Turning Japanese

 

When temperatures rise to “egg sizzling,” it’s time to look, well, hot. ’Tis the season for lean, mean sushi … and tempura sushi, too.

FortyFiveDegrees has opened up at the end of Massachusetts Avenue (745 Massachusetts Ave., to be exact). It’s the epitome of an eclectic, high-end sushi joint — for starters, it’s right under Michael Andretti’s (part-time) residence. The place is so named for its 45-degree position, and the outer walls’ bends pay homage to the angle. Electric blue booths, sides flush with the venue’s inner walls, give the feel of a modern diner. At the center of it all is the bar. A sushi station crouches to the right of that.

I tried a spicy tuna roll, which tasted fresh. But FortyFive serves up more than just sushi. Sautéed (not fried) calamari, pasta and Cajun-influenced dishes also dot the eclectic menu. My dining partner tried a dish with prawns and portabella mushroom over crostini, drizzled with an orangish Cajun sauce that could have used a bit more kick. Points, though, for a pungent wasabi instead of the squeeze-tube paste some places use.

Speaking of weaker wasabi, I also tried Asaka (6414 E. 82nd St.) because of glowing reviews from IndyEthnicFood.com users. They described the place as the dive where all their food-service and Japanese friends like to go, especially for “Happy Hour Sushi Time” from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

A very young, attractive crowd frequents the small place tucked inside the 82nd Street shopping center. The inside is small, cozy and clean with plenty of Asian motifs.

I ordered shrimp tempura and spicy tuna hand rolls ($2.95 each) from the happy hour menu, and waited for those seaweed-wrapped cones to arrive. But first, agedashi dofu  (deep-fried soybean tofu) and shrimp and crab dumplings (“shumai”) would prep my palate.

The tiny dumplings looked like giant, shriveled marshmallows and had a delicate, slightly sweet aftertaste. Eat them quickly, however. Water from their steaming process leaks out, making them soggy.

I was delighted that the agedashi dofu’s “vegetable sauce” was actually a broth. The lightly fried soy was good enough for bean curd enthusiasts, but many might find the umami-rich broth a bit on the salty side.

The thing that most impressed me here (besides the $15 final tab) was the shrimp tempura. The shrimp were a decent size, the batter was light, and the single tail expertly left at the roll’s opening added a bit of pizazz. Not so for the spicy tuna, which came in a fire engine red hue and looked like it had been squeezed out of a bottle. Actually, it was the color of the iconic Huy Fung Sriracha Hot Chile sauce many Chinese restaurants carry, and probably for good reason.

Spicy tuna enthusiasts take note: The best I’ve had in town has come from Ocean World (1206 W. 86th St.), sister restaurant to the omnipresent Sakura. These rolls actually masquerade under the description of “tuna tar tar.” Their blend of green onion, spicy sauce and small fish eggs adds a kiss of hot while allowing fresh tuna to shine through.

Finally, I’d just like to remind everyone about Mikado (148 S. Illinois St.).

Do yourself a favor and order the Sumo roll for the fattest, freshest, most buttery raw salmon you’ll have in town. Owner Yu Mei Lee says she has to pay airport personnel a bit extra sometimes to wait for her to pick up her fresh fish shipments after hours, instead of the next morning. But what a difference that salvaged bit of time makes.

For a lesson in titillating textures, order the Tiger Eye roll. This smoked salmon/ cream cheese/jalapeno roll is greater than the sum of its parts. Only these inner three ingredients are fried, then wrapped in soy paper and placed inside rice for an addicting sensation that’s simultaneously creamy, crunchy and warm.

And it’s not sushi, but … if you’re a shrimp fan, you must try the pepper prawns dish. These fat, firm shrimp encircle spinach, made gossamer by an infusion of peppery oil.

It’s too good to be diet food.

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