Pop in and try the Viagra sauce
I am amazed by how many truly great sushi restaurants there are in Albuquerque. Our fair city is strikingly cosmopolitan when it comes to cuisine, and nothing pleases me (and my raw fish-loving palate) more than the rumor of yet another place to get a good caterpillar roll, or a hot, salty bowl of miso soup sprinkled with green onions. Somebody should write Miso Soup for the Soul, because I’m buying, and I know you’re with me, fellow foodies.
Upon discovering that the old Ninja Sushi by the Din-Ho Market had been replaced with the new Midori Sushi, I was nothing less than violently eager to explore another opportunity to bathe my senses in the beauty that is authentic Japanese food.
This place is painlessly easy to locate, right on the corner of San Pedro and Montgomery, and owner Un-Hee Kirson and her bro, Chef James Oh (formerly of Samurai Grill) have done wonders with the place. There are two fresh green bamboo stalks on the door, and the new interior is all done up in bright yellow, orange and green. There is a row of private booths in the back, about 10 tables in the dining room and a shiny, modern sushi bar at the far end with seats for 12.
I was expecting--and found--traditional fare like tempura and udon noodles, but the copious amount of contemporary and locally inspired dishes and sushi surprised me. The appetizer menu is loaded with so many new (some deliciously unfamiliar) and interesting goodies that I could hardly make up my mind. I spotted tasties like asparagus tempura, tuna tar take, a cold Asian cucumber salad and the Viagra salad. At this point in the menu, I called over my server, the sweet and attentive Jessica, to answer the hard question. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “OK, so is there real Viagra in the Viagra salad?”
Jessica, looking unfazed: “Noooo, but it’s very popular. It has a special sauce.”
Me, with some interesting images popping up in my head: “What kind of special sauce?”
Jessica, still looking unfazed: “It’s hot, really spicy.”
Me (speaking to myself): “Reeeally.”
I asked for a sample of the special sauce, and it turned out to be a deep red chile and peanut sauce with the concentrated heat of a nova—very tasty. Apparently, Viagra is just the name of the sauce, and it contains no traces of the pharmaceutical we’ve all come to know and love (a wise business decision, seeing as those pills are like $10 a pop.)
I ordered the Asian clam soup ($5, serves two), the chef’s special stir-fried udon noodles with seafood ($9.95) and two orders of sushi--the sweetheart roll ($9.95) and the tamago sushi ($3.50), a strip of sweet omelet that I’ve ordered before at other places but can’t quite get into.
The sushi menu had more than a few unordinary choices like the E.T. roll, with eel, tuna, crab, avocado, cucumbers and smelt eggs, and the New York roll, which is rolled in cucumber in lieu of seaweed. There was the crazy roll (whose contents depend on the chef’s mood, according to the menu), the Santa Barbara roll, the Hawai’ian roll and the Viagra roll, touched on the inside with the chef’s special sauce. After this, there’s the love triangle roll (I’m not making this up) with crab, avocado and cucumber topped with salmon, yellowtail tuna and caviar. Sounds more like a modest Roman orgy roll to me.
And, for your Korean side, there is the barbecued eel with rice ($15.95), jap chae (clear noodles with beef and veggies) and kalbi grilled short ribs.
The soup, to my delight, was miso-based with extra greens and fresh clams. It was so briny and fantastic in both concept and form that I plan to test the recipe in my own kitchen. Next came the stir-fried noodles, which were expertly prepared. The texture had just enough bite to it, and the savory brown sauce was punctuated with frickin’ huge grilled scallops, juicy mussels on the half shell and fat, lacy shrimp. The vegetables were appropriate—
The sweetheart roll was served in slices, and was a faultless blend of eel and crab, dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried, then crisscrossed with that yummy eel basting sauce.
And then there’s the tamago. I like to try the same thing at different places even if I don’t patricularly care for it just to see if a) I really don’t like it or b) the stuff I had at the other place was just weird or made wrong. Chalk this one up to “a.” The tamago sushi was sweet, light, cold and well-made. I still hated it, but it wasn’t Chef James’ fault. Call me cranky, but sweet and egg are like Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston—popular, to be sure, but kind of odd and mismatched. But that’s just me.
After dinner I had a chance to speak with owner Kirson, and we discussed the restaurant’s transition from Ninja to Midori. She took over eight months ago and, according to Jessica, “gutted the place.” Whatever she did is definitely working. A smiling Chef James behind the bar kind of made me feel at home, which is why I didn’t razz him about the Viagra or “special sauce.” What’s in the special sauce? Who knows? Every man needs his secrets.