By Lori Midson
By Cafe Society
By Cafe Society
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Nathalia Velez
By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
"That's our artillery," he says. "We do so much on the fly, you know? You need to have that firepower."
My fifth course was Kobe beef. A lot of Kobe beef -- ten or twelve ounces of sliced medallions, easy -- and actually a fifty-fifty Kobe-Angus breed, but excellent nonetheless: beautifully pink and tender, ribboned with fat that liquefied into a puddle of soy glaze, and topped with a cruise-ship garlic butter and breadcrumb concoction that was jet-trash funny and delicious at the same time. Conwell uses ankimo -- monkfish liver -- the same way in his foie gras sashimi appetizer, elevating it with a miso vinaigrette and making it taste impossibly Japanese.
"When I was working with Morimoto, I saw the origin of new-style sashimi and new-style Japanese cuisine," he explains. And, yeah, he's talking about that Morimoto -- Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who has a restaurant in Philadelphia where Conwell trained for a year (after eight years at Sushi Den, another five or six at Japon and many trips to Japan) before opening Sushi Sasa. Morimoto invented that "new style" (or at least popularized it, much to the chagrin of sushi purists), and Conwell is an ardent disciple.
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"It's not just about sauce, but sauce for a reason," he says. "It's about why the sauce belongs."
He doesn't elaborate on his inspirations beyond that, partly because he doesn't want to be overly identified with his mentors, and partly because he doesn't want to give anything away. He's seen so much and learned so much, and now that he's really getting started, he doesn't want anyone lifting his hard-earned tricks.
The sixth course was pure Kokoro bebop, the essence of the new style as translated through the old style: eight inside-out rolls of crab tempura wrapped in nori, rolled in perfect sushi rice, then wrapped again in shaved slips of mango, in salmon. I watched Yoshi put the torch to the rolls -- fussing with the duct-taped pistol grip, pulling the trigger, listening for the sweet click-click-roar of the igniter -- and then top each piece with a tiny dollop of wasabi mayonnaise. "No soy sauce, I think," he said as he handed them over, and I pushed my unused bowl to the side.
The rolls were wonderful, alternately crunchy and soft, sweet and stinging and oily: weirdness elevated to art. But I was stuffed. I ate two, took a break, pushed back from the bar, watched the floor. The servers were still seating tables at eleven o'clock, deuces and fours and six-tops rolling in late, everyone seeming to glow in the white-on-white nakedness of the dining room. I nibbled a third roll, then threw in the towel.
I apologized to my server, to my chef. The rolls were delicious, I said, but I was simply done in by the house's generosity.
"Still, dessert," Yoshi said with a smile, the sketch of a bow, and placed it on the bar before me.
I would have laughed if I hadn't already been too full even to breathe. Dessert at a sushi bar is usually chilled oranges removed from their skins, green-tea ice cream, sweet black-bean or red-bean jellies.
Not here, though.
Tonight, Sushi Sasa was serving tiramisu.