8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail | 407-859-3940 | wasabisushi.com | $
Remember those bygone days when peering into a window to witness the doughy aerobatics of a pizzaiolo was as common as searching for forgotten change in telephone booth coin returns? Well, I'm happy to report that gastro-voyeurism is alive and well deep in the heart of the Florida Mall, thanks to the machinations of kaiten, aka "conveyor belt," sushi. Shoppers can be seen lining the fringes of Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine, peering over the barrier and intently gazing at covered plates of sushi making their teasing 12-minute circumambulation around the restaurant.
Sitting at the sushi bar, we could feel the shoppers' stares and, admittedly we, too, were captivated by the maki merry-go-round. But like retractable-roof stadiums, touch-screen displays and female race car drivers, the novelty of conveyor-belt sushi wore off pretty quickly. When it comes to raw fish and seafood, there are two main camps – the discerning seekers of quality, and those who relish an all-you-can-eat sushi affair. Wasabi satisfies neither.
Of the adjectives bandied about most often during our Friday night dinner, "pedestrian" took the title. The rolls we sampled all fell within the neh to meh range, the better of which was the lucky roll ($5) with salmon, mango, tobiko and a carrot-like crunch thanks to yamagobo, or pickled burdock root. Others, like the shrimp tempura roll ($5) with cucumber and eel sauce, and the Baja tuna roll ($4) with jalapeños and avocado, met the basic minimum requirements for palatable sushi. Even less inspiring was the thoroughly bland blue crab roll ($5) with avocado. The quantity-over-quality crowd won't find a value dining experience here, not unless they keep their focus on the $2.50 yellow plates, all of which carry vegetable-only rolls (but let the red pepper roll pass on by). Each sushi plate is color-coded, and each color corresponds to a price – yellow ($2.50), orange ($3), red ($3.50), blue ($4) and purple ($5). If you're wondering about freshness, know that the plates sit atop pucks with radio frequency ID chips that inform chefs how long a dish has been out on the belt.
Because nigiri and sashimi had failed to crawl their way to our table, we ordered some from our cordial Cantonese-speaking server, who promptly brought us plates of yellowtail ($4) and octopus nigiri ($3.50). After a customary "m'goy," we enjoyed the sushi – that is, until some kernels of uncooked rice spoiled the fun.
If you're considering appetizers prior to your sushi foray, neither the lifeless plate of chicken gyoza ($3.50) nor the sweet and spicy wasabi edamame ($3) were particularly noteworthy. Desserts, by comparison, fared much better: We readily downed the chocolate mousse ($3) and mochi filled with a sweet red bean paste ($3.50).
But neither were enough to gratify our still-grumbling bellies, and the prospect of ordering more sushi was not one in which we had any interest. Our sights were set solely on the mall parking lot, which was sad given how much we'd looked forward to our meal here. "It would've been much more fun if we were high," said one dining comrade. Yes, if laser lights and a little Led Zeppelin were part of WMJC's makeup, it might be worth a second round.
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