9 of the Most Underrated Dishes at Japanese Restaurants

There’s a lot more depth to sushiestablishments than the usual hits: albacore tuna, salmon, or yellowtail. Here's some visual inspiration to try something new on the menu.

1. Sea Urchin, Grated Yam, Toro

A Food’s Eye View blogger describes this as “a rather unusual dish featuring the mucilaginous grated yam, a surprisingly clean tasting, if not goopy, starch that was topped with a cool piece of uni. I was instructed to add a touch of soy sauce and mix with chopsticks, only to reveal tiny bites of toro hiding beneath the white mass.”

2. Isaki (Grunt Fish)

Have you never heard of grunt before? We hadn't either. This white fish is most often found in the southern part of Japan, where the water is warmer. Although the flavor of isaki is very delicate, it's a white-meat fish that has a higher fat content, which makes it perfect to enjoy as nigiri.

3. Mantis Shrimp

Seasoned sushi eaters who are fans of ebi (boiled shrimp) should give the mantis shrimp a shot. Undeniably a much scarier-looking option to the familiar tiger shrimp, the mantis shrimp can grow up to a foot long, so it's not surprising that it more closely resembles a lobster in both flavor and appearance.

4. Geoduck

Geoduck, pronounced “gooey duck,” is a giant mud-burrowing clam. When it’s expertly tenderized, the crunchy texture of the clam is softened, allowing its savory flavor to shine. It is considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac worldwide.

5. Eel Apple Pie

At Wa Sushi & Bistro in West Hollywood, sweet and savory are taken to the extreme when BBQ eel (unagi) and apple “pie” are combined. Puff-pastry-topped wasabi, a slice of baked apple, and a piece of unagi. Sound strange? It is, but somehow the combination works.

6. Squid Noodle with Sea Urchin

Squid is cut into strands to imitate pasta noodles, then paired with creamy sea urchin roe “sauce” and topped with a pinch of wasabi. The next time you’re at your favorite Japanese restaurant, see if they’re willing to make this briny, chewy dish—we believe it should be on every menu.

7. Needlefish

Needlefish can be found throughout tropical and temperate waters, and can grow to be four feet long. Blogger kevinEats experienced needlefish at Urasawa in LA and described it as “suggestive of snapper, crisp but firm throughout.”

8. Monkfish Liver

Monkfish liver is considered the foie gras of the sea, thanks to its similarly rich, silky taste. Sasabune, on New York’s Upper East Side, serves the undeniably creamy monkfish liver as nigiri.

9. Chawanmushi

Speaking of foie gras, Takashi in Chicago serves up one of the most decadent preparations of chawanmushi, a savory egg custard. Instead of folding in the traditional roster of ingredients, such as chicken, shrimp, ginkgo nuts, and lily root, Chef Takashi Yagihashi adds rich foie gras to the already over-the-top-creamy dish.

Photo Credits: Pabu Happy Spoon / Washingtonian, Sea Urchin, Grated Yam, & Toro / Food's Eye View, Isaki, Mantis, Geoduck / handi-eats, Unagi Apple Pie / Yelp, Squid Noodle with Sea Urchin, Needlefish, Monkfish Liver, Chawanmushi / Saveur

Justin Bolois is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBolois.

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