The first thing I noticed about Big Eyes Sushi was the temperature.
In the middle of January, the place was operating with its doors wide open. Not in a metaphorical way – the two front doors were literally open, allowing the freezing winter winds to fill the small space on the corner of Seventh and Bainbridge streets.
I found a seat as far away as possible from the doors and zipped my coat up as the waiter approached with the menu. Big Eyes had crossed my path several times before my venture there a few frigid weeks ago – several mentions in local publications and the literal crossing of it while in South Philly finally piqued my interest enough to stop for lunch.
Most of the special rolls are not only below the $12 mark, but also have fun names. Who doesn’t want to order a strip tease special roll from a strange man?
I’ll be honest and say that my eyes typically glaze over after reading a sushi menu for a while, and I typically stop reading the descriptions and start ordering based on silliness of the names.
So in the end, my order consisted of the aforementioned strip tease roll and the pink lagoon, as well as a simple crunchy California roll in case my less-than-perfect ordering system backfired. I threw in a shrimp tempura appetizer just in case the waiter wasn’t totally sure of my solo-dining, food-gorging ways.
The appetizer was glorious – I imagine it’s what McDonald’s would come up with if challenged to make sushi. The tangy sauce on top was literally the icing on the deep-fried cake.
The sushi is brought to your table as it’s made, which creates a unique dining experience. I would recommend eating family style if you decide to go, so you can take advantage of each roll as it’s delivered instead of waiting. While I would take a pass on the pink lagoon in the future – despite its Barbie appearance, the warm tuna interior was a little too “Chicken-of-the-Sea” for me – the crunchy California was on point and the strip tease roll was good enough to make me want to take my clothes off in exchange for more. I’m so sorry, mom and dad.
Despite the physically chilly conditions, Big Eyes atmosphere was otherwise very warm. The service was smiley and the wall full of pictures showcasing happy previous customers was reminiscent of some old summer camp tradition.
Back at the lab, my appetite for recreating the dish was not so large.
I can barely roll a sleeping bag, let alone some flimsy rice and fish. And the odds of me trucking it down to some specialty food market for supplies in the phalanges-numbing weather were about as good as Temple giving us a snow day when hell freezes over (read: not so hot).
Plus, the idea of messing with raw fish just spelled disaster. Even looking at them in their crushed iced home behind the glass at the grocery store, their limp lips seemed to mouth, “Don’t do it, Caitlin.” Who am I to deny a fish his final wish? Shout out to Seuss, Ph.D.
At some point in my musings of the recreation of the meal, a cartoon lightning bolt struck my head: sushi in a bowl. As aesthetically pleasing as the simple sushi rounds can be, my favorite part has always been found in the actual act of eating it. So who cares what it looked like? It’s not like some reality food show judge is waiting in my kitchen to judge me on presentation.
With that, I heated up some leftover rice, sliced half a cucumber and an avocado and topped it off with a crumbled crab cake prepared by the able hands of the good people behind the grocery store seafood counter. A little soy sauce and a blind fold and it’s just like you’re eating a California roll – only your self-esteem is still totally intact because you got to skip the awful act of actually rolling it.
Final verdict: Big Eyes is a great spot for special rolls on the cheaper end of the spectrum – just wear a coat. And if the odds of you actually battling the frost to get to South Philly are as good as Student Financial Services offering helpful advice, call on Uncle Ben for a little help making the lazy-man’s equivalent at home.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.