New York has had Nobu for years, a beacon of calm and subtlety in an otherwise frenetic city. And L.A. had Masa, before the eponymous chef left for the shiny environs of New York’s Time Warner Center. (Now he serves his famously expensive $300-per-person omakase menu in Manhattan).
But Philadelphia has been sadly bereft of sushi-glamour all these many years. Genji is perfectly lovely and Shiroi Hana’s a great neighborhood spot, but when it comes to sexy sushi, we here in the City Built on Cheez Whiz just can’t seem to get our act together.
And then, one day not so long ago, Raw opened its doors. (Its full name is actually 1225 Raw Sushi and Sake Lounge. For obvious reasons, most people just call it Raw.)
It was sexy. It was dimly lit. It even had a name suggestive of all the naughty things people might do after enjoying an aphrodisiac like sea urchin and a few too many cocktails.
Nobu it’s not, but what it does it does well. And it fills a gaping void in the Philadelphia restaurant scene.
The early buzz indicated that the food was good, but that the service ranged from aloof to downright surly. A recent lunchtime trip, however, revealed no such problems-our waitress was charming, efficient, and kept on stressing that we not feel rushed, even after she brought the check.
“Moving too much after a big meal is bad for you,” she said. There was genuine concern in her voice, as if she were channeling my mother. “Relax a while before you leave.”
As for the food, I was impressed.
Gyoza ($5) were perfectly crispy on the outside, tender inside, and cooked just right. Too often these little dumplings are pan fried for so long that they become sharp around the edges. Raw’s rendition, though, was spot-on, both in terms of texture and flavor.
The Ocean Salad ($4), too, was excellent. It was presented as two symmetrical mounds, one of the traditional preparation of seaweed with a slightly spicy sesame dressing and the other of shredded daikon, its beautiful white color offset dramatically by crunchy red tobiko.
The sushi and rolls were tasty, too. We ordered several pieces of sushi, including yellow tail ($3.50), fluke ($3), red snapper ($3) and striped bass ($3). The fluke was a bit fishy, but everything else was fresh.
I particularly liked the rice, which scored high marks for stickiness, and was incorporated in perfect proportion to the fish.
The salmon roll ($6) was an exercise in simplicity and elegance. It was tightly rolled and struck a nice balance between fish, rice and nori. But the focus of the meal was the Trifena Roll ($18), a dish that can only be described using a made-up word: Ginormous. Not only was the oversized dish upon which this tasty monstrosity was presented a sight to behold but the sheer size of the rolls was nothing short of mind-boggling.
“It’s more of a metaroll than a roll per se,” I said to Ms. M, after reading the description on the menu. To which she replied, her eyes rolling back a full 180-degrees, “Sushi philosophy, Bri? Can’t you ever just eat?”
Fair enough, I thought. But I still call it a meta-roll: Tempura shrimp roll topped with avocado, spicy tuna and eel, all of it garnished with spicy dressing and that wonderfully sweet eel sauce.
The flavors were good if a bit muddled, as I’ve come to expect with rolls whose raison d’Ãªtre is more visual bang than flavor-based subtlety. This was a three-bite roll, though after the first bite the remains resembled nothing so much as a sushi salad, the innards of the roll laying in random little piles on the Ã¼ber-sized plate. Still, as far as monster-rolls go, this one was a winner.
We were, of course, too full for dessert…and few people ever order dessert at sushi restaurants anyway. So with a green tea, a Singha beer, tax, tip, and far too much food for two, we ended up spending a mere $63.50.
Raw may not be Nobu, and it may not be Masa, either. But for that kind of money, it doesn’t have to be. Raw is a worthy and much-needed addition to the Philadelphia dining scene.
1225 Raw Sushi and Sake Lounge, 1225 Sansom St., Philadelphia, 215.238.1903; www.rawlounge.net
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