Tuesday, May 25, 1999

Above the bar

Posted on Tue, May 25, 1999 at 4:00 AM

As mainstream tastes grow more adventurous, perhaps it was inevitable that a swanky sushi restaurant would arrive on east Aloma Avenue, next door to a bowling alley.

Despite sounding like a play on the word "psycho", Saikyo Sushi Bar and Grill takes its name from a combo of "Saigon" and "Tokyo," a reflection of the owners' backgrounds. Eventually Vietnamese cuisine will join the menu, but for now it's all Japanese. And there's a varied selection to satisfy palettes that prefer raw or cooked dishes. Friday and Saturday nights are busy but lunch hasn't quite caught on, as we discovered on a weekday visit.

One of the owners formerly worked as an architect in Vietnam, and his designs have transformed the place impressively from its previous lives. An arched wooden footbridge leads from the parking lot to the front door, and a garden pond is on the way. Inside, the feng shui is enhanced by soft colors, subdued lighting, a small "tatami" seating area and a gleaming sushi bar.

There is nothing complicated about the menu; it's a to-the-point collection of sashimi (fish served raw) and sushi (vinegared rice garnished with seafood and/or vegetables), with some sukiyaki, teriyaki and tempura entrees thrown in.

Sushi rolls are plumply sliced. The "French roll" ($6.95) is wrapped in a crepe that covers shrimp, crab, avocado, cucumber and cream cheese. Dabbed with tingling wasabi paste, it has a lot of impact. We also loved the crunch of fried soft-shell crab, deliciously blended with asparagus and onions in the "spider roll" ($8.95). Inside there was an unexpected orange blaze of smelt eggs.

Tempura fans will find territory to explore in the deep-fried "Sanibel roll" ($6.95) with salmon and asparagus bonded by cream cheese. The vegetable tempura dinner ($8.95) is a filling assortment of sliced sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli tips and mushrooms. The dish is oily, which weighs down the otherwise light presentation.

Pork teriyaki ($12.95) benefits from the sauce -- light, never clingy -- that's washed over the grilled strips of tenderloin, dusted with sesame seeds. Entrees come with steamed rice and a choice of soup or salad. Go for the miso soup; it's satisfying and aggressive, spiked with scallions and tofu cubes.

Service was professionally low-key. We had a sense of space, yet our requests were met in a timely manner. Saikyo Sushi Bar and Grill may just go the distance in a location that's been a revolving door for Asian restaurants.



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