Friday, May 4, 2001

Roll with it

Posted on Fri, May 4, 2001 at 4:00 AM

With the staggering number of Japanese restaurants that have opened recently, it's getting really hard to review sushi bars. I mean, how many times can you say "fresh" to describe raw fish? Of course the sushi is fresh; the place wouldn't be in business very long if it wasn't. If there were two or three places, the scale would be manageable ... but I'm looking at a casual list of almost two dozen places, not including chains like Kobe, so where does the line get drawn between good and bad, exceptional and only so-so?

I can say that Yae Sushi, one of the older, more established restaurants in the area, doesn't really raise the bar very much. I've had much, much worse, true, but I've had better. But this is something I'm sure you've said about a lot of restaurants, so let's just skip to what is good and unique about the place.

ROLLS! Lots and lots of sushi rolls, more than you might find in any two other places combined: the standard rice-with-seaweed kind along with a dizzying variety of specialties. Go ahead, try to choose between the "space shuttle" roll (tempura shrimp, fish roe, avocado and cucumber) and the "panther" (tuna, cream cheese, asparagus and roe). Speaking of panthers, there's a whole section of maki for sports fans, with "Seminole," "UCF Knight" and "Tampa Buc" rolls. The "Gator" was particularly enticing to me, and not because I follow football -- any sushi that involves tempura gator tail, I have to try. And you know what? It's very good.

There's a lot of avocado on the menu, and quite a few salmon rolls. Some selections are better than others. If you're very adventurous, order the kimchee roll or a "banzai" with conch and extremely hot sauce -- I guess wasabi isn't hot enough for some. Don't bother with "Yae jumbo," a futo-maki-style roll, with crab (fake), cream cheese, pickled gourd and avocado within a very large rice circle; it's just about everything I don't like about "modern" sushi all rolled into one, pardon the pun.

Unagi might sound like the name of the teacher in "The Karate Kid," but it's actually freshwater eel, and I am crazy for it, so it's a good indicator to me of the caliber of the kitchen. Again, it's nicely done at Yae Sushi but not spectacular. What is nice is the size of the portions, particularly when ordering the dinner specials, where everything but the kitchen sink is included at a good price, and you could probably get the sink, too, if you asked (combos run from $12.50-$21).

One note: If you value your taste buds and nostrils, refuse the customary hot towel; it's loaded with a perfume that will overpower any other sensation.

If you're at all wary about eating sushi, I would recommend coming to Yae. There are enough wild and wacky rolls that you're bound to find something that will appeal to you.


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