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November 13, 2009

RoCK on RA!


In today's guest post, Robert of Cross Keys has a similar experience to mine at RA Sushi, which is always reassuring to me, except he didn't take a classical music critic as his companion and his waitress didn't hand out condoms. Here's RoCK. EL

This week I went to a media event at RA Sushi.  The wife was able to get me an invite, but it wasn’t easy. She was getting stonewalled by the publicist with questions like, “Who is he?”

This lack of recognition had me feeling like Al Cowlings. Oh, how I wanted to say: "This is RoCK! You know who this is, dammit!"...

I doubt, however, it would have done much good. Apparently, the name Robert of Cross Keys is not widely known outside of certain niche markets, and by that I mean my Facebook account.  

RA Sushi eventually decided to let me attend.  Maybe it was because someone backed out.  Maybe it was because my wife told them that I was driving her down there, and the management decided it wouldn’t be good for business to have some guy standing outside with his face pressed against the window.  I can't say for sure.

I walked into RA Sushi for the first time, and I would be lying if I said it is my kind of place. My preference in a sushi restaurant is more traditional, low-key, and if you’ll indulge a moment of pretentiousness, Zen-like. 

Well, that's not RA Sushi.  You won’t find tranquility and Geisha girls here.  Instead you’ll find house music that is turned up to 11 and a healthy looking wait staff wearing adult Mad Libs T-shirts that say “Nice ____. Can I ___ them?” If that's a Buddhist teaching, it's one I’m unfamiliar with.

This event was to showcase a new tasting menu that featured a good selection of various items, including crispy shrimp, ceviche and chicken teriyaki.   These items, while tasty, are not what I’m looking for from a tasting menu from a sushi restaurant. I’m there for the sushi, and the sushi items they had on this menu, with a few exceptions, tended to be mostly baked, fried or filled with cream cheese.  Again, I’m not going to say that these items aren’t tasty because they are, but if I order a tasting menu from a sushi restaurant I’m looking for the taste of fresh fish.  I want bluefin, yellowtail and white tuna.  Give me salmon, scallop and uni.

Everything I had at RA Sushi was very fresh and of good quality, so I believe the place is capable of things beyond cream cheese.  I think the problem is that a lot of the people who go here really don’t like fish, and that leads to a tasting menu that is perhaps too accessible.

In the end I think I have to accept what RA Sushi is trying to be. Much like Sullivan’s Steakhouse, it's packaging sex, food and rock and roll into a party-like atmosphere. If that's not what you're looking for, I don’t know if adding some uni to a tasting menu is going to turn you into a regular.  Either this is your scene or it is not.  

At the end of the evening, however, came a reason to believe that maybe this place did have something for everyone. Over the stereo system there was a break in the hip hop for some “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. And everybody loves Journey.

(Lloyd Fox/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:06 AM | | Comments (48)


RA is definitely not a "traditional" sushi restaurant. It is catering to a younger crowd and has done a great job at doing that. I've been to RA several times (weekday and weekend), and by 6 PM during most weekdays it is packed. Reason being they have a great Happy Hour. I believe it won Best of Baltimore for Best Happy Hour. They even offer their Happy Hour on Saturday's too. I'm not going there for life-changing sushi, but I do go there to meet up with friends and have some drinks and an appetizer or two. Not to mention it won’t break the bank. RA is doing something right, and other restaurants should take notice to that.


Thanks for the Al Cowlings reference (a D@L first, I imagine) and the Journey hotlink, for brightening up this dreary Friday.

Journey? blech. cream cheese rolls? blech.

Edo Sushi is all I have to say!

Maybe I'm old, but shouldn't the focus in a sushi restaurant be on rice and fish, not on sex?

I was forced there against my will for a group thing one Saturday and though the music was too much, and I thought the prices high, I didn't realize it was happy hour. Our entire table full of sushi came to $14 a person. If I'd known it was going to be that cheap, I would have ordered more...

The happy hour is a really good deal, but stay clear of the bar unless you're already deaf.

El, I didn't take a classical music critic, but I came close. I went with my wife, who was a violin prodigy. At the age of 12 she was the youngest girl to solo with the Chicago Symphony for 8 sold-out concerts in Orchestra Hall.

As for RA Sushi, I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to go there. It's not the kind of place you go to have a long conversation about the public option in the health care bill.

I think the clientele was epitomized by this young couple I saw sitting behind me. They were probably early 20's. One was eating cream cheese sushi, while the other one was texting on her phone.
Occasionally they would look up at each other and smile, and then go back to what they were doing before.

Joyce, on the account you like Springsteen, I know you have good taste in music; therefore, I am at a loss to explain your lack of love for Journey.

Bluefin Tuna is about to go commercially (and maybe biologically) extinct due to over-fishing. So don't ask for it the next time you go to a sushi restaurant and use your publishing power to spread the world.

“Moment of pretentiousness”? How about a whole blog post?

Seems like the relationship might be're not into hip and trendy places, and Ra doesn't cater to cranky old men.

You were apparently there to try specific menu items, yet you barely even mentioned what it is you ate, any of their components, and why they worked or didn't. I would've like to read more about the food then your inflated sense of entitlement.

