Japanese/Sushi in Orlando with Kid Friendly

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    After a slowdown from the sushi overload of last year, several new restaurants have opened lately in various parts of town. Gracing the dining hot spot of Sand Lake Road is a familiar name in new clothing: Amura.

    Owned by the same folks behind the cozy Church Street location, Amura on Sand Lake is upscale and reservedly glitzy. It's to their credit that, despite some stiff competition and the shaky state of Church Street, Amura has thrived enough to expand.

    Owned by the same folks behind the cozy Church Street location, Amura on Sand Lake is upscale and reservedly glitzy. It's to their credit that, despite some stiff competition and the shaky state of Church Street, Amura has thrived enough to expand.

    This venue includes teppan tables, secluded on one side of the restaurant from the main room; judging by the appreciative noises coming from that end they seem to go over well. The new Amura is a gorgeous space, with backlit glass walls, rich marble flooring and tiny halogen lights suspended invisibly overhead like stars. But oohs and aahs at the decor quickly turn to gasps at the pricing – $21.99 for boring salt-coated scallops? A "deluxe Isleworth boat" sushi assortment for $99.98?

    This venue includes teppan tables, secluded on one side of the restaurant from the main room; judging by the appreciative noises coming from that end they seem to go over well. The new Amura is a gorgeous space, with backlit glass walls, rich marble flooring and tiny halogen lights suspended invisibly overhead like stars. But oohs and aahs at the decor quickly turn to gasps at the pricing – $21.99 for boring salt-coated scallops? A "deluxe Isleworth boat" sushi assortment for $99.98?

    The quality of the sushi does remain high, and it's particularly nice to see varieties of fish that have a low environmental impact, like hamachi (yellowtail, a kind of amberjack) and saba (mackerel). The saba is particularly good, with a slightly pickled taste that complements the firm rice. I recommend any of their nigiri sushi or sashimi, which glistens like jewels under those lights, except for the sashimi appetizer ($8.99), which includes a piece of surimi (that horrible fake crab). Surimi also turned up in the sunomono salad ($7.99) – shame on them.

    The quality of the sushi does remain high, and it's particularly nice to see varieties of fish that have a low environmental impact, like hamachi (yellowtail, a kind of amberjack) and saba (mackerel). The saba is particularly good, with a slightly pickled taste that complements the firm rice. I recommend any of their nigiri sushi or sashimi, which glistens like jewels under those lights, except for the sashimi appetizer ($8.99), which includes a piece of surimi (that horrible fake crab). Surimi also turned up in the sunomono salad ($7.99) – shame on them.

    The rolls didn't fare as well as the sushi. The "bamboo wine roll" ($8.99) of white tuna wrapped in avocado was limp and tasteless, the avocado overwhelming other flavors. And the "Magic roll" ($7.99), with shrimp, crab and asparagus was so soggy with a sweet, watery sauce, that it was almost impossible to pick up.

    The rolls didn't fare as well as the sushi. The "bamboo wine roll" ($8.99) of white tuna wrapped in avocado was limp and tasteless, the avocado overwhelming other flavors. And the "Magic roll" ($7.99), with shrimp, crab and asparagus was so soggy with a sweet, watery sauce, that it was almost impossible to pick up.

    It's when we get to the kitchen that everything falls apart. Not everyone likes the same thing, but I'll bet very few people enjoy oily and lukewarm shrimp tempura, with batter-dipped vegetables that are either undercooked or in such large pieces, like the broccoli, that raw batter sits inside as an unpleasant surprise. All that for $16.95. "fiery garlic chicken" ($15.99), a small portion of chewy chicken bits, was more overseasoned than fiery. The "geisha shrimp" ($18.99) were battered, then covered in an odd white sauce, with a bitter, burnt garlic taste that lingered for hours.

    It's when we get to the kitchen that everything falls apart. Not everyone likes the same thing, but I'll bet very few people enjoy oily and lukewarm shrimp tempura, with batter-dipped vegetables that are either undercooked or in such large pieces, like the broccoli, that raw batter sits inside as an unpleasant surprise. All that for $16.95. "fiery garlic chicken" ($15.99), a small portion of chewy chicken bits, was more overseasoned than fiery. The "geisha shrimp" ($18.99) were battered, then covered in an odd white sauce, with a bitter, burnt garlic taste that lingered for hours.

    If you go, stay with what Amura knows best – sushi – and let the kitchen staff take a break.

    A much-awaited renovation gives an updated look and feel to this downtown establishment hidden away on Church Street. Blissfully undiminished is the quality of the food ' seaweed salad that crunches just right and sushi so fresh it needs no adornment (though the elaborate rolls are delicious).

    From the shores of Brooklyn comes Bayridge Sushi, one of the newest entries in metro Orlando's crowded Japanese-restaurant market.

