La Vida Sushi
by Jeremy Kraybill

The Great Austin Sushi Crawl

Part 3 of 3

7:19 p.m. Mimosa
Salmon, Large Hot Sake

None of us had been to Mimosa before. The outside didn't look like much, but on the inside we were surprised at how big and nice it was. Of the places we went to, it also had the most patrons of any place while we were there.

Jack was our server, who seemed like a nice guy but was pretty slow in getting to serve us. It took him almost ten minutes to come to our table after we sat down to take our order, then another 5 minutes for waters to be poured, then another 4 for the sake to come out. Once the salmon pieces came out, we were hungry. The sushi was pretty decent, although nothing special compared to most of the other places we had been to.

We discussed what restaurant should add good sushi to their menu. Jonno said Sullivan's for the steak and sushi factor, I said Reed's Supper Club so I could get four pieces of seared salmon with my 5 oz. bacon-wrapped filet, and Neil said Rudy's so he could say "a half pound of extra moist salmon tataki please".

We were talking about how ridiculously lucky Neil had been, and when Jack CCR'd our cards Neil dodged yet another bullet, which I got stuck with for $14.34. Damage total: Jonno $94.48, Jeremy $39.92, Hong $25.86, Neil $7.97. Despite the slow start, we were out of there 30 minutes after we came in.

Jeremy: "This place looks shady."
Jonno: "Well it is next to Shady Grove..."

8:00 p.m. Tokyo
Salmon Skin Salad, Spanish Mackerel, Large Hot Sake

When we walked into Tokyo, our initial reaction was not good. The decor was classic strip mall, the sushi chefs stared us down, and the host ignored us. When we finally did get seated, our server Josh did not want his photo taken at all.

They redeemed theirselves somewhat by bringing us free salads of salmon skin, jalapeno, onion and bean curd that were surprisingly good. Josh recommended the spanish mackerel. None of us are especially big mackerel connoiseurs, but we went for it and he was right, it was fantastic. Some of the best spanish mackerel I've ever had. It had a great crisp citrus flavor and the pieces were really well-made.

Conversation turned to movies, and we discussed who we would cast in a movie about two people who fall in love over a sushi dinner. Jonno said Keith David and Drew Barrymore, I said Ming-Na Wen and Ed Norton, and Neil said Janet Reno and Marget Thatcher. Someone call Hollywood!

Jonno got whacked with yet another bill, this one for $20.41. He was getting frustrated. So would I if two of my friends had eaten the same amount of sushi I had and paid a total of $160 less than me! Damage total: Jonno $114.89, Jeremy $39.92, Hong $25.86, Neil $7.97.

"My head feels like its going to explode." -Neil, after downing a big shot of sake

"I'm trusting chance, I'm trusting the odds to swing in my favor." -Jonno, after losing CCR yet again

8:33 p.m. Dragon Gate
Tobiko, Small Hot Sake

Dragon Gate is an interesting restaurant, tucked away in one of the mini-malls along Bee Caves road that I didn't even know existed before the sushi crawl. It has a lot of interesting looking Chinese dishes on the menu in addition to the Japanese food. The Chinese food that the table next to us was eating looked good.

Much to our chagrin, the sake only comes in one (small) size at Dragon Gate, but when it came out it was the hottest sake we were served all day. Our server, Jimmy, also was the best sake pourer we had all day. Jimmy was great. He was all business, and really efficient. I dropped one of my chopsticks at one point, and Jimmy, who was standing at least fifteen feet away, instantly spotted it, ran behind the bar and had a replacement set in my hands in twenty seconds.

The tobiko came out quickly. The pieces were large and delicious. We discussed what American event should have sushi incorporated into it. I went with Thanksgiving - "make toro not turkey"; Neil thought 4th of July - "getting independence from the British allowed the US to incorporate other cultures"; and Jonno said baseball games, because sushi is much better than hot dogs.

Even though we had been putting the hammer down since our slow lull in the afternoon, we had realized a few hours earlier that we wouldn't be able to hit all the places on our list. By this point in the evening we knew we only had a couple places we could realistically go to before 10. We decided on Musashino and Ichiban. I know this was a good decision because Neil lost credit card roulette for the first time in almost seven hours, for $18.40. Damage total: Jonno $114.89, Jeremy $39.92, Neil $26.37, Hong $25.86.

