Boston: In Defense of Makimono: A Love Story for Oishii's Paula's Maki
I get why some people think maki rolls are low-brow sushi. Hacking up a piece of fatty tuna, dousing it with spicy mayo, and folding it up with rice, avocado, tempura flakes, cucumber sticks—whatever—doesn't seem like the most effective application for enjoying the delicate flavor of high-grade fish. (Or, more likely, I assume maki rolls were originally a way to mask the flavor of lesser fish or simply use up scraps.) It's the same reason why most people wouldn't sacrifice a gorgeous prime dry-aged ribeye in a cheesesteak.
That said, I'm here to make a case for makimono—specifically the Paula's Maki ($14) at Oishii Sushi Bar in Chestnut Hill. Good maki rolls like this one aren't unlike well-crafted sandwiches: Lots of contrasting flavors and textures coming together to create something far greater than the sum of their parts. And just as in sandwiches, the better the ingredients, the better the final product will be. I wouldn't say it's a waste of good fish if you really enjoy the result.
In fact, the name of this roll speaks to how nicely these particular ingredients go together. It's one of the restaurant's "Customer Creations," so props to some lady named Paula for dreaming up this combination.* It's an inside-out roll (which, in my opinion, are universally more pleasant to eat than regular maki where you have to bite through the nori skin on the outside; plus, they're prettier) filled with chopped salmon, wasabi roe, and avocado, while the top gets alternating slabs of salmon and tuna, and a layer of thin-sliced lemon.
How those ingredients balance each other out is self-evident: The rich silkiness of the fish; the salty-spicy pop of the roe beads; the creaminess of the avocado; the sharp, slightly bitter tang of the skin-on lemon**, all bound up within the chewy rice that's lightly coated with toasted sesame seeds. I like it with a smear of wasabi and a quick dip in soy sauce, but the flavors are so bold that it's almost unnecessary.
* For those so inclined, the Brad's Torch Maki (cucumber, tobiko, and spicy mayo inside with seared tuna on top with mayo, $16) is also really tasty.
** The lemon slices are the trump card here. Since this roll is a bit on the pricey side for my gotta-have-sushi-all-the-time budget, I've taken to ordering Alaska Rolls (raw salmon with avocado) with lemon inside.