new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Bizen: Good Sushi in the Berkshires? What?!?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bizen: Good Sushi in the Berkshires? What?!?

Bizen Sushi Bar & Japanese Restaurant
17 Railroad St
Great Barrington, MA 01230-1577
Phone: (413) 528-4343

Decent sushi in the extremely landlocked Berkshires is suprising, but there you have it - (I can hear the Locavores screaming from here.)

Bizen delivers a nice product in a lovely space, complete with a vast menu and some truly interesting riffs on your standard sushi rolls. It's definitely not *that* traditional, but I've had some really exciting meals here. There's a certain crunchy eird" stuff, ranging from Japanese bar foods to funky rolls to a good selection of raw oysters. Nothing here is cheap, however, so be prepared for the accompanying wallet hit. What are you expecting anyway? The Berkshires are a giant money pit.

I like the Afghanistan Roll, featuring a somewhat pedestrian crab and avocado roll covered in a crazy-good spicy sauce with chunks of real meaty lobster. This is thrown in the oven and baked for a bit and it comes out as some sort of perverse spicy sushi casserole - did I detect hints of curry? You must try this.

Next was a tasty fried scallop roll, featuring scallions and a bit of avocado. The rolls were a bit large, but impeccably made and very tender - this rice hasn't been sitting around. I also tucked into the Kiss My Bass (cute), rolling chunky and tender fried sea bass in with your standard issue avocado and cucumber. Fresh and tasty.

Finally, we ordered the Pearl Harbor, which was simply bizarre. A roll composed of soba noodles, smoked tofu, and veggies is deep fried into UFO like lumps and tossed in a pan of tempura sauce. It was tremendous, kind of scary looking, and probably bad for you, but I ate it anyway. I'm still collecting my thoughts. Order it if you want to be both kind of disturbed and highly satiated.

I also tried some of the sashimi deluxe dinner ($21.75), which included tuna, yellowtail, salmon, sunshine bass, and octopus. The fish was expertly sliced and very fresh, served on the standard bed of daikon. It's a good simple choice if you're not into all that rice.

On other occasions, I've tried their excellent fried lotus root - the starchy and slightly sweet nature of the lotus set off well by the light tempura batter. They also do a serviceable spicy tuna roll. The tuna on a bed of pureed sweet yam is bizarre and glutinous, which is not exactly a testimony...but I presume it's really, really traditional.

The teriyaki broiled Chilean sea-bass is absolutely delicious and comes in a caveman sized portion, which is fine, since you will by no means wants to share. I loved the thick, charbroiled meat and even the tasty and chunky side of vegetables that came with it.

A big old hijiki salad ($6.95) wasn't really what I was expecting, coming on a bed of spring mix, but the seaweed was pretty tasty and had an interesting nutty flavor. The portion size was also huge: I guess they're trying to justify the premium prices they charge. The dressing is made with some sort of avocado variant and has an interesing pesto-ish flavor, but they went too heavy on the olive oil.

Service is the weak link here. The servers are young, inexperienced, and a bit foggy regarding the ins-and-outs of the menu. It's definitely not the service I'm expecting when I'm paying highway robbery prices. The time you'll wait can be maddeningly variable as well: they can be quick and efficient, but they go through weird droughts where the guy manning the sushi bar works at glacial speed...extra irritating to this Californian used to blindingly fast (and good) knife work.

I do want to give them accolades for allowing us to stay quite a bit past closing time the other evening - we were waiting for someone to show up who got held up at the airport. They were very understanding, and allowed us to get in an order before the kitchen closed for the evening for the missing person. Props.

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