begin to read this you must understand that I am a “world famous” (I use the term loosely, hence the quotes) sushi aficionado. When the head instructor of an American sushi training school read my book he admitted that even he learned some new facts, so when people started asking me if I’ve ever eaten at Watercolors Restaurant on Sushi Sunday I thought, “They’d be doomed.” After all, I can look at the ball of rice from a piece of Japanese-made sushi and tell you at what school the person who made it was trained.


Once in a popular Santa Rosa sushi bar I wrote on my bill, “Worst sushi I have ever had! And I’ve eaten sushi in South Korea!” I’ve even got into an argument with one sushi bar owner when I told him his spider roll was made out of substitute ingredients and contained no actual crab in it at all. So when it comes to sushi, I’m a pedantic eater.


My daughter wanted sushi and she’s a spoiled little girl, so she was going to get sushi. Since I was able to sample some excellent things from Watercolors Restaurant during the “A Taste of Lakeport” event last week I thought it was a good time to check them out.


When we arrived at Watercolors Restaurant at the Ferndale Resort my first thought as I walked in was how elegant it looked. The room seats about 35 to 40 people, and has a fine, clean-looking interior, white tablecloths, beautiful stemware and candles on every table. Not to mention the view from the dining room overlooks the lake. I was impressed so far. My second thought was, “I’m too ugly to ever work here; every man and woman on staff is gorgeous. As of right now, I’m the least attractive person in the room!” My waitress Holly, for example, looked like she must be a waitress by day and jet-setting supermodel by night.


We were seated at a very comfortable table, and the host graciously welcomed us and asked if we were familiar with their Sushi Sunday menu. He said their regular menu was scaled down so they could provide the sushi menu ... get it? Scaled down, scales, fish, sushi ...? The host wasn’t trying to be clever, he hadn’t even thought of it that way, but it struck me as funny.


Another thing about the staff is that they were Johnny-on-the-spot when I wanted something; water is refilled before the glass is even empty, you raise one eyebrow at a staff member and they are right at your side to assist you (really, I did that). When Holly mistakenly mentioned to my wife the risotto that wasn’t even available at the time, the kitchen offered to make it for her anyway. Keep in mind that we’re here anonymously, they don’t know I’m going to review this seating; this is how they treat everyone! So now I started thinking, OK, maybe they aren’t actually “doomed.”


My daughter and I ordered the rainbow roll, Philadelphia roll, spider roll, ahi tuna roll, and one order each of the available nigiri, hamachi (yellowtail), unagi (freshwater eel), ahi (tuna), sake (salmon) and smoked salmon. Yes, when I eat sushi it’s a marathon, not a sprint. My wife had ... I don’t know, something pasta, not the risotto. She didn’t get into the sushi spirit with us. Italians ... their obsession with cooking their seafood, don’tcha know.


Let me say this, unagi is one of the types of sushi that gets people to wrinkle their noses: “Eel!?” Eel isn’t loved in America as it is in the rest of the world, but it ends up being a favorite for most people after they actually try it. Grilled and served still warm with a thick teriyaki-type sauce (called tsume). If you want to try unagi, then definitely try Watercolors’ unagi. It was perfect ... yes, perfect! It is the exact taste, temperature, amount of sauce and size that it should be. It was so good that when my daughter was eating it she was making noises that no father wants to ever hear his daughter making, if you get my meaning.


The rolls were all made with good creativity. The ends of the rolls were decorated with kaiware (daikon radish sprouts), and there was a clever addition of a basil sauce on some of the plates and a chile aioli on others. These are not traditional Japanese sauces, but they worked very well.


The ahi roll was served with an impressive, nay, decadent amount of tobiko (flying fish eggs). The spider roll is much smaller than you would expect if you have had them in big cities but it is much easier to eat than those cartoon-like giant rolls you would get in other sushi bars (besides my daughter has never been able to eat a spider roll due to their mythic size so this ended up to be a good thing). And all of the sushi was served with the typical side of wasabi (horseradish) and gari (pickled ginger), nicely presented on the plate.


One thing I noticed which was surprising is that the rainbow roll actually contains – get this – REAL CRAB! Not those rubbery imitation “krab” sticks that most sushi bars use. Called “surimi” in the industry, they contain no actual crab in them. Why am I telling you this? You don’t need to have this information since Watercolors uses REAL CRAB!


The nigiri tasted good and most people will absolutely love it; the percentage of fish to rice is the perfect combination and my nose wasn’t scorched out with wasabi. But I’ll admit if I were to show it to an itamae (expert sushi chef), we’d both giggle before making some joke about the knife skills of troglodytes.


In sushi tsu (expert) circles, a piece of nigiri is like a resume; not only does the shape of the rice ball tell you things about the chef’s training but the way the fish is sliced also tells you about the chef’s background. Looking at a selection of sushi from a classically trained sushi chef, a tsu can tell you where he was trained and even what part of the country he is from. It’s like ordering barbecue in the United States; each region is unique in certain ways.


So I’ll happily admit I was being somewhat trivial about the knife work on the nigiri, and my wife even commented that there are probably only a handful of people in the entire state that can tell a person’s history from looking at a slice of cold, dead fish. On the one hand it’s not expertly sliced, but on the other hand it didn’t take anything away from the taste of the meal. It’s just this food snob’s only detraction from an otherwise excellent meal. A person doesn’t get to know as much about sushi as I do and not have some fun with it, so don’t take my troglodyte joke too seriously.


I’ll give you a little dining tip to use at Watercolors (I hope they approve). They have little bread dishes on the table for the complementary bread, and don’t let that plate get away from you. Although they will bring you a small dish to pour your soy sauce in, don’t use it. The dish they bring you is like a sake cup, too deep to use effectively but the little bread plate is perfect. Just drip about four drops of soy sauce on the plate and use as needed; when you need more pour a few more drops on the plate.


This is actually the sign of a more experienced sushi eater. People who fill bowls with tablespoons of soy sauce and dunk their sushi like a cop dunking his donut in a cup of coffee are thought of as dilettantes to sushi tsu. If you want to look like a savvy sushi eater use only a few drops of soy sauce at a time (soy sauce in sushi tsu speak is called miruzaki).


When we were finished eating my daughter looked like a python that had just swallowed a goat; you knew she wasn’t going to be moving for a long time. She sat there saying, “It was soooo good but I can’t move now.”


Prices are exactly what you would expect for sushi and they didn’t cause me to flinch at all. We will definitely return. I won’t lie to you and say it’s world class sushi but it is dangskrabinjabit good sushi (as a person that doesn’t swear I thought that was a good expletive). This brings up a predicament for me, do I continue eating sushi there over and over again or do I return to review their daily menu? Once again, it’s a tough life.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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