    Not that Brooklyn isn't also teeming with sushi and sashimi. Bay Ridge is a tiny neighborhood right on the New York Bay, and to succeed there, you have to be darn good.

    Not that Brooklyn isn't also teeming with sushi and sashimi. Bay Ridge is a tiny neighborhood right on the New York Bay, and to succeed there, you have to be darn good.

    Owner and sushi chef Ben Lu was trained by a venerable Manhattan sushi master for many years, and says he moved his restaurant here for the "business opportunities."

    Owner and sushi chef Ben Lu was trained by a venerable Manhattan sushi master for many years, and says he moved his restaurant here for the "business opportunities."

    Bayridge Sushi is in an odd, slightly cowboy-looking building on the outside, but inside it's thoroughly Far East, with paper screens and blond wood surrounding intimate tables, and the sushi bar up front. There is even a tatami room for those nimble of knee.

    Bayridge Sushi is in an odd, slightly cowboy-looking building on the outside, but inside it's thoroughly Far East, with paper screens and blond wood surrounding intimate tables, and the sushi bar up front. There is even a tatami room for those nimble of knee.

    Unlike a lot of local Japanese eateries, the menu isn't numbingly extensive, but it narrows the hot dishes down to teriyaki, noodles and tempura, focusing instead on sushi and rolls.

    Unlike a lot of local Japanese eateries, the menu isn't numbingly extensive, but it narrows the hot dishes down to teriyaki, noodles and tempura, focusing instead on sushi and rolls.

    I liked the slightly expensive but convenient a la carte sushi menu, from which you can order single pieces that show off Lu's talents.

    I liked the slightly expensive but convenient a la carte sushi menu, from which you can order single pieces that show off Lu's talents.

    The white tuna (shiro, $4.25) is an absolute order; hold the morsel in your mouth and let the buttery fish slowly cook on your tongue.

    The white tuna (shiro, $4.25) is an absolute order; hold the morsel in your mouth and let the buttery fish slowly cook on your tongue.

    Eel (unagi, $4.25) is my weakness, prepared here with less of the obligatory sweet sauce to let the flavor shine through.

    Eel (unagi, $4.25) is my weakness, prepared here with less of the obligatory sweet sauce to let the flavor shine through.

    The tuna is bright pink to dark red, depending on the cut ($3.95 to $4.45), and it tastes of clear water.

    The tuna is bright pink to dark red, depending on the cut ($3.95 to $4.45), and it tastes of clear water.

    My only complaint was the "crab stick" ($3.25) which, like the crab-dumpling appetizer ($4.50) was not real crab, but surimi – you know, that formed whitefish stuff.

    My only complaint was the "crab stick" ($3.25) which, like the crab-dumpling appetizer ($4.50) was not real crab, but surimi – you know, that formed whitefish stuff.

    A better choice is the slightly pickled mackerel with its bracing vinegar bite (saba, $3.25).

    A better choice is the slightly pickled mackerel with its bracing vinegar bite (saba, $3.25).

    The appetizer that was particularly pleasing was the nasu ($3.25), a small jewel of a Japanese eggplant, split and broiled with a topping of miso and ponzu sauce for a sweet contrast to the deep eggplant flavor.

    The appetizer that was particularly pleasing was the nasu ($3.25), a small jewel of a Japanese eggplant, split and broiled with a topping of miso and ponzu sauce for a sweet contrast to the deep eggplant flavor.

    I'm actually not a fan of rolls, but there's a wide selection of not-too-bizarre combinations. The "rainbow," "California" and "dragon" rolls are all here (and not much different from other local concoctions), but I did like the taste and texture variations in the "Bayridge roll" of tuna, salmon and avocado ($8.95).

    I'm actually not a fan of rolls, but there's a wide selection of not-too-bizarre combinations. The "rainbow," "California" and "dragon" rolls are all here (and not much different from other local concoctions), but I did like the taste and texture variations in the "Bayridge roll" of tuna, salmon and avocado ($8.95).

    Bayridge Sushi is a long way from the Brooklyn shores, but in its new Florida digs is a smart choice for tasty, well-prepared sushi.

    Sushi and noodles are all the rage at this cool lunch spot. Handsomely presented "torch rolls" with conch, scallops, salmon, tuna and sriracha are luscious, while spicy red tobiko proffer a proper pop. Bento boxes run the gamut and a bonanza of boba awaits tea-totalers.

    Picking up sushi for dinner on the way home from work is a fairly daunting proposition in that it usually means stopping by the Japanese deli case near the produce section at your local grocery store. The convenience is nice, but the sushi – while tolerable and far better than a delivery pizza – leaves something to be desired (especially the weird, plastic-looking tuna). If you're one of the approximately 80 billion people who uses East Colonial Drive for the daily trip home, you've no doubt noticed the poster-sized photo of the scrumptious-looking "Sky Tray" of sushi that graces the window of Bikkuri Sushi and wondered: Wouldn't that be great for dinner?

