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Fish With Flair 

Sushi King has the tools to thrive in a spot where other restaurants failed

As I was standing in front of Sushi King, reading the menu that was taped to the front window, a pleasant woman was entering the place. "Great sushi," she claimed. "The best!"

Could that be true? I followed the woman inside.

I was dining solo for lunch and sat at a table where I could take in the whole scene. The walls were painted in that ubiquitous green color, and there were pictures of delicious-looking sushi items and other Japanese effects on the wall. A projection TV had a spring-training game on (which regrettably was changed to the news midway through my meal). The sushi bar held about 10 seats.

The server brought several menus to the table. The sushi menu had detailed descriptions of the various rolls available, and the regular menu offered a wide assortment of other Japanese items. The lunch menu offers "combo plates": For extremely reasonable prices, you can choose from five different rolls (six pieces) that come with three pieces of nigiri, chef's choice. The plates also come with miso soup and a cucumber salad (sunomono).

I opted for the spicy tuna roll ($7.50). The soup and salad arrived quickly, and while the salad was pretty nondescript, the soup was anything but. Tweaked with tiny cubes of tofu and slices of seaweed, the ever-so-slightly sour broth was good for both body and soul.

The sushi soon followed, and much to my surprise, the roll had 10 pieces instead of the advertised six. And thank goodness there were so many. This roll was so fine that six pieces wouldn't have been enough. With plenty of chopped, ultra-creamy tuna, this roll was definitely one of the best I've ever tasted: Not too much rice, a hint of "spicy" tender nori and a sprinkling of sesame seeds all added up to a rockin' roll.

I was still hungry, so I ordered the soft-shell crab appetizer (on special for $3.95, regularly $6.50). It took a little while, but it was worth the few extra minutes. Crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, the crab really didn't need the ponzu sauce that was served on the side. This could turn into an addiction. Dessert was a slice of melon.

A few days later, I met friends Karyn and Edie for dinner. We were the first folks in the place, but eventually, the room filled up with what appeared to be regulars by the way they were greeted by the two sushi chefs.

We pondered the menu and decided to start with several "signature" appetizers: yamakake, a ground mountain yam with tuna ($5); tiger eyes, squid avocado and salmon rolled together to resemble an eye ($7); unagi with avocado ($5); and the salmon skin salad ($5.25). We asked for a hot mushroom appetizer, but we were informed the restaurant was out. Karyn ordered her favorite plum wine ($4), and Edie and I asked for a small Kirin each ($3), but were told only the large size ($5) was available. We went with that and told the nice--but introverted--server that we'd order some fish later.

First to arrive were the unagi and the yamakake. This unagi is served warm. Creamy avocado and tender unagi pieces were wrapped in rice paper, with a smear of thick soy sauce slashed across the plate for an added layer of flavor. The dish drew raves from all of us.

The yamakake was a different story. Let me say my dinner companions are both adventurous and world-wise eaters. The yamakake was beautifully presented (as was all the food). Served in a small cocktail glass that caught the overhead light just so, the white yam had been mashed to a pulp. You could see the pink tuna peeking out from deep inside. But when we tried to get some of the tuna out from the yam, with hopes of getting some of the yam as well, we were stymied. Deep beneath the yam was a raw egg (traditionally a quail egg, but I'm not sure that's what was in this dish), which came as a surprise to all of us. Between the slippery egg and the gummy yam, we could barely get the food to our mouths. I'm sure there are fans of this traditional dish in the world, but don't count us among them.

Next came the tiger eye and the salad. The tiger eye was a roll of thinly sliced (and slightly overcooked) squid that had been cleverly stuffed with the avocado and salmon. Yes, it did resemble an eye, but not so much that it stared back at you. Again, all of us enjoyed the plate. The greens in the salad had been lightly tossed with a soy sauce-based dressing and topped with plenty of ultra-crispy salmon skin: truly a nice salad.

We then ordered yellowfin ($8.50) and tuna tataki sashimi ($8.50), a yummy roll ($6.50), a lobster tail roll ($6.50), a soft-shell crab roll ($7.50) and a little dish called dynamite ($7).

The rolls arrived as a beautiful presentation on a lovely wooden board. Beyond the visual experience, the textures and tastes were also quite fine: a little crunch here, a little creaminess there, some heat, some tang--all totally delicious. The sashimi, too, was melt-in-the-mouth good.

The dynamite was a baked dish with tiny scallops, mushrooms, faux crab and veggies all topped off with mayonnaise. The mayo was baked to a golden brown, and the contents were hot! The scallops, to my taste, were a tad overcooked, but the dish was different, and I could see ordering it again were I eating with someone who doesn't like sushi.

Again, dessert was melon.

Looking back on the woman I encountered on my first visit, I have to admit she was right about one thing: Sushi King does make great sushi. As for the best ... I can't say. But with reasonable pricing and a casual atmosphere, let's hope Sushi King is around for a long time.

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