The astute server eyed our group with understandable skepticism: two couples, two kids, definitely not Asian, and yet we were inquiring...
The astute server eyed our group with understandable skepticism: two couples, two kids, definitely not Asian, and yet we were inquiring about Bada Sushi’s specialty, Korean-style “live” sashimi.
“Still moving,” she explained when we quizzed her about the high-priced “Live Sashimi Combinations” ($90-$200), feasts designed to serve four to six people.
We had come here bent on sampling one. Well, most of us had. The kids wanted udon and a spider roll, and one husband felt safer with sukiyaki as a fallback option, not quite keen on the idea of dinner that wasn’t yet dead.
In fact, we had passed the makings of our meal on the way in. The restaurant’s dim foyer is a mini-aquarium, lined with saltwater tanks displaying lobsters, abalone, geoducks, sea squirts, sea cucumbers and small flat fish the server called halibut but is actually a Korean fish called olive flounder. Over the next few hours we would taste each of those and more.
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But first we settled on some sake and soft drinks and took stock of our surroundings. The 6-month-old restaurant is spacious and bright. Dark wood adorns two casual dining areas that bracket a long sushi bar; to the far right lies a secluded bar and lounge. Several strategically mounted TVs displayed the Korean equivalent of “Drake & Josh” — entertaining to all of us, even with the volume off.
Then came the food. The panoply of plates that preceded the sashimi presented such an astonishing array of textures and tastes — far more diverse than the banchan that typically accompany a Korean repast — that I resorted to surreptitious note-taking under the table.
We nibbled edamame; sweet, golden brown corn kernels; and tsukemono, pickled vegetables that included vivid orange oshinko (burdock root), pearl onions and eggplant. We poked chopsticks into seaweed salad, sweet yam flecked with black sesame seeds and steamed kabocha squash, and spooned creamy egg custard from a pudgy stoneware pot. The only item largely ignored? Cubed potato and Asian pear smothered in a white sauce that tasted like Miracle Whip.
Many of the dishes held seafood. Four delicious shrimp were grilled in their shells. Bonito flakes topped shards of crisp salmon skin and onion bound with Japanese mayo. Wasabi lent heat to a cool salad comprising confettilike ribbons of surimi, omelet, shiitake, cucumber and red pepper. Surimi was also pressed into bite-sized pink patties, a little like crab cakes.
A sweet, tangy red sauce basted two fish fillets (tuna and halibut, I surmised); a similar sauce glistened on the delicate flesh of a small, whole flounder. Two other sardine-sized coppery-skinned whole fish were served sans sauce, their delicate flesh needing no embellishment. Nuggets of white fish were battered and fried; so were blue crab legs (shell and all). Spicy pink mayonnaise blanketed four huge New Zealand mussels and a pair of pearly abalone shells cradled cream-sauced seafood and scallion — a Korean take on deviled clam.
But all of this abundance was merely prelude to the sashimi. A whole lobster clutching a giant green orb of wasabi presided over eight other varieties of raw, gleaming seafood. Nestled among wisps of daikon and ruffles of kale on a lacquered dais three-foot square, they looked like baubles in Neptune’s jewelry box.
For the record, no movement was noted among the deceased, which included three oysters, as big as my hand, snuggled alongside the lobster, whose raw tail meat had been removed and sectioned. Translucent, paper-thin slices of “halibut” overlapped like fish scales. A stemmed goblet held slippery nubbins of octopus.
Sea cucumber was slippery too, its texture not unlike eggplant. Ruddy sea squirt, cut into curly pieces — looking somewhat like caterpillars — had bitter flesh clinging to a flexible casing. Thin slices of abalone were firm and meaty, similar to geoduck, which was chewier. Saltwater eel (anago) held the least allure, but even that tangle of gristly white flesh, like everything else, tasted unmistakably of the sea.
When we’d eaten our fill, the leftovers were removed and we awaited the finale. Out came a portable gas burner along with bowls of rice, kimchi, fish cake and seasoned vegetables. A bubbling cauldron followed, with the lobster carcass and claws bobbing in bright red broth, along with a bouquet of chrysanthemum greens and slender, white enoki mushrooms. Ladling portions of the spicy soup into small bowls, we turned up tofu and vegetables as well.
For an adventurous group, the live sashimi combination is well worth a try and, divided among six people, not as extravagant as you might think. There are lesser-priced sushi/sashimi combinations, too.
But Bada Sushi isn’t only about extreme eating experiences. The udon and sukiyaki were decently executed, well-stocked noodle dishes enhanced by a smoky, complex broth. Sushi rolls come in many imaginative combos, and inexpensive bento boxes are among the lunch specials.
Moderately priced “Daily Meals” include spicy fish soups and stews, an excellent seafood pahjeon — a large crispy pancake laced with scallion and small bits of octopus, surimi, mussels and shrimp — as well as “Sashimi Bow Rice.” Served in a bowl as big as a wash basin, it’s a salad layered with rice, lettuce, crisp vegetables, threads of nori and lots of jalapeño. At the summit is a small peak of salmon and albacore sashimi, tobiko, surimi and a tiny quail egg. To eat, squirt liberally with gochujan, a sweet, tangy, not-so-fiery hot sauce, and mix with the long-handled spoon provided. You won’t find anything still wiggling, I promise.
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