Being around my sister and her husband for the nine months prior to the birth of their little monkey, I learned quite a bit about names. They had opted to find out the gender of the baby right away so that they could prepare a room fit for a princess. However important it was to decide on what color to paint the walls, settling on a name was more so. Mommy- and Daddy-to-be did all kinds of research, surfing the web, flipping through Baby Name books, talking it over between themselves, consulting with friends and family, because naming a baby, you see, is a very serious matter. It’s so serious that an entire, highly profitable industry has been born out of the fear that naming your child “Bertha” could destine your child for a future as a big, fat blubbering old maid with very bad fashion sense and 47 cats.
They rejected my favorite names of Olivia, Sophia, and Molly, which is fine, since I plan to use those names for my, uh, dogs, and they also ignored my very earnest my lobbying for “Sarah.” They whittled their choices down to a short list of lovely, lady-like names that signal high class and good upbringing. Mom insisted, though, that “Madison” sounds like “medicine,” and of course, it reminded me of an early ‘80s mermaid movie. After much deliberation, they settled on a name that, if the baby naming industry is accurate in their claims that names can determine a baby’s future, will mean that my niece will become the hottest thing in couture handbags. LOL! (It’s not Balenciaga, but you’re close.)
As a marketer, I am also familiar with the importance of names. We studied “branding” in business school, and looked at how names can affect customers’ perceptions of a product or a company. Again, like baby name specialists, there is a whole business that caters to new products and new companies that want to make sure they hit the market with the “right name” that conveys an image of quality/trust/sexiness/speed/etc.
So why on earth a sushi restaurant would choose to call itself California Roll & Sushi Fish is beyond me. The name is ridiculous. If it only served California rolls, I would understand. It would even make perfect sense, at least the second half of the name, if the place were a fish market. But somehow, the name just seems a little too I-can’t-even-think-of-the-right-word-here. Stupid? Yes. When I first saw the neon white and purple sign go up several years ago, I thought to myself, “that is a stupid name.”
But what’s in a name? Is the baby name industry all wrong? Maybe those strategic branding consultancies are all a waste of money and a “bad” name doesn’t mean much. Maybe California Roll & Sushi Fish has a stupid name, but excellent food, so I tried it a couple of times out of sheer curiosity and convenience, since it’s within walking distance (if you have 45 minutes to walk, that is) of my house. If I had to put my money somewhere, it would be on the baby name books, and definitely not toward a meal at California Roll & Sushi Fish.
There’s nothing wrong with the restaurant itself. The space is clean, comfortable, slightly dark, but with large enough windows to let in glowing neon from the mini-mall signs and headlights from Wilshire traffic. The staff is efficient, but not always pleasant. On some occasions, it felt like it was that time of the month. For the entire staff.
Uneven service (and a silly name), though, can oftentimes be forgiven if the food is out of this world. Unfortunately, my last visit confirmed that the food at California Roll & Sushi Fish is highly...mediocre. Mom, my other sister, her husband, and I had been visiting with the then-newborn baby, and stepped out to grab a quick dinner and pick up something for the housebound baby’s parents.
I don’t mind soup that’s not quite piping hot, but the miso soup that started the meal was just barely above room temperature – unacceptable. We ordered a starter, which was hardly identifiable as eggplant because it was drowning in a muddy yellow sauce that was overpoweringly sweet. We didn’t finish it, which is unusual for me because I love eggplant. Normally, I am a little more descriptive when it comes to food, but I can only say that the eggplant dish was gross. Perhaps I should have taken cues from the name and stuck with the “sushi fish.”
The sushi, however, was laughable. Of course, I had a slight negative bias already because I tend to shy away from massive rolls overloaded with fish and dripping with all kinds of unnecessary sauce and garnish as adornments, and California Roll & Sushi Fish’s menu had an astounding offering of creative rolls. But despite my better judgment, we ordered a couple of their rolls, with the understanding that even something with a ridiculous name like “Rock and Roll,” tastes good if it tastes good. The rice was broken and uneven – some hard, some mushy. Some of the rolls looked like they were done in haste, sloppy and loose, and presented as if carelessly thrown on to the plate, and garnished as an afterthought.
Other rolls, like a simple tekka maki, were also sloppy, nori torn at the edges, as if it had been either packed too tightly, or made hours earlier, the nori bursting at the seams when cut because rice had swollen with moisture from the air over time. The quality of the fish in the bigger rolls was difficult to gauge with so many other accessories, but in the tekka maki, nothing could detract from the pallid pieces of tuna, weak in flavor, and strong in its strange, stringy texture. I was embarrassed that I had taken Mom there.
We ordered food to go for the parents at home. Even though my sister couldn’t eat raw fish because she was going to be breastfeeding the newborn baby, I wouldn’t have ordered sushi. We took home safe, reliable chicken terikyaki. She took one bite of it and said that the rice and chicken were too dry. She ate leftovers from the day before instead. Cold, straig
ht from the refrigerator, was better than California Roll & Sushi Fish.
Levitt talks about baby names in the last chapter of Freakonomics (which I already mentioned in my post about feeding children and how it doesn’t predetermine their foodblogging future). He says that it may seem like names are important in determining how your child will turn out, but shows that, in fact, there might be a correlation, but certainly no causation. Whether a child is named “Demi” or “Dolores,” she could go on to be a celebrity actress or a diner waitress either way.
In restaurants, too, perhaps what you choose to name your restaurant when you first open will affect potential customers’ pre-conceived notions about the food. However, even if California Roll & Sushi Fish had been called Amazing Sushi, the food is not even close.
California Roll & Sushi Fish
11819 Wilshire Boulevard (@Granville)
Los Angeles, CA 90025