Bada Sushi’s Sashimi Is Amazingly Fresh

So fresh it swims up to greet you when you walk in.

If I had any doubts about whether Bada Sushi's "live sashimi" was simply a fancy name for "fresh fish," the entryway dispelled them. It was lined with tanks: In one, a school of dinner-plate-sized Korean halibut were stacked six deep, their fins gently fluttering with the circulating water. Tiny gray octopi crawled around the bottom of another tank. Other aquariums contained sea cucumbers, sea squirts, abalone, and lobster. A price list in the menu proved that none of the tanks were for decorationBada Sushi, which opened in September 2007 in the heart of Highway 99's Korean business strip, serves not only what's in the tanks but seafood of all kinds. Primarily sushi, of course, which is clear the moment you pass through the entryway into the rambling restaurant's main room, where a chef or two mans the long sushi bar, chunks of red, white, and pink fish flesh displayed in its glass case. But the menu also lists Korean fish stews, barbecued fish, and fish rice plates, as well as Japanese noodles, tempura, and bento boxes.The owners have poured a lot of money into retrofitting an old Chinese restaurant. The rambling one-story building is now decorated in suburban sleek, with cherry-colored wood tables and muted colors on the walls. On my first visit, the host seated us in the farthest room, labeled the "lounge," where we watched the NFL playoffs on the flat-screen TV above the bar while we ate.Only a few days had passed since I'd watched a pig being slaughtered ("Eating Hector," Jan. 23), and there was only so much of my food I wanted to see die in one week. So we ordered daegu maeun tang (spicy cod stew), a seafood pancake, and a non-live sushi combo. The California roll and mixed nigiri (tuna, hamachi, shrimp, and surf clam) were decent but nothing special—the fish reasonably fresh but definitely not conveying the mist off the ocean, and the rice too tightly packed for my tastes. I had the same reaction to an LP-sized seafood pancake containing crisscrossed scallions and purple octopus chunks, as well as the cod stew, mixed vegetables and large chunks of meat in a thin, bright-red broth. It was an OK meal, but I've eaten better at nearby competitors Hosoonyi and Hae-Nam.Midway through dinner, the sushi chef brought a friend of his back to sit at the bar, then delivered what looked like a pound's worth of thick slabs of tuna sashimi, which the two devoured as they watched the game. This was clearly the house specialty.The Japanese have a penchant for a few kinds of sashimi served newly dead—namely odori ebi, or "dancing prawns"—but Korean hoe (pronounced hway) goes one step further. There's a scene in Chan-wook Park's Oldboy where the lead character drowns his sorrows by eating a live octopus; as he chews, its tentacles escape his lips and climb up his nostrils. Last year, L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold recorded a segment for This American Life in which he recapped his unsettling experience in Koreatown biting the tail off a live, wriggling prawn. I feel no need to one-up these guys. But the question gnawed at me, so to speak: What did live sashimi taste like?Last week I returned to Bada with some friends who were up for anything, live or no. Bada's tanks looked a little less full and a little cloudier than the last time, but this time we were seated in the same room as the sushi chefs, where all the diners around us were picking off large platters of raw fish, some throwing back glasses of soju between bites.The menu lists live sashimi both in combination platters and by the piece (live octopus, for example, costs $40). Me being a white guy, we had to go through the usual rigamarole of "No, you don't want this," "Yes, we do," with the waitress, but she eventually translated what the combinations included (tip: Bada's online menu lists them in English). The two-person $90 platter includes six kinds of live sashimi, while the $200 "family special meal" adds on octopus, geoduck, and lobster. Thinking about Oldboy, I decided I couldn't take the octopus, and so we ordered the $120 combination, which is not just a plate of raw fish but includes cooked and side dishes. "It'll take awhile," the server said. "We normally have two sushi chefs, but one had to leave the state, so we're short." An omen? Fingers were crossed.Meantime, the server brought along some side dishes specific to the meal: a salad of shredded vegetables and mushrooms, a couple of broiled abalone shells with chopped meat, some quickly sautéed prawns, a fluffy egg concoction served in an oven-hot stone bowl, a sizzle platter with corn kernels covered in melted cheese (which tasted as bad as it sounds), and mussels baked on the shell with processed cheese sauce (which tasted much better than it sounds). Next arrived the halibut's skeleton, dipped in flour and fried, so it curled up into a bowl. We picked at the strips of meat still attached to the spine—quite tender—sloshing the meat through a thick chile-vinegar sauce.Course three was our sashimi platter, 18 inches around and covered in julienned radish threads. On one half of the plate the sushi chef had carefully laid out translucent, evenly sliced white strips of halibut, bordered with three ginormous oysters. In the center, he'd placed a candy dish with sea cucumber, which looked like a purple and orange jelly. And around the other half, there were curly, milk-colored bits of anago (sea eel); thick chunks of geoduck; an abalone, cross-sliced into perfectly even strips; and wedges of sea squirt, its spiky, bright-orange shell still attached to the coral flesh.Nothing moved.A wave of relief, and anticlimax, swept over the table. As we began to pick our way around the platter, though, the true difference between Korean and Japanese sashimi emerged. While tuna sashimi is beloved for its creamy flesh, hoe is marked by a satiny snap. Even the Korean halibut, which Bada imports for its special texture, has that geoduck crunch to it, which requires you to chew each slice even as it slides silkily across the tongue.Hoe is often served with lettuce leaves or herbs, and eaten with chili paste and garlic, but our sashimi came only with wasabi and soy. The anago had the mildest, grainiest flesh, as well as semi-cartilaginous vertebrae that required the longest to chew down. We left half of the eel on the plate, as well as the majority of the sea cucumber, whose briny taste finished in a wash of bitterness. But the rest disappeared. This is Washington, so everyone got into the geoduck, and I particularly liked the firm flesh and metallic tinge of the raw abalone. The sea squirt proved the big surprise, tasting much like an oyster, only saltier.Everything was unbelievably fresh, the taste of ocean unsullied by off flavors, and I think anyone who claims to love sashimi should give Bada's rare, fascinating dinners a whirl. What I remembered halfway through the meal, though, is that I'm no glutton for sashimi, whether creamy or crunchy. I mean, who doesn't like a few slices of raw meat? But after picking around the plate a few times, I tired of the textural monotony and was happy to let my friends chew away at the rest. The waitress rewarded us for (almost) cleaning off the plate with one last course: rice, banchan, and seafood soup boiling away in a stone bowl. Amid the tofu chunks and varied vegetables, lending their fishy flavor to the chile-red broth, were assorted fins, pieces of skin, and chunks of leftover meat, a greatest-moments montage from the meal. Sure, a half-dozen sea creatures had died for our dinner, but not a speck of them was going to waste.jkauffman@seattleweekly.com

 
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