Raw Confusion

There's fine sushi and Korean barbecue to be had at Azian—if you can get past the lack of information

I have been reviewing restaurants for well more than a decade, and in all of those years, I have never seen a restaurant that's as bad at conveying basic information to its customers as Azian is.

Azian started offering sushi, Korean barbecue and a few other things at the former Sushi Garden spot at Alvernon Way and Broadway Boulevard late last year. The décor is a half-step up from what Sushi Garden offered, although the basic layout of the restaurant is the same. Blacks and grays dominate, with TVs and projectors here and there showing either sports or what appears to be an aquarium screen-saver. There's a liquor bar, a sushi bar, the buffet area (which is stocked with goodies at both lunch and dinner), and several dozen tables, which now have "bio ceramic grills" in the middle for the cook-it-yourself Korean barbecue.

As for the menu ... well, I can't tell you about the entirety of the menu, because there isn't a full menu given out at Azian. Sure, there are mark-it-yourself lists for sushi and for happy hour, and there's a laminated card that details the specialty sushi rolls. There's also a lunch bento-box menu. But if you, say, want a menu explaining what's in all of the nonspecialty sushi rolls, there isn't one. Nor is there a dinner-entrée menu, even though our server told us that some dishes are available. (When I asked which entrées are available, he said that the kitchen can freshly prepare dishes available in the buffet line. Well, OK then.)

Nor is the Korean-barbecue procedure at Azian entirely clear to me, even though I have gone through it once. Here's what I do know: On the buffet line—yes, the same buffet line where the cooked entrées sit—are the various raw Korean-barbecue offerings, including chicken, both regular and spicy bulgogi, Korean steak, short ribs, pork belly, brisket, shrimp (with the shells still on) and pork collar. (For $19.95, you get both the all-you-can-eat sushi and the all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue at lunch; at dinner, it's $24.95 for both. If you want just all-you-can-eat sushi or just all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue for dinner, it's $19.95; all of these options include the buffet, which features salads, kimchi, some entrées and a handful of desserts.) You gather the meats yourself, and you cook them at your table yourself.

And that's all I know. At most places that offer cook-it-yourself fare, servers and signage give newbie diners a crash course in do's and don'ts. For example: Don't use the same utensils to deal with raw food and the cooked food. Do cook the meats for x number of minutes. And so on.

Not at Azian. In fact, we had to ask for certain utensils, like tongs and extra chopsticks, to handle the meats. Thankfully, we're not stupid, nor are we food-prep amateurs, so we were able to figure things out. But, jeez, one shouldn't have to ask for the utensils needed to safely prepare food like this.

After all of the confusion, the asking for utensils, and the trial-and error sushi-ordering, you may ask: How is the food at Azian? Answer: It's pretty damn tasty. Most of the Korean barbecue is sauced before you pick it up at the buffet station, and it's fine stuff. The bulgogis—both the spicy and the regular—were Garrett's favorites, and I loved the pork belly. My only complaint was that the bone-to-meat ratio on the short ribs was slanted too much toward bone. Lettuce is provided to wrap the cooked meats in, and that's a nice touch.

The sushi, overall, was enjoyable, although I was annoyed by the lack of a menu for the nonspecialty rolls. Example: I love a good shrimp tempura roll, unless it has cream cheese in it, because I think cream cheese should be restricted to Philly rolls, bagels, celery and little else. Well, guess what? Azian's shrimp tempura rolls ($6.95 separately) have cream cheese in them. Bleh.

Even though we often didn't know what in the hell was in the sushi rolls, we found them to be pretty good; so were the nigiri pieces. The fish seems fresh enough, and the sushi chefs show some fine creativity in the specialty rolls. Of special note is one roll I didn't try (I stuck to the realm of all-you-can-eat sushi, and it was not part of that package): the kettle corn roll ($10.95), featuring popcorn lobster and eel sauce on top of a California roll. It's on the list to try next time.

And, yes, there will be a next time for me at Azian, even if the lack of menus, utensils and instruction were all vexing (and should be fixed, pronto).

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