By Christine Thompson Telegram & Gazette Reviewer
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Ten years ago I couldn’t imagine finding a great sushi place anywhere except in large coastal cities like New York or San Francisco. Nowadays, of course, you can find sushi in supermarkets, although I have to say that I am very skeptical about the freshness and quality of shrink-wrapped sushi sitting in a refrigerated case of my local market.
No need to worry if you live in Worcester. Owners Wilson Wang and Mike Zhang, (yes, both Chinese) opened their sushi restaurant two years ago. The freshest fish, expert chefs, and a creative sushi menu are available every day of the week at Baba.
On a recent Wednesday evening, we drove to Worcester to meet a friend. All three of us are pretty adventurous eaters and were eager to try this restaurant.
The interior of the converted house, at least the section now occupied by the dining room, was not opened up during the renovations. The dining space is very small. Expect a cozy seating arrangement.
Our waiter, Dan Dutty, greeted us quickly, took a drink order, and gave us time to browse through the menu. Relatively new to Baba, he was very pleasant, affable, and did well at answering our questions about items on the menu.
There’s an extensive list of sushi and sashimi, some with clever names like Rock & Roll Maki or Godzilla Roll, a few starters, specials, salads, and then a few entrées, more traditional complete dinners such as chicken teriyaki with rice and vegetables.
We shared a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This inexpensive New Zealand wine, pale yellow in color and light in body, had a bright, hint-of-lemon flavor with a bit of spice after. It was a good match for the fresh seafood to come.
I started with the Baba oyster shooter ($4.50), a raw oyster with black tobiko, flying fish roe. The brininess of the oyster, with its slightly mineral flavor, was intensified by the caviar.
We decided to order a few items at a time from the sushi/starters menu rather than the traditional dinner selections. Round one started with a bowl of simply steamed and salted edamame pods along with shrimp and vegetable tempura ($9) and the tartaki trio ($21). Shrimp and asparagus, with a crispy tempura coating that was not the least bit greasy, stood vertically on a small plate with a bowl of mild teriyaki dipping sauce. The tartaki sampler included tuna, black marlin and salmon, all seared but raw inside, sliced and served with different garnishes and sauces. This dish was artfully presented: tuna with finely shredded daikon, salmon with a nutty sesame seaweed salad and the marlin with a spicy black bean sauce.
Next a large plate with our three sushi selections was delivered to our table by the chef himself with a quick description of each one: salmon-avocado roll ($6), spicy yellowtail with cucumber and tobiko ($7.75), and the caterpillar with eel, cucumber, avocado and tobiko ($10). Accompanied by the traditional wasabi and pickled ginger, all were absolutely fresh, simply prepared and delicious. My favorite was the eel.
We added two more items to our sushi feast: baby hotare tori ($7), fried scallops and vegetables on skewers and the Baba salad ($9), a bowl of mixed greens topped with a few thin slices of raw salmon and drizzled lightly with a mild wasabi dressing. We especially loved the salad.
Had I stopped before dessert, I would have given Baba the highest rating, four stars. The menu offers three kinds of ice cream, ginger, green tea and red bean. The ginger ice cream ($7.50) was good, not too spicy, not too sweet, topped with whipped cream and a drizzled grid of chocolate and cherry sauces. The other two ice creams ($7.95 each) were coated and fried and similarly presented with the whipped cream, chocolate and cherry sauces. Unfortunately the dough was gooey and tough, very unpleasant, and the green tea ice cream was too sweet. My advice is to skip dessert or try the banana flambé, the one item on the list we did not sample.
The total bill for our meal for three people was $145.58. With the exception of dessert, I consider it quite reasonable for the quality of the food and service.
One of the best things about Baba is the number of choices it offers its patrons. If you like to try many dishes with only a bite or two of each, go for the sushi selections and share with friends; if you don’t like sushi or are overwhelmed by too many choices, you can stick to the more Americanized part of the menu. I applaud their service, the high quality of the seafood, and especially the chef’s expertise. I’m definitely planning to go back.