Yo! Sushi Schools The Blue Collar Foodie

As I get older there are more and more things that I miss from my youth.  Besides the fact that a hangover that used to last 2 hours, now lasts two days, and in the morning, my bones and my cereal sound like they are having a conversation as they both snap, crackle, and pop.  One such component of my youth that I never thought I would miss is oddly enough school.

I am now almost certain that time travel will not be invented during my life time, because as I just wrote that sentence, a 6 year old with a scraggly bowl cut and a 15 year old rocking JNCOs and a chain wallet didn’t just appear in a DeLorean and take turns kicking my shins.

It is not actually school that I miss, but the learning that accompanied it, because let’s be honest only like 42 people in the history of mankind actually liked high school when they were there.  This perpetual thirst for knowledge is very similar to my thirst for beer on a Thursday night, as in, it is very hard to quell.  Shut up, maybe you have a problem!

Since I still haven’t truly decided what I want to be when I “grow up”, I have yet to choose a Master’s program that I can truly torture my brain with, and so I seek education in unconventional places.  Not to mention, my current chosen path to knowledge is a hell of a lot cheaper than going to grad school.

This time around, my never ending quest for knowledge steered me in the direction of another thing I miss from my youth, The Mall!  That is right, I grew up in Northern New Jersey in the 1990’s, which means that I was a Mall Rat.  Not just any Mall Rat mind you, but a Garden State Plaza Mall Rat; GSP Represent!  Back in my day, the mall you called your home was important and any other rat from any other mall wasn’t even welcome in your hack circle.

01yosushi

Sorry, I veered off course there for a minute.  Anyway, back to my journey.  The interwebs informed me that at my former stomping ground, an eatery that I have written about once before, Yo! Sushi, was now offering a two-hour comprehensive Sushi School.  I was interested, I was intrigued, I was… concerned about the cost.  I subdued my excitement, while I clicked some links and skimmed some sites, all the while worrying that this class might be out of my price range.  Then I saw it.

Our work station for the night.

Our work station for the night.

How much is Yo! Sushi charging for this class you ask?  $30 for a single student and $49 for a pair of pupils.  This is not my first time dabbling in the dark arts of back alley cooking classes, so I know what some of them cost.  I once took a wine class in the city and even with a Groupon it cost me $45 bucks a person, and I left more sober than a 15 year old trying to buy booze with a fake ID that was made with MS Paint and an Ink Jet printer.  The how and why Yo! Sushi is pulling off this price point matters not, I only know they are, and I was in!

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Here is how this class works.  Each Sushi master in training is provided their own rolling mat, gloves, recipe cards and ingredients, and a YO! Sushi head chef will walk you through the process of creating all different types of Sushi.  The syllabus includes, making sushi rice; cutting fresh fish; and mastering the best techniques for rolling maki, mini iso and hand rolls.  As the late great Billy Mays used to say, “But wait there is more!” once all dishes are completed, students will leave with their rolls, along with a recipe book, a certificate, and a special discount voucher for their next visit.  Not to mention if you are as my wife lovingly puts it, a competitive jerk, after you learn your new skills you can put them to the test against the rest of the class by participating in the Yo! Sushi Rolling Challenge.  The winner gets a $10 gift card, a spot on the in-store leader board, a shout-out on the Yo! Sushi Instagram page, and best all BRAGGIN’ RIGHTS!

Go Fish!

Go Fish!

Sounds great, right?!  I am not going to lie, I was skeptical too.  Even more so when our Sushi Chef came out to the table and introduced himself to us.  His name was Stuart, and he was definitely not from Japan.  He was actually from Scotland as we learned once he began to speak to us.  However, after about three minutes into the class we realized it was not the nationality of the chef that mattered, but the passion that he brings to the cutting board.

Say hello to Stuart internets!

Stuart; Internets   …   Internets; Stuart

Stuart not only knew his stuff, but to use an often uttered 90’s colloquialism, he had the mad phat skills to pay the bills.  As he waxed poetic about the history of not only Yo! Sushi but Sushi in general, he demonstrated an array of knife skills that would make a samurai weep.  He went on to explain how to choose the fish you use, how to prepare it, and he also shared the secrets to the most important element of any great Sushi, the mystical rice.  Within the first 15 minutes of the course, Stuart’s extensive knowledge, skills, charisma, and overall teaching method had quelled my hesitation about the class, and I was excited to get my hands dirty.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” -Albert Einstein

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” -Albert Einstein

As if Stuart read my mind, he began doling out the ingredients for our first roll. Stuart guided the class through each and every step of the process, making sure that our Sushi somewhat resembled the masterpieces that he was creating.  This was no easy task, because my hands were meant for catching footballs and carrying heavy things, not for Sushi making, but somehow he made it work.

Hands off my Sushi! Get it... Cause it is a Hand Roll... Come on, everyone appreciates a Dad Joke!

Hands off my Sushi! Get it… Cause it is a Hand Roll… Come on, everyone appreciates a good Dad Joke!

Each and every type of Sushi that we created not only came with instructions but also a brief history lesson or anecdote that made the class that much more enjoyable.  Throughout the class, you could tell Stuart was not using a script from a corporate Power Point, he was simply talking to us, while he was teaching us.  He even added some war stories from the Kitchen which are always fun to hear.

Rollin' with my Homies!

Rollin’ with my Homies!

As we were jumping from Sushi type to Sushi type, Stuart stressed that this class was not simply about learning how to make the Sushi that we were preparing today but gaining a skill set that will allows us to use our imagination in the kitchen.  After the completion of this course, you could follow the recipes on the cards that Yo! Sushi provides, or you can use any ingredients you can think of to make whatever concoction your heart desires.  Once you “perfect” the art of slicin’, dicin’, and rollin’, the world of Sushi is yours to explore.

Much to learn you still have…my old padawan. … This is just the beginning! – Yoda

Much to learn you still have…my old padawan. … This is just the beginning! – Yoda

As we made our last roll, Stuart collected all of our creations and began to cut them.    As he went through the cutting procedure for each style he described the theory behind each cut.  I am not going to lie, while he was doing this, I got a serious case of knife envy.  I don’t have crappy knives mind you, but compared to the hardware Stuart was wielding, I might as well be brandishing a shiv that I fashioned out of a toothbrush.

Now that is a doggie bag!

As promised, our extremely fresh and somewhat amateurishly made Sushi was cut, boxed, and ready to go at the end of the class, thanks to Yo! Sushi and Head Chef Stuart Foster.  As we prepared to leave, we discussed the implantation of this new found culinary skill.  Imagine instead of pigs in a blanket and pizza bagels decorating your dining room table at your next gathering, an assortment of freshly made Sushi.  The best part is, you don’t have to be a master Sushi Chef to pull this off, the effort alone is going to get you plastered on every Instagram, Facebook, and Snap Chat in the house.

That is some fine ass fish!

That is some fine ass fish!

When all was said and done, Kat and I left Yo! Sushi with head full of knowledge and a bag full of Sushi, ready to put our newly acquired skills to good use.  If you are a foodie who enjoys putzing around the kitchen, this is a great way to bolster your culinary aptitude, while not spending a gill and a fin.  Furthermore, if you have someone special in your life who shares your passion for all things palatable, you would be hard pressed to find a better date night that would offer more bang for your buck.

You Need Yo! Sushi In Your Life!!!

Within the spacious confines of the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, there are innumerable shops, kiosks, and restaurants. A large majority of these establishments can be found at just about any mall that exists in a metropolitan area. However, since New Jersey is the Mall capital of the world and we are a Stone’s throw away from the greatest city in the world, every once in a while a spot opens up in The GSP that is worth getting excited over.

Back in the day, when I was a rebellious youth, I was what one would consider a “Mall Rat”. This was not just a title; it was a lifestyle. There were several crews that called The Garden State Plaza home, and each of us had our own “territory,” where we would rock some footbag, smoke, drink, and talk junk about the patrons that were actually there to buy something. Our clique staked claim near the Old Entrance 1, the crème de la crème of spots back then.

Entrance 1 gave us access to the food court and all the free samples we could eat, the bus stop was within eye sight, and Sam Goody was a 5 minute stroll away. For those of you that are confused, Sam Goody was a brick and mortar store that sold CD’s because at that time downloading one song took literally 20 hours.

Even though it has been quite some time since my friends and I called the GSP our home away from home, I still consider it to be my mall, and that specific area is special to me. Sam Goody went the way of the Dodo bird after being acquired by Best Buy, and the mall has had several face lifts since I kicked my last Footbag outside Entrance 1, but it still pained me to see a shoe store, a furniture store, or a clothing store occupy the space that once was the most popular storefront in the mall.

Yo! Sushi Sign

My suffering was extinguished recently when I heard that Yo! Sushi was moving into my old stomping ground, and from what I heard about this innovative Sushi joint, I was ecstatic. As stated above, the GSP will forever be my mall, and I was proud that MY MALL was chosen to be the first Yo! Sushi restaurant to open in the United States! Take that Palisades Center, perhaps they heard that you are slowly sinking into the earth!

YoSushi Entrace

Yo! Sushi is not just your run-of-the-mill Sushi place that you can find on every corner in North Jersey.   Yo! Sushi is delivering the art of “kaiten,” or conveyor belt sushi to our beloved mall, and you should be Fraking excited about it! That is right, I said conveyor belt sushi, as in, the chef expertly prepares your sushi in their open air kitchen, places the dish on the conveyor belt, and then that piece of fish travels throughout the restaurant until a customer yoinks it off the belt and devours it.

The Yo! Sushi delivery system!

The Yo! Sushi delivery system!

As the late great Billy Mays used to say, “But wait there’s more!” Yo! Sushi is not just about Sushi; they serve over 80 Japanese inspired dishes that include hot classics, sashimi, tempura, salads, hand rolls and desserts! I, for one, love Sushi, but if your date, comrade, buddy, mother, sister, or brother does not, have no fear Yo! Sushi has something for them to sink their teeth into

Calamari anyone?

Calamari anyone?

The procedure at Yo! Sushi is as simple as it is ingenious:

Step 1: Find a Seat

Step 2: Sit down, you look weird just standing there looking at a chair!

Step 3: Order your drinks and specials from the extremely helpful staff.

Step 4: Keep your eyes on the conveyor belt of yummy that will deliver fresh mouthwatering sushi directly to your table and eat.

Yo! Sushi Takoyaki

These balls were freaking Amazeballs!!!

How do they know how much Sushi you crammed in your craw, you ask? It is simple! When you have had your fill, just tell a team member you are tapping out, and they will count your dishes and charge you accordingly. Each dish is color coded and matches a price guide that you will find in your menu.   This way you can keep track of the damage as you fervently grab plate after plate of gorgeously prepared amazeballs, no seriously, they have a Crispy Octopus ball that is called Takoyaki (See Above) that I am pretty sure is the origin of that word!

I know this is all sorts of American but I like my Wasabi in my soy.  Deal with it Trolls!

I know this is all sorts of American, but I like my Wasabi in my soy. Deal with it Trolls!

Half the fun of Yo! Sushi is trying to identify the item that is passing by you on the belt before it is out of your reach and could end up in someone else’s belly. Eating at Yo! Sushi is like being on Tinder; sometimes you swipe left when you meant to swipe right, and your soul mate ends up dating Atticus Mc Hipster Pants.

These balls were freaking Amazeballs!

A bird’s eye view of the open kitchen.

Kat and I were invited to experience Yo! Sushi during their soft opening soiree, and we are very grateful that they included us! Even though they had just opened, we could not have been more impressed. The staff was friendly and helpful, the ambiance was hip and chic, and the food was utterly magnificent. I have been to numerous Sushi spots all over this country, and I believe that Yo! Sushi was on par with the best of the best of them. The fish was fresh, the rolls were skillfully constructed, the variety was immense, and the creativity should be applauded.

Ain't that pretty!

Ain’t that pretty!

Yo! Sushi may not be the best spot for a first date due to the hustle and bustle, but in my opinion, it is the perfect place for a second or third date, a gathering between friends, or a dinner shared by a recently realized, “old married couple,” like ourselves to reminisce about the days of yore.

Kanpai (Kan-pie) translates to

Kanpai (Kan-pie) translates to “dry the glass” and is how you say cheers in Japan.

If all these damn words did not convince you check out my stash of leftover food porn from the Yo! Sushi soft opening party!

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The Blue Collar Foodie’s New Meatball Obsession!

For some people the mere utterance of the word meatball can conjure amorous memories of Sundays gone by.  These reminiscences most likely depict Grandma, all 5’2” furious inches of her, hard at work in the kitchen, while the entire extended family waited in anticipation for the meal that created such an aroma throughout the house that lingered until damn near Wednesday.  Most likely if you grew up in a family like this, you send a malcontented glare in the direction of anyone that suggests the idea of ordering a meatball from at a restaurant knowing that it can never be close to these angelic savory balls of meat that are on a pedestal in your mind, and so if I proposed the notion of buying one from a kiosk in the mall, you would probably want to punch me in the face.  Well, get your fists ready friend, because I am willing to take a punch if it means that you will give Meatball Obsession, a brand new meatball centric foodie cart located in the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus New Jersey, a whirl.

Meatball Obsession Logo

The Logo

Meatball Obsession technically started in 2008 in New York City, but its true origins date back to when Dan Mancini’s, the founder of Meatball Obsession, assisted his Grandmother in a Brooklyn, New York kitchen while she prepared authentic recipes from Bari, Italy.   These cooking sessions ignited a passion for cooking within him that could not be extinguished.  So much so that even though he worked in the apparel industry for 25 years, he decided to abandon that profession in order to dive into the often unrelenting world of food service.   Lucky for us, over the years Dan kept his Grandmother’s recipes alive and well in his own kitchen, and therefore we now get to experience the greatest meatball that Dan has ever tasted.

