Sunday, December 10, 2006

Raw Sushi And Sake Lounge (12/9/06)

French Fries was in the mood for a fancier Philly outing and was craving protein, so we decided to go to Raw Sushi and Sake Lounge (about as pedantic a name as you can pick for a sushi bar). Having been there before, Farofa knew a reservation was in order and made a same-night one for 9:45pm.

Despite that, F&FF arrived at Raw to find several other people waiting around for the hostess, who was nowhere to be found. Eventually, she emerged to announce they were behind schedule and the reservations would actually result in a table about 20 minutes later, which irritated the very hungry French Fries to no end.

Once seated, though, French Fries' eyes shone with happiness when she saw the extensive menu with a plethora of fish and vegetarian options, which made up for the wait and even the absolutely horrible music that the DJ chose to play through the night (but it didn't prevent some eye rolling as the music varied between 70's Hustle, Motown and Red Hot Chili Peppers with the occasional dropped record squeak to liven things up).

The restaurant is oddly designed with tables crammed close together, and the noise volume of the aforementioned questionable soundtrack such that shouting was needed for your table partner to hear you, adding to the chaos of the crowded space. Farofa felt a submarine was the best metaphor to explain the feeling of being in a narrow and long enclosure where merely looking to the side makes you uncomfortable about invading other people's personal space.

Still, Farofa's enthusiasm grew when French Fries' choice of beer, a Hitachino Ginger Ale ($7.00), was served in a lovely tulip glass at a cold enough temperature that met her strict Brazilian standards for coldness (not a standard in Philadelphia). The sake list was quite impressive and the descriptions made it accessible for the newbie to sake, but neither Farofa or French Fries were in the mood for the hard stuff.

After much debate over what to order, with every option sounding better than the next, (and Farofa trying to restrain French Fries due to her previous experience with Raw's large rolls), F&FF settled on the White Tiger Special ($16.00), the Sweet Potato Tempura Maki ($6.00), the Umeshiso Maki ($4.50) and the Tai Sushi ($3.00).


The White Tiger roll (in the center in the upper picture and lower right in the lower) was composed of juicy white tuna with flying fish roe on the inside of the roll, topped with more white tuna that had been run quickly under a blowtorch to caramelize and slightly cook it. It was garnished with 3 (!) sauces, eel sauce, spicy sauce and a creamy (sesame and mayo?) sauce, as well as scallions, and even more roe. A roll this big is rarely without some structural integrity issues, and this one was no exception, falling apart under the chopsticks a little bit but the flavor more than made up for it. The sauces were the good kind of overwhelming, and the white tuna (FF's favorite fish) was perfectly fresh and sweet. The run under the blowtorch made the tuna topping the roll near enough to sushi perfection as FF wants to get.

The Sweet Potato Tempura roll (back row in upper picture and upper left in lower) was just that - warm and crunchy sweet potato tempura wrapped in a roll. The tempura coating was crispy and the sweet potato not overcooked nor soggy - but next time both F & FF agreed, they'd get the tempura on its own and save rolls for focusing on the very high quality fish and vegetables.

Roll Close-up

The third and last roll was the Umeshiso roll (Lower left in upper picture and upper right in lower) which while appearing very unprepossessing on the plate was the surprise of the night. Farofa was pretty suspicious of it, thinking that it was another boring cucumber roll. French Fries had trouble not laughing when after her first bight, Farofa had changed her tune, singing the praises of the minty shiso and sweet plum sauce, which balanced out the crisp cucumber in almost 'zen-like' harmony. French Fries stole most of them, though, to pay Farofa back for being so doubtful about the order. Farofa took the Tai (red snapper) which was nothing special to her palate but tasty nonetheless - if it had been in a crowd of sushi she doubts that she'd remember it.

Miso soup ($2.50) usually goes unnoticed in Japanese restaurants, but Raw's deserves mention because it was not only unusually good but unusually generous with the seaweed, much to Farofa's delight.

At the end of the meal, Farofa, who rarely orders dessert, could not resist the Mochi Ice Cream ($8.00). Having appreciated mochi (cake made of glutinous rice) with red bean paste for most of her life in São Paulo, Farofa often seeks for a substitute or any Japanese desert that may resemble the traditional sweets from the streets of Liberdade. She was not let down.

Raw definitely lived up to it with an impressive assortment of mochi filled with strawberry sorbet, green tea and red bean ice cream (Above, L-R: red bean, green tea, strawberry, red bean again). For reasons that continue to puzzle Farofa and French Fries, the waiter brought - in addition to the mochi - two scoops of ice cream (ginger and green tea) and a small but unnecessary bowl of cinnamon whipped cream, while professing "just in case...". Both wondered what that case might have been, but other than the case of there being a plague that would force all to live off their body fats for the following three weeks, it was still WAY more dessert than any two people could have possibly eaten.

Raw serves really great food and is certainly a place Farofa and French Fries will return to, in the hopes that the restaurant and its logistics will catch up to the quality of the fish. Enjoying really great food, weird ambiance notwithstanding, is always a joy.

Farofa: **** out of 5
French Fries: **** out of 5
Forks Chopsticks Down Verdict: Any of the daily roll specials are a certain good call, but come hungry.

Raw Sushi & Sake Lounge
1225 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 238-1903

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