Cafe Reviews

Wacky Wasabi

The good news first: I've recently had the pleasure of eating at the hippest new sushi joint in the Valley, with maki rolls so innovative, and yet professionally prepared, that I'd almost be willing to move upstairs from the place so that I could get my daily fix. Now the bad news: the place is way out in a part of North Scottsdale where Babbitts, Beamers and botox-lovin' soccer moms harmoniously coexist with the roadrunners and the rattlesnakes.

The sushi eatery is Blue Wasabi Sushi and Martini Bar, a small, but vibrant spot ensconced in a trendy pocket of desert shopping, dining, and condos called DC Ranch, at Thompson Peak Parkway and Pima Road. There's something unusually ironic about having to hoof it out to the middle of nowhere to enjoy the best sushi I've ever had outside of Japan, but there you go. Indeed, DC Ranch's realtors may owe Blue Wasabi's owners free rent. Because, unless they gave me my own seraglio as an incentive, being close to Blue Wasabi is the only reason I'd want to share space with the javelinas.

When I say the best sushi outside of Japan, I'm not just blowing blue smoke up your tailpipes, people. I know of whence I speak from having visited Tokyo in the past and from having for many years now, a Japanese lover, the ever-graceful and exotic Madame X, whose maternal unit just happens to work for one of the largest fish suppliers to restaurants in the United States. This means I'm a veteran of countless familial gatherings at her parents' abode, where I've packed away enough sushi, sashimi and hot sake of the highest quality to feed the denizens of a small Nipponese village for weeks on end.

Please note that "the best," does not signify the most traditional sushi. And I'm sure that for some sushi snobs, the idea of a restaurant dying their wasabi paste blue seems tantamount to shooting a porno flick at the Vatican. Truly, when I first heard tale of Blue Wasabi's signature, turquoise-colored condiment, I balked at the thought of paying a visit. Sushi is not a culinary concept to be trifled with lightly, of course. This is why I believe that such execrable sushi buffets like the ones at the Todai chain should be verboten.

But sushi itself has endured a long metamorphosis from its origins as a Southeast Asian means of pickling fish, to the often raw fingers of nigiri sushi to which we're now so accustomed. Why then should we not encourage the further evolution of what is currently a world cuisine? As long as those doing the experimenting have a grounding in traditional sushi, what's the worry?

David Feimster, 28, certainly has that grounding. The dashing young bachelor was most recently the sushi chef in charge of Wolfgang Puck's sushi catering, and he still works for his old boss at such high-end functions as Adam Sandler's wedding and this year's Oscars. Feimster learned his craft from "a really tight-assed Japanese sushi chef," as he puts it, and it shows even in his most outlandish creations. It was longtime Phoenix barkeep and restaurateur Jim Carlin, 38, who had the genius to woo Feimster into partnership at the Blue Wasabi. Because without Feimster's culinary expertise, the restaurant's gimmick might not have been much more than, well, a gimmick.

I put the Feimster-Carlin team to the test with my usual entourage of decadent ne'er-do-wells. Anywhere there are martinis involved, that liquor-leach Mikey is sure to be, and of course, Mikey never comes on a grub-and-bevy run without inviting a few pals. So along for the carpool to DC Ranch were Brad, with his GQ looks and gentlemanly demeanor, and Brad's hot Portland babe Trish the Dish, with her cute upturned nose and her Steven Tyler-esque tongue. At my side as always was Madame X, ready to pass Japanese judgment on this sushi newbie.

However, she didn't need to slice the sushi chef to shreds this evening as nearly everything -- martinis and munchies alike -- was superb. We began with several bowls of heavily salted edamame, and spicy tuna tartare en croute, mounds of spicy tuna on bowl-like shrimp chips topped with scallions. I took an almost unnatural liking to the tartare, and woofed down most of the plate myself, with Madame X avoiding it as anything too spicy tends to disturb her delicate stomach.

The salty soybeans and the tangy tuna produced a raging thirst, which we each slaked in our own way with the cocktail of his or her choice. Can you guess Mikey's beverage? A Gibson, of course, which he pronounced sublime. Madame X, staying true to her roots, went with a cold bottle of Hakutsuru Draft sake. The remainder, me included, selected specialty martinis from the drink list. Trish the Dish first tried a Wango Mango, made of peach vodka, mango nectar and an orange cranberry splash. But she later switched to the Mello Jello, sort of a massive, red Jell-O shot in a martini glass, which quickly turned that velvet muscle in her mouth a violent crimson.

Brad's primary potation was the sinfully delightful Chocolate Twist, which may I suggest to Ben and Jerry as a possible ice-cream flavor. The concoction included vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur, and dark crème de cacao, using as a garnish two raspberries stuffed with chocolate chips. Afterward he went for the Berry White, a blueberry-flavored vodka martini that had a lip-puckering sourness to it. Egomaniac that I am, I selected the Lemon Head, an alcohol-laden martini version of the famous Ferrara Pan candy. I ended by drinking a Ruby Tuesday, which is like a Greyhound, but pink from ruby-red grapefruit juice.

Yes, I did get to taste them all, but I think I preferred my choices, save perhaps with the exception of the Berry White, and the Chocolate Twist, which makes a killer dessert. Kudos to Carlin, who's behind the drink menu. He also rates a huzzah for having one of my favorite beers on tap, the Belgian lager Stella Artois.

When it comes to the sushi rolls themselves, I'm at a genuine loss to pick a fave. No matter how odd the appellation, each roll was a testament to Feimster's talent and training. Highlights included the Jeff Spicoli and Surf and Turf Rolls, either of which would be good enough to be the signature roll at any above-average sushi house. The Spicoli draws its name from the slacker Sean Penn character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Alas, Oscar-winner Penn has yet to taste the namesake of his ignoble beginnings as a thespian, and that's his loss, because the Spicoli's combo of spicy octopus and BBQ Fritos topped with avocado would probably even win plaudits from the movie's grouchy Mr. Hand! The Surf and Turf utilizes a less obscure pairing, lobster and cucumber topped with seared beef tenderloin, and it's so savory that I marvel that it's never been made into a roll before.

Going through the entire list of colorfully entitled rolls would require me to pen a small novel. Amusing names such as the Badda Bing, Squid Vicious, Dirty Sanchez, and the politically incorrect Me So Horny, I'll leave for another time. But let me mention three more winners: the Killer Bee, the Kiss My Bass, and the Eating Nemo. For the syrupy-savory Killer Bee's California roll topped with eel and mango, I'd consider selling my granny to Osama bin Laden's minions. For the Kiss My Bass's sea-bass-topped mix of shrimp tempura and daikon sprouts, I'd at least trade an aunt or two. And when it comes to the salmon-splendid Eating Nemo roll with crab and lemons, I'd offer my first-born son, in the frightening and unlikely event that I ever reproduce.

All is served in a sage-hued interior with high ceilings, backless purple seats and a cool Hollywood Squares-sort of light box, which can be programmed to change color. A charming patio allows smokers to garner lung and heart ailments chic-ly, and the waitresses display a playful sort of attentiveness. Now if we could only pick the eatery up and relocate it to Central and Roosevelt, my prayers would finally be answered.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons