My heart leapt at the description:
All-you-can-eat sushi! Made to order! For a fixed price ($12.99 at lunch, $22.99 at dinner, $20.99 on Sundays)!
And my cynical brain wondered:
What's the catch? Is it a dive with no appreciable overhead? Is the help enslaved? Are they using substandard ingredients and charging extra for anything of value? Is it really just a buffet in disguise? Is there a menacing guy actively discouraging your sushi chow-down?
Happily, recent visits to Wasabi Sushi, Omaha's first all-you-can-eat sushi spot, found none of the above.
The new locally owned sushi spot in northwest Omaha is exceptionally nice — black and white and modern with big photo murals of all-lit-up, pre-9/11 New York City; generously draped floor-to-ceiling curtains and comfortably spaced tables; and a tidy little sushi bar with a sparkly counter and glistening tile. Upbeat but-not-too-loud music, including some Stevie Wonder. The diners included families, couples, groups and singles.
The fresh-faced sushi chefs looked a little young but didn't seem abused. The ingredients seemed fresh; the flavors and range were good, and the only notable exclusions from the all-you-can-eat menus were the sashimi and the sushi pizza (more on that later) at lunch and a few kinds of sashimi (octopus, squid, yellowtail) at dinner. Servers were welcoming, informed and attentive. And the only dude with a weapon — a diner celebrating his birthday Dungeons & Dragons style — didn't seem a threat.
The only catch I could find was a simple, subtle statement at the bottom of the all-you-can-eat checklist menu, 12 words encouraging moderation: “Please do not waste food. Leftovers will be charged at regular price.” (Regular price here means the per item price on the a la carte version of the menu.)
My dining companions and I all ordered modestly — or at least in small spurts, finishing one round before ordering another. And we left happily stuffed without overcharges. Owner Kong Shun “Randy” Gao told me later that most other diners do, too. The no-leftover policy doesn't mean you will be billed if you don't eat the last few slurps of your soup, he said. It's meant only to discourage waste.
You do pay extra for beverages. And you can order a la carte or in smaller combinations priced from about $8 to $20. But if you're dining in and you're curious, it seems the better deal to go all-you-can-eat.
It wasn't the eyes-to-heaven experience I get at a really high-end sushi bar for considerably more cash, but I found Wasabi Sushi satisfying and a good value. I had anywhere from seven to 12 small dishes per visit. Even with tax, tip and beverage, that worked out to $2 or $3 a plate. That included such treats as grilled squid, beef udon soup and vegetable tempura in addition to the sushi — and freedom from the usual running tally in my head.
Seaweed salad, avocado salad, miso soup and chicken yakitori skewers were respectable — on par with those at other local Japanese joints — and served in small, tasting-sized portions on stylish plates. So were the vegetable tempura, pan-seared gyoza dumplings and steamed shumai dumplings.
Bone-in beef short ribs were a tad tough but tasty.
Grilled squid was simple and terrific. I loved the smoky char and the slightly sweet teriyaki-style glaze on the chewy rings.
The beef udon soup impressed with fat, square-edged noodles that were pillow-soft and toothsome, tender beef slivers and a mild dashi broth studded with scallions and strips of nori, the edible seaweed paper.
Nigiri sushi (the sort that's just fish on a little finger of rice) was inconsistent. The fish was fresh and nicely sliced, but it sometimes dwarfed the rice. The rice, though room temperature and fresh, was sometimes a tad too wet or gluey. And the plating of the sashimi (plain raw fish) and these simple nigiri dishes sometimes lacked style.
But the specialty sushi rolls — the drizzled and sizzled and partly cooked sort — were tasty and indeed made to order. I particularly enjoyed the Spider roll (crunchy fried soft-shell crab with creamy avocado, crisp cucumber and briny orange tobiko or flying fish roe), the Golden Dragon (slices of salmon atop a roll filled with tempura shrimp, tobiko, avocado, cucumber and mayonnaise), and rolls with toasted salmon skin and yam tempura.
A new-to-me category, sushi pizza, was both clever and craveable: a golden 4-inch-wide cake of deep-fried rice frosted with a mixture of minced seafood (or vegetables) and mildly spiced mayonnaise, topped with tobiko and a hoisin-teriyaki drizzle and cut into six two-bite wedges. It might sound like fusion run amok, but the salmon version I had was a creamy-crunchy, fresh-fried wonder. I liked it even better with added wasabi.
Quibbles: Dessert, if you save room for it, is limited to red bean, green tea or vanilla ice cream. Drink offerings are limited: a few house wines and sake, a few Japanese and domestic beers and a small selection of hard liquors for cocktails. And the service, though uber-friendly and attentive, can sometimes feel like an overlapping jumble. Two servers and a host all tried to take my drink order in the span of three minutes. And we were asked how things were in mid-bite a lot.
Still, I got my sushi fix and then some. I enjoyed the experience and the rare indulgence of ordering what I wanted with no worries about going over budget. And I truly loved the underlying idea:
Wasabi Sushi is not just all-you-can-eat sushi; it's sushi for everyone.
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