Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Abokado vs. Itsu: Let the Battle of Grab 'n Go Sushi Commence

One of the major advantages of working in the new location I do is the sheer number of lunchtime options.  Before, it was Pret, Leon or ... Pret?  Now it's: shall I have bimbimbap at the local Korean cafe? Or a warming bowl of fresh pasta from the Italian deli down the road?  Do I want to grab a bit of culture and eat in the British Museum cafe?  The possibilities are endless ... and often I get excited just thinking about lunch when I sit down at my desk at approximately 8:53 a.m. (that is, when I'm not trying to save money and buy 2 for 1 soups at Sainsbury's instead - then it's ever so slightly depressing).

And then there is the inevitable dilemma when it comes to sushi.  You kinda feel like a salad but you want something slightly more substantial, so nigiri and a couple slices of salmon sashimi should fill that I-feel-like-something-more-than-a-salad-but-less-than-a-carb-laden-food-fest hole.  But who to choose, who to choose?  Just three or four (or possibly less) mere storefronts away from each other, Abokado and Itsu face-off in a lunch-time fast-food sushi challenge.

In corner one, we've got Abokado, the underdog, small chain, who's motto is, ""Live your life, love our food" and whose specialties include things like a delicious choice of dressings (I had the chili and coriander today and can confirm that it was tangy and terrific) for your accompanying rocket salad and hand rolls, that resemble sushi wraps - the perfect mid-afternoon snack (or lunch option).

In corner two, we have Itsu, the popular chain founded by the same dude who started Pret a Manger (which is, as you know, one of my undying loves, for some reason) which boasts, "Health and happiness."  (For the record, I get a little annoyed with this in-your-face yogic mantra from most sushi chains, you know, the whole "IF YOU PUT GOOD THINGS IN YOUR BODY, YOUR BODY WILL LOVE YOU, AND YOU WILL SWEAT BEADS OF GOLD OUT OF YOUR PORES" gimmick.  I eat sushi because I enjoy it, not because I want to be "healthy".  Rant over)  Itsu has two menu choices that currently rank on my top ten favorites: the chicken pot-su, a thai-infused veggie and grilled chicken brown rice bowl that makes your colds shrivel and die a sudden death, and the "super salmon 3 ways" sushi box (yes, did I mention I was a glutton?  Well, I am.  See previous post on portion control i.e. I have none.  And as I write this, I am waiting for Domino's to deliver my two medium pizzas and yes, I am tracking their progress in real time on my laptop).

Sometimes, I feel sorry for Abokado, because it's like going to the mall to spend time with your friends when really, you should be staying at home and watching Judge Judy with your mom (not that I've ever encountered that quandary before).  So the other day, I paid a visit to Abokado and picked up their "Deep Blue" sushi box, which consisted of some salmon nigiri, rocket salad, and salmon and avocado rolls.  Omg, the rice was nearly inedible on the nigiri: completely gloopy and stuck together, plus some of the rocket leaves were black.  And no one told me about the separate dressings that I was meant to choose myself so I went without.  And non-dressed rocket (or arugula as y'all call it back home)  doesn't taste so good.  Still, I felt like I was supporting a good cause, and it made me sad to see the quality slip.  So I was most impressed when I received a reply from the manager (to my extremely polite but detailed missive as to why the Deep Blue box sorely disappointed me) which was open, honest, genuine and very apologetic (a voucher for a complimentary lunch also helped).

In contrast, the Super Salmon box from Itsu is extremely satisfying - thick, luscious pieces (not slivers) of fresh salmon sashimi, salmon nigiri with non-gloopy rice and deliciously rolled salmon and avocado sushi.  But it always feels a bit soulless and corporate eating at Itsu with their irritatingly perky slogans plastered across the wall and beaming down at you, but you know, I get it.  I know why that kind of self-affirming marketing works and why people - certainly I do, to an extent - buy into it.   And like Pret, it all begins to taste a bit "samey" after a while, something that doesn't happen with the variety and home-made tastes available at Abokado.

So the conclusion is: it's a toss up.  Up to you.  Let me know what you think.

1 comment

  1. No contest - Itsu cheap, slimy, farmed salmon; Abokado always fresh and good quality (although did find a bone in it once, so a bit too fresh occasionally)!


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