    Although there is limited seating inside Bikkuri, the restaurant's specialty is takeout, as the menu is almost completely composed of takeout trays. From the Rose Party (32 pieces, all rolls; $13.29) to the African Violet (80 pieces of rolls, 10 nigiri sushi; $46.59), a variety of sizes and combinations is available and all of them are, surprisingly enough, priced more reasonably than the stuff in the grocery store.

    The 72 pieces (and $50 price tag) of the Sky Tray might be a little much for a typical after-work meal, but I had friends coming over and figured it would be a good opportunity to sample Bikkuri's skills. Still, none of us expected Bikkuri's fare to be as fresh as it was. Some of the nigiri wasn't cut to perfection (a tiny piece of bone showed up in some yellowtail), but the fish was excellent and well-chosen, and the rolls were beautiful and bursting with flavor.

    It would have been unimaginable a few years ago to think about picking up sushi as easily as picking up a pizza, much less FRESH sushi, but Bikkuri's tray combinations make it easy, and their excellent sushi makes it a pleasure.

    We all know what image the word "buffet" conjures up, and it's not a complimentary one if you're looking for a fine meal. Add "crazy" to that, all sorts of pictures spring to mind that would make the late eccentric filmmaker Ed Wood blush.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Think of it more as Asian communal eating rather than a buffet. And since there are Japanese creatures akin to foxes running wild in their native country, I'll coin a new phrase and say, "Crazy Buffet is crazy like a kitsune."

    Rumor had it that in recent years, Dragonfly – Gainesville's much-lauded modern izakaya – had lost some of its luster in its effort to maintain "it spot" status among the college town's cognoscenti. So, like those naysayers' attitudes, the posh Japanese resto headed south to the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando, intent on wowing a less judgmental audience. At first blush, the place does indeed impress – the glossy wraparound sushi bar and angled bento-box ceiling are pure eye candy inside this trendster's haven. Tranquil it's not, but with a name like Dragonfly," one would expect the joint to be abuzz in music, chatter and hubbub, and it is. The restaurant's website, however, offers an alternative description of the vibe:

    Dragonfly strives to reach an emotional enlightenment through the balancing of the Sensual, Spiritual and Savory philosophy. Dragonfly is a modern day female yakuza boss.

    The first sentence reads like a bad Babelfish translation; the second – well, that's just bloody amusing, if not a little threatening. Really, apart from the heavily bandaged pinkies on all the servers and cooks, there's nothing remotely menacing here. Daunting, yes – for instance, the menu, which comprises a swarm of small plates of the sushi, sashimi and robata (grilled simply over charcoal) variety. The indulgent passion platter ($24) is a testament to the slicing skills of the sashimi chefs – nine pieces of ruby-red tuna, plush salmon and buttery izume dai (farm-raised tilapia) are artfully presented, while yellowtail sashimi ($6) is spectacularly melt-in-your-mouth. Signature dragonfly rolls ($14), while meaty, are somewhat cumbersome, with tuna and albacore wrapped with thick strips of grouper, then topped with scallions and eel sauce. The fact that the rolls are baked lends to their corpulence, but it's all just a bit too much for its own good. A mistake in our order resulted in a complimentary plate of yellowtail collar (regularly $14), a truly outstanding piece of fish and, like all their robata items, grilled over imported, smoke-free bincho-tan charcoal. 

    Other robata favorites we joyfully gorged on were shishito peppers ($4), skewered chicken breast ($5) and sublime bone-in short ribs ($9) served with kimchi. The latter, a nod to Korean galbi, is further sparked with a dip into the spicy mayo and orange yuzu sauces. Both beef tataki ($10), made of rare, lightly seared ribeye mixed with daikon and ponzu, and sesame-bolstered wakame salad ($5) show that the kitchen can also do the simple things right. No izakaya experience would be complete without a swig of sake ' we liked the crisp, clean and mellow taste of the Hatsumago junmaishu ($24).

    Desserts aren't listed on a menu but, rather, recited by rote. We nodded when "green tea tiramisu" ($7) was uttered, which turned out to be more gimmick than concept. The red-bean ice cream ($3) was as modest and toothsome as a meal-ender can get; the bowl came with dollops of flavorless green-tea ice cream and surprisingly snappy ginger ice cream, but we would've preferred three scoops of that blushy confection.

    There's no question that Dragonfly is dressed to impress, and with Amura and Nagoya just yards away, the sushi scene on the corner of Sand Lake Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard has certainly gotten a lot more competitive. For Dragonfly's sake, here's hoping it doesn't make like its namesake and live an intense, albeit fleeting, existence.

