26 July 2009

Sunny Sunday Gluttony

This day began with me not knowing anything about where we were going or what we were doing. My fiance Nikki opted to plan a day for us together instead of purchasing me a gift. I liked the idea since it would give me a chance to generate content for my shiny new blog. After a long GPS-guided jaunt through the ghetto we ended up at the first stop of our day: Rocket to Venus.

This hipster-laden Hampden joint gave off a nice welcoming vibe. We opted to sit outside since this was probably the nicest weekend weather we've had all year. Throughout the meal the wait staff was constantly waving to locals walking and biking by. It was a really great feeling and one that is pretty much non-existent around Bel Air. I ordered a sangria and nikki ordered a mimosa and we opted to try the hummus plate as a starter.

The sangria was a nice white but a bit on the bitter side with apple and lemon chunks bobbing on top. I did order a second glass, which was sweeter and closer to what I expect in a white sangria. Maybe it was due to the fact that oranges had replaced the lemons. I pondered if Rocket to Venus employs a local mind-reader. Or a cyborg. I think I saw a guy behind the bar with blender hands. The mimosa was just what a mimosa should be, sweet and fizzy with a nice tart edge.

The hummus plate was terrific. My first bite of cheese and olive generated a moan that turned heads at every table. When I dine out, its usually Mexican or sushi or barbecue so I rarely get to sample decent olives but I realized today that olives and cheese is probably one of my favorite flavor combinations. Or maybe its just that since I don't eat them that much they have a greater impact on my palate. The hummus was probably some of the best I've had. It hit the perfect consistency between smooth and chunky and it wasn't too tart from a heavy handed use of lemon. The pita was great as were the fresh veggies and grapes that rounded out the dish.

For our meal I ordered the steak and eggs (medium rare and over easy) accompanied by sweet potatoes and a nice poblano gravy and Nikki ordered two eggs sunny side up with bacon, hash potatoes and white toast.

My rib-eye was cooked perfect and had a great charred taste to it my only complaint being a tough spots of gristle. The poblano gravy was the real star of the dish. It married well with the classic combo of steak and eggs and it also added a nice savory heat compliment to the sweet potatoes. I did feel that a bite of potato, eggs, and steak with the sauce didn't really come together. Separate, they were great. Overall, we left the table very satisfied and feeling about 3 months pregnant.

I dozed off into a sangria induced coma and awoke as we were pulling into a parking garage in downtown Annapolis. Apparently we had arrived at our next destination. Nikki lead me by hand as I stumbled along trying to deglaze my contacts from my eyeballs. The weather was gorgeous, complete with picturesque billowing white clouds and a light cool breeze from the water. Some sort of festival was taking place with live music and a beer and wine tasting tent, among other things. We walked down by the dock and watched the boats come in. We walked around long enough to build up an appetite for dinner and decided we were in the mood for sushi. We decided to head into Joss Cafe and Sushi Bar after seeing the Zagat rated sign in the window.

We got seated in the narrow hallway right by the kitchen and asked our server if we could move to the back of the restaurant, sitting in the hallway we felt very out of place. The front of the restaurant was very lively but the back was virtually empty, which was nice because the front was pretty loud. We ordered the tuna carpaccio seaweed salad as an appetizer.

This dish was very pretty and reminded me of the tuna sashimi at Bonefish Grill but better. I love seaweed salad, I could eat a bucket of it. The tuna was a gorgeous red and the sauce was nice and fresh, the roe really popped. Our first dish set our expectations pretty high for the sushi. I ordered the spicy yellowtail sashimi, a bagel roll, and after a suggestion from our server, the Urumaki which was smoked eel, shrimp, cucumber, avocado & tamago inside w/flying fish roe, scallions & eel sauce outside. Nikki ordered a spicy california roll with real crab and roe and a tuna avocado roll.

The spicy yellowtail was my first bite and immediately two things hit me: the bizarre texture of the sushi rice, and the off-putting spice. The major glaring issue was the rice. This was probably some of the worst sushi rice I’ve had to date. The grains were long and fat and al dente. It was like ricearoni sushi. The mouthfeel was terrible. In regards to the spice Usually spicy sushi has a nice indefinable heat to it. This was like someone dumped a bunch of cayenne powder on the fish and wrapped it up. I’m not saying it was too spicy, there are very few dishes I consider too spicy, but this spice was just not complimentary to sushi in any way. On the other hand each roll was topped with nicely toasted sesame seeds, which is always a plus. Also, the flying fish roe was some of the freshest I’ve had. It popped on every roll. The urumaki was too sweet. The flavors did work well together but the sweetness of the egg overpowered the other components of the roll. The bagel roll had way too much cream cheese. It should’ve been called the cream cheese roll. This was the first time I’ve ever left uneaten sushi on my plate. Ever. I’ve dealt with some epic stomach cramps in order to finish my sushi in previous outings, but Joss just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t get to try any of Nikki’s rolls, but later she said that it wasn’t great and she’s rarely one to complain. While I was waiting to use the restroom I noticed the Zagat ratings on the wall opposite. Zagat gave his place a 28 in last year’s edition. 28 is a very good score and I don’t think a single component of our meal justified a score that high. Now I do realize that Zagat isn’t the end all be all of food guides, but it is a decent base of comparison. Sushi Hana in Towson is one of my go-to places closer to home for decent sushi, not even great sushi, and it was better than this. It's got a Zagat rating of 23! We left thoroughly underwhelmed and hungry. I love sushi. Most sushi is good sushi in my opinion. Hell, I eat sushi at the local buffet in Bel Air all the time. But Joss just didn’t do it for me. Maybe this was just a bad batch of rice. Maybe we just didn't order the right thing. Unfortunately, aside from the tuna carpaccio seaweed salad, I didn't taste anything that justified such a high score from Zagat. Luckily, there’s practically an ice cream joint on every block and after a nice tall strawberry malt from Kilwin's Chocolate the disappointment had already started to fade. A long nap on the ride home completed an overall great day. Good times.

Joss Cafe & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon
Rocket To Venus on Urbanspoon

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