Unwrapped: Where to Bite Out on Christmas [The Mouthful Morsel]

As playwright David Mamet once said, “The Chinese Restauranteurs’ Association…would like to extend our thanks to the Jewish People…we are proud and grateful that your God insists you eat our food on Christmas.”

While my family never adopted this widespread tradition, I wanted to take an unconventional look at how some people enjoy a Christmas dinner.

Because aside from the select few restaurants across the nation that open their doors on Christmas to serve hearty, traditional food, there are very few places to get a bite if you are not carving the Christmas ham.

We all know Chinese restaurants are a good bet.  Whether you practice Judaism, or rather, don’t celebrate the Christmas festivities, there’s one other cuisine almost guaranteed to be available on December 25.

Sushi is one of my absolute favorite foods, and I’ve spent 21 years searching my two homes – Connecticut, and Boston, for the very best vegetarian rolls. After giving up seafood five years ago, it became extremely difficult to enjoy this classic Japanese dish. These cold, cooked vinegar rice rolls are typically served with fish, and the vegetable versions are often bland and unsatisfying.

I make sure to try sushi everywhere I go – I hit a local spot when I was living in London, and had some divine sushi the last time I was in New York. I’m constantly craving these tiny little bites of perfection.

Here’s my roundup of the best vegetarian sushi I’ve found in Connecticut and Boston. These inventive rolls or satisfying deals will make your fellow diners wish they’d ordered the vegetarian option, too.

Oriental Cafe
352 Hartford Turnpike, Vernon, CT

King Maki Roll - $11.95

King Maki Roll – $11.95

The King Maki Roll is the brainchild of Billy and Joe, co-owners of this half Chinese, half Japanese restaurant in my hometown.  Stuffed with sweet potato, asparagus, cucumber, avocado, and cream cheese, and topped with avocado, sesame seeds, and a sweet brown sauce, this special roll definitely makes a meal.  I usually ask the chef to replace the cream cheese with carrot or oshinko, a crunchy Japanese pickle. If you order this, you won’t have room for any additional rolls or sides.

OKI Asian Bistro
415 Hartford Turnpike, Vernon, CT

Fancy Vegetable Roll - $6.95

Fancy Vegetable Roll – $6.95

Less than $7.00, this sweet vegetable roll from OKI Asian Bistro is a steal.  Right up the street from Oriental Cafe, this Japanese restaurant and Hibachi Bar is a welcomed new addition to the plaza with the Jewish-style deli.  The filling – asparagus, cucumber, avocado, and a sweet fried tofu skin – is wrapped with mango, red pepper, and avocado.  It’s bright , colorful, and is accompanied by a fresh vegetable salad with ginger miso dressing.  OKI also has a variety of basic hosomaki rolls, the thin nori-wrapped sushi with one or two fillings. Spinach and asparagus rolls are fresh alternatives to the typical cucumber or avocado roll.  Try shiitake mushroom , sweet potato, or cashew paired with avocado for a more inventive bite.

Symphony Sushi
45 Gainsborough Street, Boston MA

Vegetarian Maki Combo - $11.50

Vegetarian Maki Combo – $11.50

Symphony Sushi, a fast-paced eatery in Boston’s Back Bay, has never blown me away with fantastic, creative vegetable rolls.  They have, however, pulled together a sushi combo that can’t be beat in terms of quantity. 6 pieces of the Grilled Vegetable Roll, 6 pieces of Cucumber Roll, and 6 pieces the Idaho Maki (a tempura-battered sweet potato roll) means more than enough to eat for dinner. You  could easily save half for lunch the following day. Entrees at Symphony Sushi also come with a bowl of miso soup, which really rounds out this meal – for the cost of some fancy rolls at other restaurants. When I order this combo, I substitute the Idaho Maki for an Avocado Roll, which has less calories and more protein. If you get to Symphony Sushi, don’t forget to order dessert. It’s not on the menu, but a ball of green tea mochi is the perfect bite to end the night.

Fin’s Japanese Sushi and Grill 
636 Beacon Street, Boston, MA

Garden Roll - $7.95

Garden Roll – $7.95

Right in the heart of Kenmore Square is Fin’s Sushi, a sleek, affordable restaurant with good service and a modern style. The premiere vegetable roll, with enaki mushroom, asparagus, cucumber, tomato, and avocado, combines non-traditional and expected elements with the crunch of sesame.  The perfect portion for a late afternoon lunch, or the perfect main course with a bowl of miso soup and a side salad for dinner, Fin’s is a great place to grab sushi in Boston.  Unlike nearby places, such as Symphony Sushi or Teriyaki House, which rush you in and out toaccommodatee the ceaseless flood of hungry college students looking for a cheap bite, Fin’s allows you to take your time and savor your meal.

Miya’s Sushi
68 Howe Street, New Haven, CT

Charlie Chan's Ching Chong Roll - $6.00Photo by Bettina Hansen

Charlie Chan’s Ching Chong Roll – $6.00
Photo by Bettina Hansen

Unfortunately, I’ve only ever made it to Miya’s once in my life. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend this place for someone seeking the typical flavors we associate with Japanese food. You won’t want to dip these rolls in soy sauce or tamari.  The self-proclaimed “home of weird sushi” uses only sustainable seafood, and more than half of the menu is entirely vegetarian.  This, by far, is an astounding achievement and a joy for fellow sushi-loving vegetarians. Sourcing local ingredients, like Connecticut produced cheeses, and using housemade, unprocessed brown rice and ginger, and low-sodium soy sauce, makes Miya’s one of the most healthy, inventive, ecologically conscientious restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating at. The roll pictured above is a combination of roasted garlic, black beans, and broccoli battered in whole wheat tempura. Goat cheese, spicy eggplant, falafel, grilled jalapenos, apple chutney, artichokes, burdock root, roasted barley, and apricots are just a few of the unexpected, surprising, and delicious ingredients you’ll find in Miya’s vegetarian sushi rolls.

So whether it’s Christmas day, or your simply looking to satisfy a craving for a little Japanese bite, don’t miss these fantastic places the next time you’re rolling through two of my most favorite places in the world.

Ultimately, the holidays are all about returning to the people and places we love the most.  Satisfy a nostalgic craving for the food your grew up eating, the meals you share with your family, and the flavors that are linked to your fondest memories.  Or start the year with a new tradition, an experimental bite.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season.  Join me on New Year’s for a few Little Words on New Year’s Resolutions, and then come with me as I write and bite my way through 2013.  Because, as Mamet said, “We must have pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” And so it goes for little words, and little bites, from 2012 until forever.