Elizabeth, I generally love the blog, but this inane drivel is unnecessary.

I have a hard time enjoying the "modern" sushi restaurant (RA, XS, etc...). The backbone of Japanese cuisine is delicate and complex flavors. I don't know that drizzling every piece of sushi with a mayo or Sriracha creates the harmony I'm looking for. Or it could be the two-letter name thing that turns me off.

Sadly, I have yet to experience "true" Japanese cuisine in Baltimore (probably because MD purveyors can't get their hands on the exotic seafood), but I'm perfectly happy ordering well-made basic sushi items from Edo and Sushi Hana. If anybody is ever in Philly, I encourage you to go to Morimoto and order the chef's Omakase. It's well worth the money and you'll walk out with a true feel of what Japanese cooking is supposed to be.

Drivel??? You were expecting maybe Dostoyevsky?

I always enjoy RoCK's postings (guest and otherwise). In this particular case, he conveyed, with wit and self-deprecation, the sense of a place. Keep it up, RoCK (and EL!).

"In the end I think I have to accept what RA Sushi is trying to be."

- Exactly, RoCK. It's definitely not everyone's kinda place, and I think people should be alerted to that before they head in for a meal. If it IS someone's kind of place, though, might I recommend getting there on the early end of Happy Hour (which runs from 4-7 M-Sa) when it's still kinda quiet and much of the sushi ("real" and "imagined") is half price and the saki is $1.

I haven't been back to RA since our waitress sat at our table to take our order and then my chicken teriyaki was 90% raw. Or should I say, "ra".

Kenneth Parcell, get the hell off of my lawn you g.d. kid!

There! how's that for inane drivel?

I've been to a whole bunch of sushi places like this recently, most notably XS. I think that it's because a whole bunch of my friends (and lots of other people in their early twenties) want to think of themselves as the sort of people who eat sushi, but are actually really freaked out by the idea of actually trying raw fish. As for me? If I wanted cream cheese, I'd order a bagel. On the other hand, I'm inevitably almost the only person in the whole restaurant who can use the chopsticks and is eating sashimi, so at least I get too look like the coolest kid in school. In my own eyes, anyway.

I've got one: Don't go to the theater for a Mission: Impossible movie and expect to see Casablanca.

That might apply to both RA/real sushi and blogs/news articles.

As much as I love dollar saki, I've actually only been to RA twice in 2 years, or however long it's been open. I'm more a meat and potatoes girl... See: Todd Conner's Newly Expanded Menu, Meatloaf Sandwich


Journey+Wheel in The Sky/Riding The Storm out = delight.

Journey + Any Way You Want It=drek.

So, we do agree in a kind of sort of way, RoCK.

I can't take Journey seriously since they sung about South Detroit.

I am with BankStreet. RoCK's posts are always entertaining and enlightening, and sometimes it is not about the food. If I were to take this post as a serious critique, based on his commentary of the environment alone, I would probably choose not to go to RA. Obviously many people love it, and I am happy that it is doing well. I guess I too fall into the "cranky" old folks category.

Good job RoCK!

RoCK might be cranky, but he's not old.

your comment:
Journey+Wheel in The Sky/Riding The Storm out = delight.

I was thinking of that on Monday (the second tune) as Ida breezed through. I'm guessing that y'all up there are thinking that too, since you are getting the effects MUCH worse than we did, and I'm only about 120 miles east of her landfall.

That song is played down here a lot on the classic rock station in town.

Rob, your classic rock stations playlist already sounds more extensive than ours!

BTW, I'm not sure if it's the same storm but a huge one rolled through OC last night. I heard the inlet parking lot was flooded.

I hope all our friends living out at the shore are ok.

I thought about writing more about the food, but I thought the atmosphere was really what Ra Sushi was all about. I don't think anyone, even the fans of Ra Sushi, would say that it is destination dining; however, it is destination atmosphere, if that scene is your scene.

I think Lee makes a really good point about sushi in Baltimore. Most places around here fall into one of three camps: good simple sushi, american/fusion sushi or bad/not fresh sushi. There really isn't great sushi like you would find at Morimotos, which I have been to, or Nobu, which I have not been to.

Robert - You're right... RA is no Nobu (I was just there two nights ago and could talk for days on how the Omakase menu may be better than sex) but it has both an inventive menu and fun atmosphere.

I fell in love with Ra on a trip to Scottsdale for a business trip and have eaten at many of their other locations like Vegas or Chicago. So I was naturally excited when I heard they were opening in Baltimore.

I would classify it as a fun place to go before you go out for the night.

Robert wrote, “There really isn't great sushi like you would find at... Nobu, which I have not been to.” Wow. Simply wow. I can't stop chuckling at how ridiculous that statement is.

With regards to the “review”, if your only idea of sushi is nigiri and sashimi, why didn't you just order it and try it? It's on the menu at Ra Sushi. Uni, scallops, everything you listed and then some (like tuna belly). I guess the answer is in the quote above: you don't need to actually experience something before you can pass judgment. Quite a feat.

