Ash Wednesday is just around the corner. Lent is on the way. Beginning Feb. 21 and continuing on through Easter, I will attempt to give up something ugly or to add something nice to my life. When it’s all over, I trust, I will be a better person.
During Lent one year, I tried to take 15 minutes a day for spiritual meditation. I tried to think deep thoughts; instead, I ended up worrying about what I would make for dinner.
I’ve learned that it makes more sense for me to deprive myself than to attempt to add something else, however worthwhile, to my life. Which sets me to thinking about what to give up for Lent. I’m going to generalize that, when it comes to Lent, most Episcopalians consider giving upor at least cutting back onalcohol. As I don’t regularly drink hard liquor, I usually give up wine, which I like a lot. In my line of work, such self-deprivation can be difficult. “I’ll have the portobello mushroom napoleon, the sliced peppered pears with seasonal greens and Gorgonzola, and the sautéed grouper in a vanilla bean sauce. And a glass of ice tea.” Puh-leeze.
Then there are the special trials of social occasions, which seem to multiply exponentially during the Lenten season. Trust me, when you’re drinking club soda and grapefruit juice, a black-tie ball doesn’t seem nearly so gay as it does after a little white wine and champagne.
My spiritual advisor, Mary Hance, says that, during Lent, every Sunday is a free day and that, on free days, Episcopalians are actually expected to indulge themselves. Unfortunately, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of zealot. If I’m going to give something up for 40 days, I’m giving it up for 40 days dammitnot for 33. Otherwise, I might burn in hell.
Thus, I am currently assessing what parts of my life I would be hard put to do without. What do I really, really, really have to have?
Frankly, I could care less about chocolate. And, aside from the occasional party cigarette, I quit smoking 11 years ago. (If I started a campaign now, do you think the world would give up cigars for Lent?)
I absolutely adore Beluga caviar, West Coast oysters and fois gras, but it’s not like I indulge in those pleasures every dayor even once every 40 days. Other temptations are far too readily at hand.
When I was pregnant, there were only two things I really craved, and one of them was sushi. I have no idea whyperhaps it was because I knew that fish, at least raw fish, is something pregnant women are not supposed to eat. The proscription only made me want it all the more.
Pregnant or not, I go through periodic sushi binges. I am definitely not pregnant now, and I am in the midst of one of those binges. Lately, when I ask myself what I’m hungry for, the answer is almost always sushiand I can put away some sushi.
Normally, I’ll satisfy my need at Koto, Nashville’s oldest sushi bar. Last week, however, we tried Nashville’s newest, Asahi, located alarmingly close to tradition-locked Sperry’s on Harding Road. Sushi, I am happy to announce, has arrived in Belle Meade. And thus far, it seems to be enjoying a hospitable reception.
The welcome is not too surprising, given Asahi’s pleasant ambiance. A small, cozy room is tastefully decorated in warm greens and sleek woods, complimented by lots of greenery and soothing Japanese art. The sushi bar seats about a dozen; there are also eight tables for four. The chairs are comfortableno sitting on the floor here. Once you’re seated, warm, rolled washcloths are delivered to the table. (A sushi etiquette hint: Use the towels for your hands, not for your face; once you’re finished with the towel, set it back in its cradle.) Domestic and imported beers are available, as are some U.S. wines and hot and cold sake. We tried the Japanese beers and the hot sake.
You can order appetizers, noodle dishes, teriyaki or tempura dinners from the menu, which I am told is still being fine-tuned. A permanent edition is due in the next few weeks. You also have the option of making your selections from the à la carte sushi menu. We ordered from both menus and sampled several appetizers while the sushi master-in-residence, Choi, who has opened Asahi after spending seven years at Goten, prepared our humongous orders of nigri, maki and hand rolls.
From among the appetizers, we loved the fried softshell crab so much that we placed a second order before we had finished the first. The geso-karaagedeep-fried squid fingers in a special saucewas another favorite. The stir-fried dumplings were a tad greasy, as were the spring rolls. The adventurous might try the edamanesalted, steamed soybeans, served in their shells so that you can pop them into your mouth while they’re still warmand the yamakakethree morsels of tasty tuna sashimi atop a curiously slimy grated mountain potato. After an initial poke or two, the oshitashia mound of cold boiled spinach topped with what looked and tasted like aquarium fish food flakeswas left untouched.
The miso soup and the lettuce salad, both of which came with the shrimp and vegetable tempura dinner, were both acceptable versions of typical Japanese-American restaurant fare. Asahi’s tempura dishes are excellentour veggies and large shrimp were lightly battered, not overly greasy, and fried to a pale golden-brown. The dipping sauce, however, was extremely bland.
We also sampled the tempura udona large clump of soft, doughy noodles and a few pieces of tempura, served in a bowl of slightly salty broth so hot we could have sued if, by accident, it had dropped into our lap. There is no polite or refined way to eat this dish with chopsticksit’s best simply to scoop some noodles into your mouth, bite them off, and let the ends slither back into the bowl. It is unlikely that you’ll want to share this dish with a group of casual acquaintances.
Finally, a massive board of sushi arrived, complete with piles of ginger and wasabi. We set to work, mixing the wasabi with soy sauce in our little individual bowls. I find reviewing sushi a little daunting, because, at least in Nashville, a vast variety is not available. You’ve got your basic California roll, your basic Alaska roll and your basic tuna rolls. (Asahi has a Music City roll, but none of us could remember what it was.) On the nigri side, you’ve got your yellow tail, your squid, your Amaebi, your egg. I will say that the table’s consensus was that Asahi’s sushi is excellent, very fresh (thank goodness) and prettily presented. We found the freshwater eel (unagi) exceptional, and the crunchy shrimp handrolls were also terrific. If you are a tuna fan, ask for the toro, which is not on the menu. According to Choi, it is the choicest cut of the tuna, but it’s not always available.
We ate every single bit of our sushinot a sliver of ginger nor a speck of wasabi was left. As our reward, our friendly waitress brought us a platter of beautifully cut fresh fruits, a gift from Choi.
Our tab for five, including several beers and at least two rounds of sake each was $191.28. The steep total is more a reflection of our gluttony than of Asahi’s prices, which are completely in line with other sushi restaurants in Nashville.
As Lent relentlessly and absolutely approaches, I’m still mulling over the opportunities for self-denial or self-improvement. Sushi? White wine? Beer? Goat cheese? The Off-Broadway Shoe Warehouse? No one said it was easy.
Asahi is located at 5215 Harding Rd. (352-8877). Open seven days for dinner; open for lunch Mon.-Fri.