As seen in issue 54 of Closer Magazine, published on 2008-10-19 in the "Restaurants" section.
I’m Yukke, You’re Yukke
At Heart Rock Sushi, eating well is the best revenge
By: Thom Debord
When did you realize you were shit out of money? For me, it was sometime in early June, when I learned that my employer would be “temporarily downgrading” my position, halving my workload and pay until the beginning of next year. “We’ll be happy to reassess our financial situation the moment January rolls around,” they said. “It’s just that, right now, you’re kind of overpaid. Considering you’re, you know, a critic. The market can’t support you.”
“Fine!” I thought. “I don’t give a fuck! Doesn’t mean a thing! I’ve got my savings!” But I didn’t have my savings. I returned home to my trailer, brushed the bong and cigarettes and beer cans from the pile of unopened bank mail on the TV tray by the fridge, and learned a frightful thing: a piece of business with the IRS that I had half-assedly tried to resolve in 1998 had been doing its ugly work on my savings account, unchecked, for a decade. Each month, Uncle Sam had been withdrawing $385. I’d somehow forgotten all about this.
“Son of a bitch!” I screamed, and sat down for a long, hard reassessment of the world and my place in it. The next day, I began taking lunch at Heart Rock Sushi.
That first day, my interest was more economic than gustatory. Heart Rock is cheap and looks it. It is not aesthetically ambitious (the place is full of dark, old wood and little Asian decorations assembled on the cheap). The food is not flashy (you know those restaurants where the sushi rolls look like installation art? This isn’t one of them). The prices are almost worryingly low ($7 for a plate full of beef? Could that be safe?). If you’re not really paying attention, you could write Heart Rock off as just
another by-the-numbers sushi/Thai joint. You have to be very observant, or else
motivated by sudden nut-crunching poverty, to notice how unusual the menu is.
It is very unusual, in the same way Yakko San in North Miami is unusual: Along with the standbys, like your Cali rolls and ludicrously named Jewish Bagel Rolls and your Pad Thais and Tom Yum Kais, Heart Rock unpretentiously serves up some genuine Japanese food that tastes fucking great.
It also serves up an almost narcotically low-key ambience. Nobody cares if you’re 6’11” and 400 pounds with hair down to your ass and wearing scuffed leather chaps. At Heart Rock, you walk in looking like Satan ineffectively disguised as the world’s biggest Hell’s Angel, and a sweet little Asian girl grins: “Oh! Big man! Is you just eating alone?”
Yes I is, and I am a man with an appetite. That first day I ordered an eel roll ($5), a tuna roll ($6), yukke ($7), seaweed salad ($4.95), a riceless sushi roll (called iso maki: $7.95) with shockingly fresh tuna, yellowtail, crab, salmon, avocado, smelt roe and
scallions served in a fruity sauce that is almost certainly not the “vinegar” advertised on the menu and a grilled yellowtail jaw (market price, but usually around $10ish), all of which I washed down with a very large Kirin. This is a monstrous meal, enough to generously feed three ordinary people. But mine was no ordinary hunger. I was eating to get happy, and it worked.
I credit the yukke. Yukke is a dish with variants all over Asian, but at Heart Rock it involves minced, raw beef slathered in kimchee sauce, served in a nice looking pile and topped with scallions and a raw quail egg. The kimchee is spicy, but the quail egg is creamy — it is nature’s answer to Cadbury, sans sugar. You beat the egg yolk with your chopsticks until it’s evenly distributed through the cowflesh, and it’s a beautiful experience; it disorientates your palate while clearing your sinuses. Mouthfuls of raw beef being the rare things they are, yukke also has the wonderful effect of putting you viscerally in touch with the reality that you, and no other, are the critter at the top of
the food chain.
Yukke has become a centerpiece of my lunches at Heart Rock, as has that grilled yellowtail jaw. If you’ve ever had grilled yellowtail jaw, you’ll know it’s not as weird as it sounds. It’s wonderful, one of the best and simplest dishes you could ever wrap your gums around, and Heart Rock does it right. They use big jaws, full of discrete hunks of meat, seared in all the right places in that special way that seems to concentrate the fish’s oil into a single, satisfying crackle.
I find that I cannot eat at Heart Rock without ordering these things. But there’s so much more. I’m thinking of donburi, a dish common enough in the civilized world but impossible to find in America (a Japanese omelet in broth over rice, a steal at the $7.95 - $8.95 they charge at Heart Rock). I’m thinking of chicken liver skewers ($1.50 per organ, which is probably insulting to chickens). I’m thinking of a big assortment of savory udon and soba dishes that hardly ever cracks $10. In the last three months, I have eaten all of this and more: I have very nearly traversed Heart Rock’s entire 15-page menu, and only twice have I been disappointed — once by a huge grilled squid ($6.95 and entirely too rubbery) and once by some chicken teriyaki ($13.95, overpriced and thoroughly ordinary).
I am a big mammal. When my position was ‘temporarily downgraded,” I was very nervous — big people, after all, get paid the same as their smaller counterparts even though it costs more to feed us, and getting full is a bit of a struggle in the best of times. And so it is with some awe that I realize I can get a decent meal—in fact, a very good meal--at Heart Rock for $40.
The recession is on for sure, and many things will suffer. My stomach, at least,
will never know the difference.
Heart Rock Sushi
1970 E. Sunrise Blvd.