I've been to both Ra and Nobu...and only one exceeded my expectations. Guess which one?

Hey, GIF, RoCK is a "guest poster" giving a review based on his impressions. Who do you think you are? Ruth Reichl?

or more likely, an owner, invester, chef for Ra?

Gibson, I tried a tasting a menu at Ra Sushi, and I would have liked a tasting menu at a sushi restaurant to have more fish. Instead it had things like teriyaki. This is nothing against teriyaki.

The point I was making about Ra Sushi is that they cater to a customer base that wants to go to a sushi restaurant but doesn't really want sushi; therefore the restaurant produces a tasting menu that features teriyaki, while it leaves the uni on the a la carte.

If I went back to Ra Sushi, yes I would order what I wanted from the regular menu.

As to Nobu, yes I haven't been there, but I read the experts, and that place is reported to be among the finest sushi restaurants in the country. I think that someone can state something as true or at least accepted without observing it first hand. This is definately true in the objective realm, but it would also argue it is true in the subjective as well.

I see the point on the tasting menu, and I agree teriyaki wouldn't be on a tasting menu I would want.

But you compared your preferred type of sushi that you didn't try at one place to sushi at a place you haven't been to. That doesn't seem a bit odd?

Reputation is one thing, blind acceptance of reputation is another.

Every time I get my appendix taken out, I'm relying on what experts have told me about the skill of the surgeon. At some point, after doing all the research and due diligence, I am willing to trust the most informed opinions I can find. That isn't blind acceptance.

Dang, Leonora, your appendix keeps coming back?

I always enjoy your guest posts, RoCK, although you do go to places I avoid. (I'm lookin' a you, West Virginia)

It does make me laugh all over the place to hear you called a cranky old man, since the last time you mentioned your age it was the same as my son's....

RoCK, maybe you should just stick to the things you're good at. Reviewing RA Sushi = not one of them.

It does indeed, Lissa. I've got about as much chance of removing it once and for all as I do in ever getting to Nobu.

John B., as a commenter on this blog, RoCK is as entitled to talk about his dining experiences and his personal opinions as much as you or anyone else.

If you are looking for a professional review, read Elizabeth's weekly Sunday review or Baltimore Magazine or someplace that isn't a BLOG.

My, aren't the young folks cranky? Cute, aren't they, RoCK?

Gibson Island Foodie and John B., I think you were both off the mark in your respective comments. RA Sushi held a "media event" specifically to showcase its new tasting menu. That menu, for whatever reason, was light in the sushi offerings, as RoCK noted. If a sushi restaurant decides to downgrade the priority of sushi on its tasting menu, I think it only fair for RoCK to point out the incongruity.

Do the regulars really have to pile on when someone new has something to say? As the object of that behavior previously, I have to say it makes this blog just a bit unpleasant.

The writers did have a point to make. It might not be one you agree with, and maybe could have been made in a subtler way, but I don't think a lighter touch in response would diminish the discusssion.

Richard, you have a point.

Regulars, remember to only pile on when other regulars are being obnoxious, please!

I think Gibson made some good points about my posts. I would view his comments as constructive criticism. I hope he continues to participate in this blog

Now comments like the one John B made are just snarky.

Dahlink, how dare you tell me what to do! You aren't nice!!!! I'm right and we all know it! You should be nice and agree with me!!! Always!

(Yes, I'm mocking someone, and it isn't Dahlink.)

Joyce, I thought Riding the Storm Out was by REO?

Well done, RoCK. Also, you're very gracious when responding to criticism, either valid or snarky.

Right you are, Hot Dog Barker!

Oh well, there's still one Journey song that I like!

I hate that I used to not only know who did every song ever but what the band line up was, and now I can't even get the band right. sigh.

Thank you for your review, RoCK, and thank you to the regulars for helping explain the "culture" of the blog to those who don't quite get it...

That's ok Joyce, I always get Riding the Storm out confused with Head East's Never Been Any Reason. But then again they all pale next to seeing The Boss live, right?


The Hot Dog Barker - Head East? That brings back memories of the Midwest bar and campus concert circuit, circa the late 70's. Allow me to toss in gratuitous references to Starcastle, Roadmaster, and Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows, just for old times' sake.

RoCK is right on. I'm young, kinda hip, and love sushi. So, I don't go to RA. :) But I agree there are lots of people who do like it, and good for them. I am thrilled with Chiyo and don't plan on going anywhere else ever. As for the WVa comment. Eve, There are TONS of great places, just in Shepherdstown alone there's the Yellow Brick Bank, Press Box, The Three Olives, Mecklenberg, etc, etc... But that's another post I guess.

As I've mentioned before, I was a lurker for almost a year before I posted my first comment in March 2009. From the beginning, I was welcomed and treated with respect, even if my opinions were different. It didn't take long at all for this "newbie" to feel accepted as a "regular".

Although I post less frequently now, for a number of reasons, I have noticed more people who post just to blast insults and drop snotty comments. It's obvious that some of them don't bother to read or fully understand before they launch into an attack. It makes me sad to see the blog which engaged in some of the most entertaining and free-wheeling exchanges losing the civility that was a hallmark of this community.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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