Saturday, March 28, 2009

Alex Sushi - Best Sushi in Oslo

Sushi is Boyfriend’s favorite food. For his birthday, I took him to the best sushi restaurant in Oslo. Sushi in Oslo? Can it really be good? Of course! If you think about it, what makes high quality sushi? Fresh fish and the rice. Given that Norway has some of the best seafood in the world, it’s not a stretch that they would have good sushi. Sushi restaurants are super abundant in Norway and most of them are not run by Japanese people. I won’t go into my theory on that now. However, given the freshness of the fish the sushi is usually pretty good, if pedestrian. You can always get the usual assortment of nigiri – hamachi, toro, tuna, and of course salmon. Most restaurants even have whale sashimi and nigiri. In summary, pedestrian sushi is easy to find; stellar sushi is quite rare.

Which brings me to the topic of this post – Alex Sushi. For months, I have been hearing about Alex Sushi and how it was the best sushi restaurant in Oslo. In fact, my new boss sat me down and wrote out a detailed list of restaurants in my area and Alex Sushi was his #1 choice. I’m not sure why we never went before. I think it’s because we’re not really reservation-making people and any place that requires advance notice from us is usually last on our list. But being that it was Boyfriend’s birthday, I made the effort to call ahead of time to secure us 2 seats at the sushi bar.

The restaurant itself is very small and most of its space is consumed by the large, oblong sushi bar where the sushi chefs work. Chairs line the outside of the bar so the patrons get very cozy. For larger groups, there are about 4 larger tables set up at the end of the room. The waiters, trendy yet polite, squeeze their svelte black-clad figures through the tight fitting spaces between patrons’ chairs and the walls. They explain the dishes that arrive at your table and then quietly disappear to let you enjoy your food. The menu displays an impressive array of sashimi, nigiri, maki, and hand rolls. I didn’t go into the menu in depth because I knew I would be ordering the Black Menu. Alex sushi has some preset menu themes that allow the chef to create the best sushi based upon the freshest ingredients available that day. The Black Menu had an assortment of sashimi and nigiri plus lobster and soft shelled crab. Count me in!

Dinner started with a substantial mound of seaweed salad. I love seaweed salad – it is crisp in flavor with a lot of different textures all rounded out by the sweet pungent flavor of roasted sesame oil. The second course was a sampler of sashimi sitting in a pool of ponzu. There was hamachi (yellow-tail), salmon, and halibut with a little bit of salmon roe sitting on top. The fish was very fresh and ample though it was overpowered by the ponzu sauce. Ponzu is a mix of soy and lemon juice and is refreshing when used in moderation. This ponzu was a bit too abundant and too salty. Another complaint was the extra salty salmon roe that also overpowered the delicate flavor of the sashimi. The third course was our nigiri course. Nigiri are the balls of rice with a piece of fish laid on top. We had hamachi, tuna, salmon, halibut, scallop, toro (fatty tuna), crab (oh my god this was delicious), and shrimp. We also had two additional nigiri – one was a cold salad made of halibut fat and the second was salmon roe topped with a raw quail egg. The nigiri were the best I’ve ever had. The rice was delicate and sweet, drawing out the subtle sweetness of the raw fish. There was also a small dab of real wasabi inside the nigiri. Normally, I hate when the chefs include the wasabi in the nigiri because the wasabi is overpowering and rushes up my nose. This wasabi was very subtle and oddly enough, also a little sweet. It was perfectly complementary to the sweetness of the rice and fish. Hamachi is my favorite and this one did not disappoint. The toro was unctuous and soft. The halibut fat was also fatty but it was seasoned with green onion and sesame oil, adding additional notes to the fattiness. The salmon roe, though salty, was lovely with the richness of the quail egg yolk. This nigiri was beautiful. The final course was our plate of maki. On the plate, we had a whole small lobster, lightly sauced and sitting on a bed of seaweed salad. The maki plate also had a soft shell crab roll wrapped in avocado. The roll, as compared to most sushi restaurants, was small and could be eaten in one dainty, delicious bite. The final maki was a shrimp tempura roll. This one looked large and unwieldy and could not be eaten in one bite. When I bit into it, the bite was easy. If you’ve been to any other sushi restaurant, you’ve likely encountered a situation where you bite into the roll and the nori (seaweed) is rubbery and you can’t bite through it so you end up using your hands or shoving the whole thing into your mouth. This nori broke easily. The chefs made the rolls and let it sit for a few minutes before bringing it to our table, allowing the moisture from the rice to soften the nori enabling clean bites from the rather large maki. This small attention to detail and this consideration for the guest’s overall enjoyment of the dish is the type of service and professionalism that makes my heart sing. I was terribly impressed by the forethought and care taken to ensure a stellar dining experience.

So – still surprised we can get good sushi in Oslo? Well – try this on for size. Alex sushi is not only the best sushi restaurants in Oslo, it is also one of the best sushi restaurants I’ve ever been to. Here’s our maki plate. We named our lobster Barney because he came with a couple of barnacles on his head.

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