Located on the corner of Boulevard and Cary streets Momotaro is well placed near the Byrd Theater and a scad of bars and shops. The exterior is pleasant enough with Japanese lanterns and large windows facing out onto the street. To the passerby it looks like it could be the sort of hole in the wall place that would serve up some truly extraordinary sushi.
Soon after I walked through the front doors I overheard the waitress boldly offering some customers a special consisting of a shot of sake and a tallboy of PBR for $5. Most sushi restaurants don’t serve PBR. The reasoning here is that sushi is known for delicate flavors while PBR is known for sacrificing taste in favor of getting you smashed on the cheap. Combining the two seems a bit like strapping a flamethrower to a butterfly.
As I was pondering the strangeness of this combination, I noticed a TV on the wall playing looped footage of the 1969 moon landing. I’m not sure what this has to do with sushi but it did inspire some very strong patriotic feelings.
I didn’t have much time to soak in America’s proudest moment, because the waitress laid down a menu within a few seconds. Prompt service is always a good sign. She was cheerful but a bit rushed and confused as we went over my order. The menu had a section for both nigiri and sashimi with no indication of what fish could be served in which style. This led to a long confusing conversation about the prices of various items.
Despite the confusion prices were, overall, very cheap. A salmon roll for under $4, seafood Udon for around $13, and the waitress informed me that all nigiri was $1 a piece for happy hour. I generally expect to pay a bit more for quality sushi but less money is never a bad thing.
When the waitress returned with my water I noticed it didn’t have ice. I asked for ice only to discover that Momotaro doesn’t do ice. Never has never will. This is especially strange because most sushi restaurants use ice to keep the fish cool just before serving. Presumably Momotaro uses a refrigeration unit and as a result has decided that ice is totally unnecessary in their restaurant.
I decided that room temperature water was just another one of Momotaro’s charming little quirks so I went ahead and ordered Miso soup as well as crab, snapper, tuna salmon and yellowtail nigiri. The waitress told me that they couldn’t do yellowtail nigiri. Personally I feel that if they really tried they could actually make yellowtail nigiri in more or less exactly the same way as they make tuna nigiri but this would simply be another one of my silent disagreements with Momotaro.
My soup arrived almost instantly. It was mostly broth with a few sprigs of green onion and seaweed thrown in; however there was no tofu. It was tasty, but I get the feeling I could have done the same thing at home with a couple of dashi cubes.
Before I’d taken my third spoonful of broth the waitress was back with my nigiri. I like fast service as much as the next red blooded American, but I usually take more than ten or eleven seconds to finish an appetizer. I wolfed down the remainder of what I’ll generously call my soup and turned over to the nigiri.
The food was nicely plated on a classical Japanese serving tray. The snapper was absolutely delicious and the tuna and salmon didn’t disappoint. The crab nigiri was imitation. I hadn’t seen this pointed out anywhere on the menu, although I shouldn’t really expect a restaurant that can’t make ice to be able to get their hands on a crab.
I left with a stomach ache. Not full on food poisoning, just a general sort of unwell feeling that comes from the body telling you that you maybe shouldn’t have eaten what you just ate. Momotaro is a strange place. Not the sort of restaurant I would take a date too, but maybe the type of place I would go for cheap sushi and a tallboy after a night of drinking and making similarly bad decisions in Carytown.