Monday, August 15, 2005

Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice specials Sticky Rice is not a restaurant for the impatient. Or the intolerant. Or the sort of person who starts to lose it watching a table set for six remain empty while waiting at the bar and not being seated for almost 40 minutes. No, no, no. It is not for you, the customer, to fret, or to complain, or to question why; it is for you, the customer, to suck it up and order another martini. Good things come to those who wait. Or do they? Yes and no. The martinis are good and the beer selection is good. The bartender is warm and accommodating, and the giant bucket of tater tots we ordered as an appetizer was fabulous--as all tater tots are, by definition. They're also a significant clue that the funky, eclectic red and black interior with a myriad of upside down rice paper umbrellas hanging from the ceiling isn't the only thing about Sticky Rice that's unconventional. The menu is a gloss on all Asian food, from noodles and satays to sushi and tempura. In between are pop cultural nods, like the afore-mentioned tater tots, and Asian-influenced entrees like umeboshi (a pickled Japanese plum) barbecued pork chops with wasabi mashed potatoes or ponzu (a Japanese citron sauce) tuna with pineapple salsa. We heard a rumor before we came that children eat for free on Thursdays, but if they do, our server couldn't be bothered to mention it or to dig up a children's menu. By the time we were finally seated and the waitress was ready to take our order, we were so light-headed and cranky from lack of nourishment, we forgot to ask about the children and began to order wantonly from the menu presented to us. It's never a good idea to order appetizers and entrees all at once when you're flat-out starving, and predictably, we ended up with a large bill at the end and much more food than we could possibly eat. Much of it was delicious; the barbecued ribs we ordered as an appetizer were tender, sweet and sticky, although too spicy for our children (sadly, we had to eat them all ourselves). They were out of spring rolls so we substituted steamed pot stickers instead and, unfortunately, they were less successful. They arrived underneath a pile of shredded carrot and although there was nothing wrong with them, they were only mildly agreeable and unmemorable. The miso soup was nothing to write home about either and the fact that it arrived lukewarm did nothing to enhance the taste. I ordered the pork satay from the noodle section of the menu and was impressed with the choices offered to go along with it: soba, udon, or rice noodles, and, of course, sticky rice. I chose rice noodles and when my large bowl of pork arrived, it was drenched in a pallid and flavorless brown sauce, accompanied by an ungodly amount of shredded carrot. I remembered this dish from past visits as being spicier, livelier, but what I had in front of me was so bland and boring, it just wasn’t worth eating. Besides, my ravenous husband had ordered an excess of shushi and that suited me just fine. Here, at last, Sticky Rice finally began to shine. We began with the sticky balls, which turned out to be a sort of deep-fried sushi: tuna, crab and rice were stuffed into an inari pocket and topped with fish roe. As you bit down, your teeth encountered a delicate crunch, and then the soft seafood flavors effortlessly melded with the rice and hint of wasabi on your tongue. My daughter valiantly tried to eat all of the kappa maki—cucumber roll—we ordered for her and, although it’s her favorite, was unable to manage even half of the enormous portion. As my husband plowed through the hamachi (yellowtail), umagi (eel), and smoked salmon roll, I concentrated on the crunchy shrimp roll, a combination of tempura shrimp with avocado and carrot rolled up in rice and nori. Although it was reminiscent of the sticky balls, it had a softer chew and more traditional sushi flavor. All of the sushi was well made and served neither too cold nor too hot; I couldn’t find a thing to complain about. The rice was delicately flavored with vinegar, the fish was tender and fresh, and the portions were large and attractively presented. Next time, I’ll stick with the sushi and skip the rest. Aside from the appalling service, I really enjoyed the rambunctious energy of Sticky Rice with its pseudo-Japanese murals and loud music. The crowd was as diverse as its interior; we were easily the oldest customers, although fashion-wise we fell somewhere in the middle of the pierced and tattooed hipsters and the complacently preppy frat boys. Yet, despite our age (and hey, we’re not that old!) and our children, we didn’t feel out of place. Sticky Rice has a genuinely egalitarian vibe. There were other children there with their parents and besides, it was fun to watch the couples lurking oh-too-cool-for-school by the front door while waiting to be seated and know that one day, in the rapidly approaching future, they too would be seated metaphorically in our booth, wondering where the damn children’s menu was. technorati tags: , , , ,


Anonymous Dave said...

It's a bar--what do you expect?

August 16, 2005 12:40 PM  
Anonymous eric said...

Glad to hear the sushi made it worth it. I work behind the sushi bar mon-fri night. If you came in on the date of this post, i was there in the middle spot.

I cant speak for everyone, but i do the best i can under the situation. Its such a high volume place, we dont have time to geek out with fine dining style plates and garnishes.

Most of us take pride in our work. Its good to hear that it made it worth the trip.

If your looking for other sushi bars in the city, check out akida at robinson and broad for a very traditional meal, or sumo-san in the bottom. In my opinion, those are the only other sushi bars really worth going to in the city.

August 25, 2005 1:31 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Eric--I loved the sushi; you guys do a bang up job. I don't really carry so much about fine dining presentation--just if the food tastes good. Besides the syshi looked looked great. I loved all of those tempura pieces sticking up out of the rice. It reminded me of Tokyo Rose in Charlottesville (I don't know if that place is still around, it's been so long since I've been up there). I understand about the volume of customers in yoour restaurant but your wait staff really needs to get it together (as a former waitress in a busy restaurant, I know of what I speak). I'll definitely be back though, in a more zen-like mood in preparation for the wait. The web site you've begun looks great--let me know when it's finished and I'll link to it.

August 27, 2005 6:09 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

The one time I went to Sticky Rice and ordered a non-sushi entre... I wound up on the toilet for two hours straight and stayed up past my bed-time with stomach cramps. It was a tilapia filet that was supposed to be blackened or something and it had crab on top. The whole thing tasted spoiled. At first I thought it was just an ingredient that disagreed with me, but after a few more bites I was positive. I was eating rancid food. Anyhow, that's my story.

And I do agree that Akida and Sumo-San are the best sushi joints in town. At Sumo-San in the Bottom, order the Crouching Tiger. It's not on the menu, but it's knock your socks off.

September 08, 2005 11:16 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Thanks! I'll definitely try it.

September 09, 2005 8:18 PM  

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