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 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish

 

February 2004

Vol VIII Issue II


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Sushi-go-round: Kaiten Sushi in Seattle

By Kaijsa Calkins, MLIS Day
Sushi is big in Seattle. Just about everybody I know has a favorite sushi bar and will defend it to the end. Iíve witnessed friends heatedly debating the relative merits of driving to West Seattle to go to Mashiko (4725 California SW) or up to Lake City to Toyoda (12543 Lake City Wy NE), when both options involve waiting outside in the rain for at least thirty minutes. (Both are great; try them.) I head up to Vancouver B.C. a few times a year, and sushi at Ichibankan (770 Thurlow, downstairs) is a big reason. Ichibankan is a kaiten restaurant, where the sushi travels around the bar on a conveyer belt, and patrons grab what they want and are charged by the plates, which are color coded to the prices.  

The first time I had kaiten sushi was five or six years ago in Pasadena, at a place called Afloat Sushi (87 E. Colorado Blvd). Since then, I’ve been obsessed with finding and trying out the kaiten places in every city I visit. Lately, a few places have opened in Seattle, and like a good evangelist, I am here to spread the word.

Marinepolis Sushi Land, 803 5th Ave. N.
Sushi Land is part of a chain based in Japan. There is another shop in Bellevue; both locations tend to be busy. My friend and I were lucky to be seated right away, but we saw several large parties that had to wait twenty minutes or more to be seated at the bar. If you go to the restaurant by car, be advised that Sushi Land offers free parking in the pay lot across the street (we didn’t find out until we had already paid).

Of the three kaiten places in Seattle, Sushi Land is the most mechanized. The rice is pre-formed by a machine before the chefs even get their hands on it. I found the rice to be too sweet and dry for my taste, and was disappointed by the lack of variety on the conveyer belt. We ordered fatty tuna, sweet shrimp (which they were out of), and spicy tuna from the chef. The sushi was okay, but not spectacular. The spicy tuna was the best of the bunch. Rolls seemed to be hastily made, and tended to fall apart, making it hard to eat. Still, we filled up quickly and cheaply. Dinner and sodas for two came to $24.05 before tip.

Blue C, 3411 Fremont Ave. N.
I took my parents to Blue C, mostly because itís the cutest of the bunch. After years of sticking to the California rolls she gets at the local teriyaki joint, Mom finally agreed to try some raw stuff, and I wanted as accessible and non-threatening a place as possible. Dad was wary and only grudgingly came with us. Kaiten is great for novices; instead of being confronted by a menu full of unfamiliar words, you can actually look at the food before committing to it. Blue C is also great to look at, so I was hopeful that my parents would have a good time. The place is designed around a Tokyo subway theme. Each of the colored plates is named for a subway line. The best feature, in my opinion, is the button installed in front of each seat at the bar. Pressing it turns on a blue light overhead, catching the attention of a server. You need anything, just press the button.

There was a good variety of dishes on the belt when we visited. In addition to rolls and nigiri, salads and a few hot dishes are available. Among the many dishes Mom and I tried, our favorites were sweet shrimp ($2.50), shrimp tempura rolls ($3), and raw salmon ($3). If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the cold wasabi-flavored mashed potatoes. Mom liked them; I thought they’d be okay if they were warm. Dad stuck with the tempura rolls and spider rolls ($3). The quality of the sushi was about average, better than Sushi Land, but probably not as good as your favorite neighborhood sushi joint. Overall, Blue C has a little more style than substance. The pretty décor and clever theme make this a nice date place, but if you’re looking for really imaginative sushi, you should probably look elsewhere. Total price for dinner and beverages for three was $48.35.

Sushi Express, 5000 University Way N.E.
This little treasure is right here in the University District. I just hope it lasts; I can remember at least four other businesses that have opened and closed in the last few years in the same location. If you have a couple of hours between classes, it is worth the fifteen-block hike to have lunch at Sushi Express. On the two occasions I came for lunch, the place was empty and the train (no boring conveyer belt here) was still. However, once we were seated and placed our orders, more people trickled in and the chef started the train and began filling it up. I can’t wait to come for dinner, when the place is busier and the train is full of choices. Every item I’ve tried at Sushi Express has been perfect. Everything is handmade, the fish is really fresh, and the rolls are inventive. Also, some of the plates have fewer pieces (and lower prices) than at many sushi bars, making it possible to eat more variety in one sitting. Most plates are priced under $3.

If you want something rich, try the Ninja roll. It’s salmon in cream cheese with green onion, and fried. The salmon ends up barely cooked, but still with the firm, raw texture. The negi-tuna is also a good bet. While I’m a bigger fan of toro, the fatty tuna, I enjoyed the red tuna and green onion combination a lot. Because I filled up on my favorite, Ebi, or sweet cooked shrimp, I didn’t have room to try another interesting roll called the Cherry Blossom, which includes two kinds of fish. My dining companion said that the spicy tuna roll she had here one afternoon was the best she’s had in the city. I thought the same about my shrimp tempura roll. Sushi Express is my new favorite sushi joint, kaiten or otherwise. The great value, high quality, and convenient location make it the first place I think of for sushi. Total price for lunch and sodas for two: $17.48.