The Rainbow roll at Sushi Island
Two dollar sushi rolls automatically make me suspicious. It makes me think of gas station sushi. Sushi is not like a cheap burrito. It takes skill to make.
I paid a visit to Sushi Island, a new South Hill sushi restaurant that opened last week, not knowing that menu prices were as cheap as the dollar store. But there it was: prices for maki rolls in the $1-$3 range. The rolls were four pieces, not the typical six to eight. Even with fewer pieces, it still was bargain sushi.
A deal is not necessarily something I want from sushi- specifically maki rolls.
I prefer well-crafted sushi made by a chef who understands exactly how much vinegar to splash into the rice, or whose palate can direct whether the spicy tuna needs more sting or whether the salmon roll needs more tobiko for crunch. Part of the interest of sushi is to see how the chef presents it, to enjoy the flavors he or she may mishmash together. Bargain sushi doesn't deliver that.
So I dug in with trepidation. And my initial thought of Sushi Island was that it was a good deal, but it won't impress an experienced sushi lover much. I dined with two people and we feasted heavily – at a cost of under $10 each. If I wanted a real sushi experience, I could shell out a few bucks more and get the salmon lover's roll at TwoKoi or the mango paradise at Gari. But those places require a certain kind of dining – sit, order sushi, patiently wait for the chef to compose the fish. In sushi terms, Sushi Island is of the fast food variety. Not everyone needs or wants finely crafted sushi. Sometimes cheap and good hits the spot – especially in a time when bargain restaurants are the flavor of the economic moment. In those terms, Sushi Island fits.
A few thoughts on what I ate:
Maki rolls: Of the six maki I sampled, I'd say spicy tuna ($2) and California ($1.50) were the better of the six. The spicy tuna was modestly spiced, with a bit of a kick of heat. I liked that the tuna was chopped, but with discernible chunks of fish, and arrived cold (beware of warm raw tuna). The California roll was a typical combination of sweet chopped crab – of the krab variety – paired with creamy avocado and crispy cucumber. Both rolls came tightly wrapped, something that was a problem with other rolls. The shrimp tempura roll ($2) was not as well composed –the shrimp tasted mushy and the roll loose and sloppy and difficult to pick up with chopsticks. The same loose rice showed up in the salmon skin roll ($1), which also suffered from a fishy taste. The spider roll ($3) also came with an unpalatable fishy flavor. The maki experience was salvaged at the end with a red dragon roll ($3) that hit the spot – creamy chopped crab salad inside, covered with a layer of chilled, chopped spicy tuna that was spiked with extra spicy sauce.
Next time, I'd order: Alaska salmon roll ($3), with crab salad inside and sliced salmon and lemon on top. I'd also get the crunch crab roll ($1.50), with crab salad and topped with a spicy sauce.
As for non sushi items, there are a handful. But don't expect to find teriyaki on the menu. This strictly is a sushi place with a few other nibbles. The gyoza appetizer ($1.50) arrived crispy golden brown and came with a side of sweet dipping sauce. The calamari ($1.50) was a small bowl of breaded, golden fried calamari. The slices had a stale flavor, though; and no dipping sauce meant the calamari hit a flat note, flavor wise. Baked mussels ($1.50) were covered in a mildly sweet sauce; and creamy scallops (1.50) were deliciously sweet. Chopped pieces of scallop in a creamy dressing popped with bits of orange fish roe. On a return trip, I'd order a double on that.
As for the space, it was nice inside. The atmosphere was much more attractive than when the restaurant was T & D teriyaki. Gone are the rickety chairs, swapped for wood floors and dark wood tables.
Side note: If you're looking for sushi prepared with just a bit more flair, here's a bite report about Happy Bento, located not far from Sushi Island.
Where: 12702 Meridian, Puyallup