Jeremy: "We're trying to go to every sushi place in Austin today."
Jimmy: "Of course. Let me get your sake."

Jeremy, before going to the restroom: "When I come back, I want an answer from Neil, our check, and a photo of Jimmy."
Neil, after Jeremy returned: "We made no progress on your demands. But we did drink some more sake!"

"My expenses just went up incredibly!" -Neil, after losing his second CCR of the day

9:21 p.m. Musashino
Unagi, Large Hot Sake

It took us about 20 minutes to drive from Dragon Gate to Musashino. That meant we only had about 20 minutes to eat and drive to Ichiban to make Ichiban's last call before 10. We got to Musashino, only to encounter a sign on the door that nearly broke our hearts: "OUT OF FISH". Out of fish?! We kicked ourselves for leaving our favorite restaurant to the end of the day. We walked in anyway. Our waitress, Sally, said they were out of almost everything but after we told her what we were doing she said she'd find something for us.

Boy did she find us something! The last three pieces of unagi that were in the restaurant. It was absolutely perfect tasting unagi. I love Musashino because it's so consistent, but this unagi was much better than the typical unagi I get at Musashino. It was really hot, had a rich charcoaly taste, and Neil went totally nuts when he ate it. He's a big unagi man and spent about five minutes in unagi heaven after savoring that piece.

We had a quick sushi conversation about rewriting movie endings to incorporate sushi. I'd like to change "Gone With the Wind" to see Rhett Buttler say "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," and then tuck into a huge piece of hamachi. Jonno wanted to see the ending of Casablanca changed so that Ilsa, after getting into the airplane, goes straight to Japan and hangs out in a sushi bar. Neil thought that at the end of When Harry Met Sally, Harry should run off with a sushi chef.

Sally knew we were in a hurry and served us really well. It's lucky they ran out of unagi because we could have just eaten that for the rest of the night. Instead, Sally CCR'd us and Neil lost again. Apparently there is a karma god of credit card roulette. We ran into the car and sped off to our final destination. Damage total: Jonno $114.89, Neil $41.99, Jeremy $39.92, Hong $25.86.

"I dream about unagi like this." -Neil

"You know what's ridiculous? I haven't even had dinner yet!" -Jonno

9:49 p.m. Ichiban
Flounder, Large Hot Sake

Eleven minutes to go before all the sushi places in town were shut. Our day was nearly over. I had expected us to have died of either sushi or sake overdose by this point, but we were in surprisingly good shape and actually ready to eat a little more sushi. Eun-ni, our server, recommended the flounder and we went for it.

The fish came out, and it was really good. Neil found it a bit fishy for his taste but I thought it was quite good, and well-made.

We ended up staying around a while and going through two large hot sakes before closing time. We were the last to leave Ichiban, and I'd like to think the last to leave any sushi bar in Austin that night. Neil lost his third CCR in a row, and Jonno was relieved he didn't have to pay any more. Final damage total: Jonno $114.89, Neil $62.44, Jeremy $39.92, Hong $25.86.

"Wow! Dirty! It's good." -Eun-ni, looking at Jonno's Playboy shirt

10:21 p.m. Finish Line

As we left Ichiban, none of us could quite believe we had been going for almost eleven hours. I felt perfect in terms of stomach contentment and happiness, and Neil and Jonno did too. After we left Ichiban, we went to do the ideal post-sushi crawl activity: karaoke. This trip wouldn't have been complete without it.

We learned a lot that day. We learned that sushi is good, but it's even better when you stretch it out over an entire day. We learned that it's pretty hard to have a bad time when sushi and sake are involved. We learned that a good sushi crawl will cost a party of three about $220. And we learned that going on a sushi crawl is about the best damn fun three guys can have for a full Sunday.

If you have the inkling to go on a sushi crawl, I highly recommend it. It was one of the most fun experiences any of us have ever had.

We didn't make it to every place that we set out to get to, but 14 sushi places in one day is a fair feat. All I have to do now is decide when to do the next crawl and hit those 16 places we missed the first time around...

Jeremy Kraybill is a fool who loves sushi, walks on the beach and the aroma of a 14-hour winning streak at the poker table. Jeremy's Blog