Thursday, July 8, 2010

Aoeshi Cafe: Cleveland Sushi At Its Finest

Man-oh-Manischewitz did we have some amazing sushi this week!

Tuesday was my last day off this holiday weekend so I tried to make the most of it. I slept in a little, I had myself a workout at the gym, I watched some Battle Star Galactica. All in all a pretty solid day that was capped off with a trip to the pool to take some of the heat out of a hottt day.

But all this activity leaves a body hungry so we started thinking about food options. Burgers were out having just had $5 burger-and-beer specials at the Cedar Lee Pub. It seemed that something lighter and on the healthy side was called for. The idea of Aladdin’s was tossed around until Nicole suggested sushi. As much as I love—love—sushi, I rarely ever think of it as a meal option. Almost never when weighing dinning options will I suggest it, it’s an idea that must be brought to me.

Having decided that sushi was the plan of attack for the evening’s repast we were then stuck with the decision of which restaurant to visit. And with four in the immediate vicinity it was not an easy choice to make. We’d already had a good experience with Ariyoshi on Lee, and I’d had a nice lunch at Tree Country Bistro on Coventry so the quality of half our choices could be vouched for. Pacific East, also on Coventry, has won numerous awards from local papers and is usually pretty busy which suggests that it, too, has merit. But with all this in mind we somehow decided on the mystery fourth contestant: Aoeshi Café.

Located just a few doors down from the Cedar Lee Theater—as well as previously the reviewed Charles Stewart Parnell Pub and Cedar Lee Pub—I’ve walked past this quiet little café numerous times, but never really stopped to notice much more than a sign in one window that simply says “Japanese.” I’ve seen people coming and going from the restaurant, but I’ve never seen it overly crowded, hell, I didn’t even know what the place was called until we got there, it was just “the other sushi place on Lee.” But we’d made our decision to try some place new a ventured on.

When we got in the place there were only two other customers there, seated at the sushi bar (Aoeshi does not seem to serve alcohol) as well as the chef and our server. We seated ourselves and parsed the concise but delicious menu, marking our order on the provided Sushi-Score-Card. Our order looked something like this:
2 pieces yellow fin tuna nigiri
1 piece eel nigiri
1 spicy tuna roll
1 eel and avocado roll
1 flower roll
1 order edamame

The steamy hot edamame appetizer was the first to arrive, almost to hot to handle at first. After a few steamed fingers and a little—very little—patience we began devouring the salty soy beans, popping them from their pods. The only remnants looked like the last reel of an Invasion of the Pod-People-type movie. Already hungry to the maxxx this little snack only primed the pump for the real action.

Our main course arrived quickly, all arranged on a large plate that had been laid out in a simple but elegant manner. The first thing to go was the yellow fin. Light, sweet, a hint of melon like fruitiness, and just the right amount of fishiness. Perfect in just about every way, this was one of the single best pieces of sushi I’ve ever eaten. This piece of fish alone should serve as argument for the consumption of raw fish, that eating raw and cooked are two completely different, albeit equally delicious, dishes. Next I chomped down on a piece of the eel and avocado roll. The eel was perfectly cooked; well balanced between supple and firm, and perfectly seasoned with a sweet and salty, light barbeque-like sauce. The taste of the eel, which is as delicious as eels are creepy, slightly overwhelms the extra subtle avocado, but the lean saltiness of the fish is beautifully complimented by the fattiness of the alligator pear. Next was the flower roll. Comprised of tuna, salmon, and roe this was about as “sushi” as sushi gets. Having had some mixed-at-best experiences with roe (fish eggs, caviar) in the past I was a little nervous about it but as it turns out these were amazing. The lighter, sweeter taste of the tuna was perfectly balanced by the hearty, meatiness of the salmon in the roll, with a slightly crunch, mildly fishy bite from the roe. Nicole then offered me a piece of her spicy tuna roll which was, as she said, one of the weirdest, best STRs she’d ever had. It’s been a while since I’ve had another STR so I can’t pinpoint the difference, but Aoeshi’s was definitely a bit different. It was certainly one of the spiciest STRs I’ve had, with a chili heat that sneaks up on you in the aftertaste then lingers for just long enough.

On a cooking/travel show I was watching one time the host suggested that sushi be eaten the way it is served and that if it were meant to be dressed in anyway the chef would have already done it. I don’t agree 100% with this, but I do make sure to eat a little of everything plain before messing with condiments. So, having tasted a little of everything on the plate unadorned I made a second lap this time with a little soy and wasabi. The already soy seasoned eel/avocado didn’t need a second dunk in soy, but the nasal zing of the wasabi was definitely a welcome addition to this party. The flower roll, which was already excellent, was jazzed up a bit with the spicy green stuff and the soy? Well, what doesn’t benefit from a bit of salt, right? Eaten either way, though, everything we ate was delicious, with Nicole assuring me that her eel nigiri was, indeed, so good.

And then the check came and like woah! was the price right. We were both agreeably full of a lot of delicious, healthy food for less than thirty dollars with tip. It must be the small dining room and staff that lets Aoeshi keep costs down because even the "premium" rolls, like my flower roll, topped out at about $6. Great food and great prices, `nuff said.
But it’s just sushi, right? I mean some raw fish, a little seaweed, and some sticky, vinegary rice, but nothing amazing, right? Wrong. This meal was so good that since Tuesday night every time I get hungry all I can think about is eating that sushi again. I think that’s the mark of a truly great meal. Not just something that fills you up and provides some basic level of nourishment, but something that sticks with you and elicits some sort of response even a few days later. I’ve just finished my lunch, but writing this has set my mouth watering and my stomach quivering with antici…pation of the next visit to Aoeshi.


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