Sacramento, CA 95825
My husband is not a terribly picky eater. He’s also not one to turn down a free (or, rather, expensed) dinner. I’ve never known him to object to the places I’ve reviewed—at least not until we hit the new, much-hyped Tex Wasabi’s, located on a grungy and unlikely stretch of Arden, the other night. There, he pushed away one of the “gringo sushi” rolls with wan disgust, and flatly refused a doggie bag.
I can’t say I blame him. The roll had sweet-sauced barbecued pork, as well as cold French fries inside it. If you think that sounds vile, you’re absolutely right. I ordered it because it actually seemed like the perfect representation of Tex Wasabi’s. It’s a high-concept kind of place, the conceit being that it’s named for the fictional character Tex Wasabi. In reality, of course, it’s the brainchild (or deviant spawn) of TV chef Guy Fieri. The menu fuses what they call Southern barbecue (pork based in the Memphis style, with a thick sweet sauce, and also brisket, which I guess is where the “Tex” part comes in) and what they call California-style sushi (where do I start?). They throw a whole bunch of fried bar food, giant and meretricious cocktails, and loosely Asian-inspired fare at the unsuspecting diner.
That’s the stated concept. I suspect, however, that the actual idea behind it all is that if you get people drunk enough on shooters of Jagermeister and peppermint schnapps (yes, combined) or 64-ounce “bowlas” (vide: the Rosy Palm, combining Absolut mandarin, Malibu rum, peach schnapps, pineapple juice, raspberry puree and pina-colada mix), they won’t notice how nasty the food is.
Anyway, when I proposed ordering the aptly named “Jackass” roll from the “gringo sushi” section of the menu—wrapped in floury-tasting rice paper, its denizens resemble sushi only in being roll-shaped things with rice in them—my husband protested that it seemed unfair to the restaurant. Hey, I’m not the one who put it on the menu. If someone named Tex hands me a long rope, he can’t be surprised if I want to hang him. I could have ordered the Kemosabe—which has brisket, fries, crispy onions and garlic-chili mayo—or the Screaming Gobbler (turkey, pepper jack cheese, sriracha mayo, avocados and jalapenos) instead. I think we’d have been equally screwed no matter what.
Our evening, actually, didn’t start off that badly. The restaurant is noisy, bustling and full. Our server was attentive and efficient. Bizarrely, there was a kung-fu movie on the big TV over the fireplace (the décor is as incoherent and busy as the menu), but the scene was kind of amusing. The mojito my husband ordered was perfectly pleasant: strong, not too sweet, minty, refreshing. I got a hefeweizen.
That, I regret to say, was the high point. From there, we moved on to the appetizer platter, so we could get a sampling of the starters. (That was in preference to something called “Tennessee BBQ’d Bologna,” which I feel ill just thinking about.) The platter featured bone-dry and bafflingly named “spit stix” of skewered, tough, flavorless beef; a greasy egg roll that at least had a fresh-tasting, veggie-rich filling; insufficiently tangy buffalo wings; bog-standard fried gyoza; and the worst onion rings it has ever been my misfortune to encounter.
Now, I like a good onion ring. Hell, I even like a mediocre onion ring. I do not like an inch-thick onion ring coated in puffy, grayish batter that absolutely oozes oil, slides off the poor defenseless onion and is sprinkled with a layer of pre-grated Parmesan cheese.
I would have been all for going home at that point, but the Jackass roll to come had my interest piqued. We’d also ordered a “Red Dragon roll” combo, which comes with three pieces of nigiri; a veggie roll from the “Wall of Sushi” (rolls devised by guests) called the Woodstock; and some brisket.
When we were ordering the combo, I asked the server whether there were any sushi specials or really fresh fish. Baffled, he said no. That wasn’t a good sign. Also not so great was the fact that the raw fish was mushy and utterly dull and tasteless, the rice gummy and boring. The Red Dragon has spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber and maguro. It was thoroughly uninspiring. Unagi, maguro, and hamachi nigiri suffered from similar problems. The Woodstock roll, alas, came with more of that rice paper stuff, not seaweed, and inside was mostly lettuce. It had very little taste of any kind.
The brisket was inoffensive, if dry and not particularly beefy and smoky in flavor, with a downright sugary barbecue sauce. It came with a choice of sides; we tried sweet baked beans and some macaroni salad so highly dosed with white pepper as to taste almost acrid.
At that point we just wanted to go home and recover, but duty called: dessert. Afraid to trust the kitchen any further, we had mud pie, which is basically a slab of coffee ice cream on top of chocolate cookie crumbs, topped with sticky chocolate sauce and lurking on an oval trencher crisscrossed with lots of other sticky sauces. It’s hard to screw up ice cream; for what it was, it was fine.
I, however, felt a little scarred and, honestly, a little queasy for the rest of the weekend. Fusion food can be good, but sometimes—as in the case of putting cold French fries and BBQ pork in a sushi roll—it goes too far and rounds the corner to just plain gross.