Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Birthday Dinner

I finally had the chance to try a sushi restaurant that I had heard a lot of good things about, the Sakae Sushi & Grill in Burlingame, CA, where we went to celebrate my 35th birthday.

I'll start by saying that the best sushi I've ever eaten, by far, was at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan (and it was for breakfast!). Sakae is now my 2nd favorite place to eat sushi! This is a great little restaurant, with a very authentic Japanese atmosphere, and the food is fantastic. If you want the good stuff, and you'll pay for it, order off the Sushi Specials menu. Everything on there is flown in direct from the Tsukiji Market 3 times a week. I finally tried something I've never had before but have always been curious about: Sea Urchin. It was, well, interesting. I don't think I'll be ordering it again, but I'll try anything once. And of course I ate my fried shrimp head just like my Japanese friend Hozumi in Saipan taught me! The fish was outstanding, as was the rest of the very large meal we managed to consume. They also have a great selection of premium Japanese Sake. Thanks everyone for a great birthday dinner!

I feel like I must make a recommendation here against ordering the Bluefin tuna or the "Toro" or fatty tuna, which is the belly-fat section from (most likely) a Bluefin tuna. I admit that I have tried a piece of each once before in order to try and understand why it is such a prized fish. It is delicious, but your wallet, the environment, and hopefully your conscience will take a hit when you order these items. Bluefin are a very large, impressive species of tuna whose populations are suffering due to the fact that they are slow to mature, because there is such a high demand for them for the sushi market, and because they are difficult stocks to manage due to their migratory nature. If you want to see a live one, go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Outer Bay Exhibit and you will be mesmerized by these amazing animals.

One ironic fact about the Bluefin at this and other US restaurants is that there is a good chance that it was caught off the East coast of the USA, frozen, flown to Japan, sold at the fish market, then shipped back to CA and onto your plate! A fisherman friend of mine in North Carolina landed a Bluefin once back in 2002. When he got to the dock, there was a Japanese fish market "middleman" there, in the small North Carolina coastal town of Beaufort, waiting to take the last few Bluefin of the season (there is a quota, and when it is reached the U.S. fishery is closed down) to the Japanese market. The three of them are all very experienced fishermen, and there is a very specific technique and procedure that must be followed when landing and bleeding a Bluefin in order to preserve the quality of the meat. They thought they had done everything "by the book" but even so the buyer took a sample of the meat, analyzed it closely, and told them just by looking at the tissue what they had done wrong. They still sold the one large fish for THOUSANDS of dollars.

The fact of the matter is that we can use the market system, good old supply and demand, to help influence the fish that restaurants buy for their customers. If people stop ordering it, they will stop purchasing it, and hopefully the populations will recover to a point where they can be sustainably harvested in the future.

And don't forget that if you are pregnant or nursing (like my sister-in-law, ahem!) you should be limiting your consumption of tuna and other upper-tier predators like king mackerel, shark, and swordfish because of the higher levels of mercury that they contain in their tissues. I was worried about this when I was living in Micronesia because I ate local line-caught tuna very frequently for over 2 years. During my last physical, I had my doctor run a blood test on my mercury levels and it was still well within the normal values. Funny how we have "normal" levels of things like mercury in our bodies ...

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