I have to admit, as my wife, Kat, and I were on our way to Meatball Obsession I was slightly apprehensive.  I am The Blue Collar Foodie and all, but purchasing meatballs from a kiosk is as unsettling as buying American made electronics.  As we approached the cart, which is located near the Cinnabon (See Map Below), the fragrant smell of the simmering sauce guided me towards our destination and with each step my worrying seemed to dissipate.  Even though my olfactory senses were being bombarded by every other malodorous mall scent, I could still make out the marvelous aroma of Meatball Obsession’s Sunday Sauce, and that made me feel much better about the meal we were about to partake in.

The Treasure Map

The Treasure Map

When we arrived at the Meatball obsession Cart we were greeted by a welcoming staff that seemed genuinely excited to be a part of this newfangled foodie movement.  Furthermore, since it was the grand opening we were also received by the owners of Meatball Obsession and I got to speak to both of them for a little while about their new endeavor.  Just from speaking to them for a short period of time, it was obvious to tell that they are passionate about the food that they serve and the business that they run, which is an often overlooked integral part of a successful food establishment.

Meatball Obsession Kiosk

Meatball Obsession Kiosk

Meatball Obsession specializes in, wait for it, Meatballs, and therefore even though they serve a few other items, the menu mainly consists of their Meatballs and Meatball related accoutrement.   Additionally, Meatball Obsession is not your ordinary Italian Restaurant and therefore the ordering process is somewhat different than what you may be used to.  You don’t just order meatballs at this establishment, you create custom made meatball sundaes tailored to your specifications. This ordering process is broken down into three fun and easy steps that the extremely helpful staff will guide you through if you are a rookie, as I was:

Meatball Cup

Ordering is only half the fun!

Step One:  Indulge Your Obsession:   In other words choose which type of meatball(s) you would like to tantalize your taste buds with.  They offer Beef, Turkey, Chicken, or Pork Sausage which can be mixed and matched any way you would like.

Step Two:  Choose Your Culinary Vessel and how large     you want it to be:  The tasty meat morsels that Meatball Obsession serve can be served in a cup or in an “Original Pocket Sandwich.”  Both options are served with their special Sunday Sauce and the amount of meatballs that you ask for.

Step Three:  The toppings!  This is by far my favorite part of the ordering process, and in my opinion what makes the Meatball Obsession experience unforgettable.  Meatball Obsession offers a wide variety of toppings that you can pair with their already flavorful meatballs to create your very own Meat Sundae.

Kat and I stumbled and bumbled our way through this process, changing our minds not once but three times, until we were finally satisfied with our order.   I decided to get three different meatballs, 1 Beef, 1 Turkey, and 1 Pork Sausage in a cup topped with Ricotta, Parmesan, Romano, Mozzarella Pearls, and Basil Olive Oil for $11.00 and Kat decided on one turkey and one beef meatball topped with 24 month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and gnocchi for $9.50.  While our concoctions were being assembled, we were informed that even though the idea behind Meatball Obsession’s containers, whether you chose the cup or the sandwich, were meant for people on the move, they are also going to provide seating for individuals that want to enjoy their meals sitting as opposed to walking.

Meatball Obsession Close Up

Cup of Yummy!

After receiving our cups full of yummy, Kat and I took our first forkful of Meatball Obsession together and it was magical.  If we were in a movie, as we chewed that first bite a melodic tune would have played over a slow moving montage of all the disappointing meatballs that I have eaten in my life, culminating in the triumphant rise of the music as I ate this very meatball.   A meatball, with so many layers of flavor, the perfect consistency, and that was swimming in a hearty marinara sauce that is literally so good that I would give up bacon for a year, just to get a peek at the recipe.   If this was not enough, the toppings paired flawlessly with the meatballs and sauce and brought the meal to whole other level.  After we were done devouring our meatballs, we then used the included side bread to sop up as much sauce as we could, and when our bread supply was depleted we just settled on spooning the sauce into our mouths until every last drop was gone.

Cup of Yummy 2:  The Rise of the Gnocchi.

Cup of Yummy 2: Rise of the Gnocchi.

Meatball Obsession also offers a variety of beverages to wash down your tasty creation with.  For the unadventurous, one can order Coca-Cola or Bottled Water.  If you are feeling somewhat frisky, you can go with a San Pellegrino Soda or even better a Manhattan Special Soda in a variety of flavors.  For the true Old World New York experience however I highly recommend a traditional egg cream, created with seltzer and U-Bet Chocolate Syrup.   They also offer a fresh made cannoli that is not filled until you order it, which are imported from Brooklyn, if you are in a decadent mood.

Egg Cream

Egg Cream!

I understand that YOUR Grandma, Nonna,  Bubbie, MomMom, or whatever the heck you call her makes the best meatballs on the planet, with YOUR Mother coming in a close second, but if you are interested in trying the third greatest meatball that you will ever taste, you should make your way over to Meatball Obsession.  I warn you though, once you taste these remarkable spheres of meaty goodness, you may have to lie to your Grandmother on a regular basis, when you say her meatballs are still the best.  You have been warned!