It's a Small World

Sushi World offers fresh fish and plenty of open seating.

The first couple of sushi dining experiences I had in Tucson, to put it nicely, didn't go so well. The fish was less than stellar, and the prices were less than reasonable. This led me to unconsciously associate sushi in Tucson with ickiness, and as a result, I've been largely avoiding sushi dinners in the Old Pueblo.

I didn't realize this bias until it came time to check out Sushi World--and I realized I was dreading the experience. Such a prejudice, I admit, is completely unfair; I haven't even made it to most of the Tucson sushi restaurants that are generally considered the best.

And it turns out that in the case of Sushi World, such a prejudice was completely unjustified. The fish there is good and fresh, and I'd go back again in a heartbeat.

I visited Sushi World on a recent Saturday night with Hugh Dougherty and his friend Rachid. The restaurant's several hundred yards up Campbell Avenue and around the corner at Fort Lowell Road from last week's reviewee, Lighthouse II; consider this the second in a series of new seafood joints in the north-central part of town.

Entering the parking lot, was chaos. Imagine my surprise when I walked into Sushi World and discovered that there was exactly one customer present at what's supposed to be the Saturday dinner rush hour. (Apparently, there was some sort of event being held at another restaurant in the same shopping center, leading to the parking-lot lunacy.) We were enthusiastically greeted and seated at a booth on one side of the restaurant. The décor is typical for a shopping-center sushi restaurant. The aforementioned booths are on one side of the restaurant with a wall-length mirror above, while the sushi bar sits on the other side. The walls are white, with the occasional hanging piece of art, along with figurines here and there. On a somewhat frightening note, a TV above the sushi bar was turned to a movie featuring Tom Arnold and Steven Seagal on TBS.

Sushi World's menu features typical sushi restaurant fare, with the normal sashimi, nigiri and creatively named rolls, along with Asian standards like noodles, donburi, teriyaki and tempura entrées. Lunch specials and Korean dishes are also available.

Hugh and I decided to make our orders a celebration of places we've lived. I ordered a Tucson Roll ($5.50, an eel roll with spicy mayonnaise sauce), a Las Vegas roll ($8.95, featuring salmon, crab, cream cheese and avocado; it's fried with tempura batter and topped with eel sauce) and a California roll ($3.75) along with two-piece orders of shrimp ($2.95) and sea eel ($3.95). Hugh ordered a Philadelphia roll ($7.50, with salmon, cream cheese, avocado and cucumber) and an Alaska roll ($8.50, with crab, avocado and cucumber, then topped with salmon), along with orders of sweet shrimp ($6.75) and egg ($3). Rachid is from Lebanon, and since there were no rolls featuring the monikers of Lebanese locales, he ordered the chef's choice six-piece nigiri sushi and a California roll ($12.95).

As the sushi chef prepared our various fare, we were served miso soup, soybeans and cucumber salad; all of the appetizers were great. I am glad we were served them, as they gave us something to be occupied by other than the Arnold/Seagal stinker.

They brought our sushi in several waves. First up was my Las Vegas roll. Covered with a healthy amount of eel sauce (so much that it eventually drooled its way off of the tray and onto the table, creating quite a mess), the roll met approval from the three of us. It was tasty; all of the flavors (salmon, cream cheese, crab and avocado) were light, making the eel sauce the dominant taste. Everything was fresh, and as a result, the roll worked.

Rachid enjoyed his six pieces of nigiri sushi: two salmon pieces and one each of tuna, white tuna, mackerel and shrimp. As long as the fish is fresh and the rice is rolled tightly, it's hard to mess up sushi, and this met the two success prerequisites. The same thing went with the California rolls, Hugh's egg and my shrimp and sea eel.

Hugh approved of his Philadelphia roll, although the highlight of his meal was the Alaska roll, both visually and flavor-wise. He declared it as "excellent," with the outside salmon being tasty and melt-in-your-mouth fresh. Rachid and I both stole a piece, and we agreed with Hugh.

Meanwhile, I chowed down on my Tucson roll. I asked one of the servers why a roll featuring eel and spicy mayonnaise was honored with the name of our fair city; she paused, laughed and exclaimed: "Because Tucson's hot!" She didn't explain the eels, though. (I could make a joke equating certain local politicians and businessfolk with slimy, slithery creatures, but I'll refrain.) Whatever; the roll was tasty, although I was disappointed in the volume of eel (one end piece of the long roll was completely devoid of eel, and what eel there was seemed fattier than normal).

When all was said and done, our table looked like a sushi war zone. Two huge brown spots soiled the once-white tablecloth (one was from the eel sauce runover; the other was from an accident caused by yours truly involving my dish of soy sauce and wasabi), and empty trays were strewn about. We ate the carved orange chunks served to us along with the check, paid the bill and left without waiting to see how the TBS movie ended.

But we were full and satisfied--and my association of Tucson and sushi was much enhanced. I hope more people will check out Sushi World; it's a fine sushi joint that deserves a shot.

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