Sometimes it takes stepping out of your comfort zone, trying something new, to figure out what it is you really like. That happened on Friday night while celebrating the last night of this summer’s HudsonRestaurant Week at Sushi Lounge.
Honestly, I can say, that it is not my go to in Hoboken for sushi; that would be Robongi. Sushi Lounge is a fierce competitor with a liquor license, loud music, and inventive sushi rolls, but it is just not the same. I went to Sushi Lounge open minded, but subconsciously knew that Robongi has a place in my heart. Little did I know, my trip would reiterate that. There was nothing bad about the experience… The food came out in a timely manner, pretty colorful, well-plated, etc., but something was missing.
After going back and forth, opening and closing the menu, and falling into our usual indecision, we landed on the prix fixe plan for me, and an appetizer and a stray roll for us. I was excited for this prix fixe, after being hungry after my last HudsonRW sushi adventure at Las Olas. This deal looked like a far more substantial meal.
We sat outside, on quiet Hudson Street, watching groups preparing for their Friday nights. The red awning protected us from the scattered showers as we saw people dancing under the raindrops, interrupting our heavy discussion of the menu and such.
My Peking Duck Crepe starter was quite large; two fat rolled pancakes, stuffed with dark saucy duck, crisscrossed one another on my hoisin drizzled plate. The crepes were almost stiff, but sweet and doughy at the same time, while the fatty decadent duck served as a rich counter part to the pancake. The hoisin sauce on the plate added just enough salt to play up all the high points of the dish.
The mound of Japanese Risotto did not look appealing, but tucked away in the hill of creamy rice, was a variety of textures and flavors that combined Italian with Japanese and the sea. There were stringy ribbons of crab laced throughout the grains, and an almost too strong essence of truffle dousing the dish. It secretly went well with the duck.
As for rolls, I got a California roll and the Totowa roll with my prix fixe, but we also got the exotic Spicy Tempura Banana roll out of curiosity (seriously, banana in sushi?). There was nothing extremely notable about the rolls. California rolls are already one of the most mundane and played out, but the Totowa with its multiple elements really flat-lined with no texture. It would have been much more invigorating had the textures come alive. There was no way to distinguish the flavors and feelings. And finally the last roll was the visually stunning, mystery banana roll. Which, in the end, was totally weird. It was hard to say that the warm and smushy tempura banana, meshed well with the spicy tuna on the inside and white tuna resting on the top. The tiny tobiko served as great texture, with little popping moments, almost embellishing the weirdness. But the roll created so much confusion we were unwilling to finish it.
Oddly enough, the hot smushy banana element continued through to dessert, where we were obligated to chose between a predictable chocolate cake, and a hot banana’s foster empanada dessert. We went for the one that felt a little exciting, even though we were not excited by our previous hot banana encounter. And this too was a little disconcerting. There was something about the texture of the banana that made my tongue recoil. The greasy fried dough also heightened the awkward texture of the banana. At times the rum and caramel were strong, almost burned, and the bitterness intensified with dark flecks of chocolate. The combination made my stomach turn, but sweets are impossible to decline, no matter their “uniqueness.”
The service was friendly, it almost too friendly. She was trying to identify with us to the point that it came off stilted. But she was fun and lively, and took care of us while there.
The loud music even funneled outside from time to time, reminding us that we were somewhere, not just engrossed in our sushi dinner date and unsure faces. We recognized once again where we were. Though Robongi boasts the loud dancey music too after a certain hour, there is something more refreshing about it. Sushi Lounge did not feel as fresh or authentic, like it’s trying to be a cool, refined, trendy destination. The menu is eclectic and almost whimsical, but in the future, I will head there to dig in on appetizers and house specialty cocktails, reserving sushi rolls for Robongi.