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LET IT ROLL

Unless you've been hiding for the past 15 years, you know that sushi is so "in." Ever since Molly Ringwald pulled out a raw-fish meal for lunch in The Breakfast Club, sushi has been the "it" food for cool people. You can even pick it up at the grocery store, though I wouldn't recommend it if you're looking for above-average sushi. In that case, skip Publix and try Sushi House of Orlando.

Sandwiched into a shopping center next to an Outback Steakhouse and within sight (if you've got 20/20) of the Florida Mall, the restaurant lacks any cultural neighbors. When walking up to the door, all we could smell was a juicy tenderloin grilling next door. It wasn't a great start, but upon entering the ambience changed. A small dining room – more intimate than cramped – features tables ringing the walls, with a few more in the middle of the room. The sushi bar is wedged in the back of the restaurant, lined up with stools so you can watch the chefs roll. Mirrors lining the walls and a giant model ship near the front were ill-advised design choices, but by the time I noted them our waiter stood tableside, hands behind his back, beaming.

Right away we were in a good mood.

The menu has a convenient English translation guide for those needing to brush up on their Japanese, along with descriptions of the sushi rolls. We started with the edamame ($3) and gyoza ($4). I'm not a fan of edamame (steamed soybeans speak to me about as much as beets or asparagus – sorry, Mom). My dining partner, however, said they were some of the best she's had. The gyoza, pan-fried pork dumplings, were filled with the succulent flavor of moist, seasoned pork that more than made up for a slightly chewy texture. They were gone before our drinks hit the table.

Looking around after the appetizers were cleared, I wondered if we'd come out at a down time. We'd been sitting for more than 30 minutes, and we were still the only souls in the restaurant. But soon a table of six filtered in, followed by a nervous couple at the sushi bar, probably hoping the chef could provide fodder for their date conversation.

The dim light from shaded lamps on the walls and candles on the tables made for a romantic, but not cheesy, feeling. Techno and synth-pop music added attitude that more than made up for the model ship. The result was an atmosphere reminiscent of scenes from Lost in Translation.

Our smiling waiter returned with the night's main course. A quick note about the service: It was responsive without being intrusive, polite and helpful without being solicitous.

This, as the name implies, is a sushi place. And there's a sign up front touting it as the best sushi in Orlando. We thought the sushi might be a good bet.

The volcano roll ($8), a California roll gone spicy, was delish. The crab in the roll was not the imitation meat you'd find in grocery-store sushi packs, and the spicy mayo on top was potent. Maybe too much so. While it was wonderfully tasty, there was too much of it, which masked the subtler flavors of the crab and seaweed below. (The problem was easily solved by scraping off a bit of the mayo.)

The cucumber roll ($3) – a slice of cucumber wrapped in seaweed – had too much cucumber and not enough rice. But the crunchy spicy tuna roll ($6) made up for it with its kick and fresh tuna flavor.

In all the sushi, it was obvious that the vegetables and fish were as fresh as promised, but it all had another similarity: The rolls were so loose that they fell apart on the plate. Maybe the chef was having a bad night, or maybe they figure if the flavor is rockin', there's no need to roll.

No matter. The Sushi House was on target with almost everything. A little less mayo and cucumber here, a little less chewy dumpling there, and this would have been a perfect night out.

dining@orlandoweekly.com
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