As I stepped into the midst of a boisterous happy hour in the corporate sleekness of B2 Bluefin in Bala Cynwyd, it occurred to me that sushi in America has undergone one of the most dramatic image makeovers of any food I’ve ever seen.
Two decades ago, it was largely considered the exotic and luxurious domain of adventure eaters. These days, sushi is so mainstream you can get your spicy tuna rolls in most any grocery store, hospital cafeteria, or suburban strip mall. It has also made the pizzalike leap beyond its international niche, oftentimes merging with crudo, ceviche, poke alongside other more familiar raw-bar offerings to become a modern staple in the New American menu lexicon.
But sushi’s ubiquity has not always equated to rising standards. In fact, I’d argue the opposite. The proliferation of cheap sushi counters slinging generic tuna, salmon, and yellowtail beneath a colorful blitz of fish roe and spicy mayo has blinded the public’s ability to discern among the good, the bad, and the great.
And great sushi, aside from being inevitably more pricey, is always about subtle nuances – the decisive knife craft of a skilled chef’s slice (with implications for mouthfeel and flavor), the texture and seasoning of the rice (which can amplify the character of the fish), the carefully built architecture of a roll (so every element sings in harmony), and especially the quality of the fish, which, in its most elemental forms, as plain sashimi or nigiri-style over a ball of rice, says all.
And the toro taster at B2 speaks oceans about the capabilities of this five-month-old branch of East Norriton’s Bluefin. It begins with a 500-pound Spanish beast, purchased whole for about $10,000 by owner and chef Yong Kim. Sliced into glistening strips on the plate, it’s a rainbow of purples and pinks, each slice passing across my palate with a different balance and character of meatiness and fat. The more deeply colored akami (which means “red meat”) tastes like some exotic fruit. The most marbled strips of alabaster o-toro from the belly melt like butter into an omega-3 buzz.
This is the kind of quality you’d expect at the best fish venues in Center City, which, aside from stalwarts Zama and Morimoto, has had a sudden bump in ambitious new sushi hubs, like Royal Izakaya and Double Knot. Kim’s battalion of sushi chefs also benefits from regular arrivals of the “mystery box” containing smaller and less-common Japanese specimens (mejina rudder fish, inada baby yellowtail) that purveyor Samuels & Son delivers to its premium clients.
Striving for that next level of sushi ambition is clearly more within B2’s reach. That was most obvious on the chef’s choice platter of the omakase sashimi, which was even more generous portion-wise than I expected for $50. Many of them were delicious rarities from the evening’s mystery box, and the caliber and complexity were undeniable, each plush pad of fish leaving a sensual stamp of its personality on my lips and teeth – the lean snap of kuro dai black bream and baby kurodai red snapper, the porcelain smooth sweetness of live scallop, a slice of hon-maguro cut from the bluefin’s collar so shot though with speckled fat it simply dissolved like tuna lardo.
Full review and pictures here.