    There's no question that Dragonfly is dressed to impress, and with Amura and Nagoya just yards away, the sushi scene on the corner of Sand Lake Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard has certainly gotten a lot more competitive. For Dragonfly's sake, here's hoping it doesn't make like its namesake and live an intense, albeit fleeting, existence.

    Believe it or not, some of the best sushi in our humble burg comes from the Bangladeshi brothers behind Winter Park's fiercely popular Fuji Sushi. One of the brothers, known simply as Mohani to his many sushi worshippers, is to seaweed and sticky rice what Picasso was to paint and canvas. Luckily for his fans on the west side, Mohani has opened a sister location in the Universal Studios/Dr. Phillips area, with a super-hip classic modern/Japanese décor that's a stark contrast to the flagship. Here at Fuji's spiffy new spot, you can sit at the space-agey, frosted-glass sushi bar, underlit with glowing blue lights, and indulge in some of the most amazing sushi this side of Tokyo.

    With so many sushi restaurants to choose from, it's not hard to find a decent slice of yellowtail or tuna. So how does one stand out in an ocean of sushi? For Fuji, it's the rolls. As a major creative force behind Fuji's culinary fame, Mohani dares to develop the most unheard-of food combinations in the history of sushi. Take the "candy cane" roll ($8.95), for example. Named for its striped, candylike appearance, it combines spicy snow crab and asparagus topped with red and buttery white tuna strips. The combination, especially the two tunas, will impress even the most discerning of palates.

    With so many sushi restaurants to choose from, it's not hard to find a decent slice of yellowtail or tuna. So how does one stand out in an ocean of sushi? For Fuji, it's the rolls. As a major creative force behind Fuji's culinary fame, Mohani dares to develop the most unheard-of food combinations in the history of sushi. Take the "candy cane" roll ($8.95), for example. Named for its striped, candylike appearance, it combines spicy snow crab and asparagus topped with red and buttery white tuna strips. The combination, especially the two tunas, will impress even the most discerning of palates.

    For a richer, more buttery taste, the "polar bear" roll ($7.50) delivers the goods with salmon, white tuna, cream cheese and crunchy tempura crumbs.

    For a richer, more buttery taste, the "polar bear" roll ($7.50) delivers the goods with salmon, white tuna, cream cheese and crunchy tempura crumbs.

    A big part of Fuji's success lies in the something-for-everyone menu. You don't have to eat -- or even like -- raw fish to enjoy a meal here. Vegetarians can choose from a variety of hearty rolls, like the toothy "Popeye" roll ($5.25), done with spinach and tempura sweet potato.

    A big part of Fuji's success lies in the something-for-everyone menu. You don't have to eat -- or even like -- raw fish to enjoy a meal here. Vegetarians can choose from a variety of hearty rolls, like the toothy "Popeye" roll ($5.25), done with spinach and tempura sweet potato.

    Low-carbers craving something more exciting than plain ol' sashimi will be thrilled by the "naruto maki" roll ($6.50) of salmon, crab, avocado, cream cheese and ponju sauce in thinly coiled cucumber instead of rice.

    Low-carbers craving something more exciting than plain ol' sashimi will be thrilled by the "naruto maki" roll ($6.50) of salmon, crab, avocado, cream cheese and ponju sauce in thinly coiled cucumber instead of rice.

    If you like fish, but not the raw variety, the whitefish "dynamite" roll ($6.95) lives up to its name. Topped with a mixture of the cooked fish in a spicy, creamy sauce and broiled until browned, the end product melts in your mouth; you and your dining partner will be eyeing the last piece.

    If you like fish, but not the raw variety, the whitefish "dynamite" roll ($6.95) lives up to its name. Topped with a mixture of the cooked fish in a spicy, creamy sauce and broiled until browned, the end product melts in your mouth; you and your dining partner will be eyeing the last piece.

    The "dancing eel" roll ($8.25) might create a similar scuffle with its perfectly grilled eel, generously draped over a roll of crab, avocado, cream cheese and slightly sweet eel sauce.

    The "dancing eel" roll ($8.25) might create a similar scuffle with its perfectly grilled eel, generously draped over a roll of crab, avocado, cream cheese and slightly sweet eel sauce.

    While the culinary delights of Fuji Sushi's many famous rolls are no secret to legions of Central Floridians, the sushi empire's new location still is, so go now while its still fairly new; inevitably, with food this good, getting a table there is bound to become a bloodsport.

    What do soft-shell crabs have in common with the Orlando Magic? Sports fans could debate this for hours, but the answer is: They're on the menu at Fuji Sushi – sort of.

    This new restaurant near the busy crossroads of Lee Road and Highway 17-92 offers some of the most sumptuous sushi in the Winter Park area, and they name it after local points of interest. So the "Orlando Magic roll" ($8.95) is prepared with soft-shell crab and chopped vegetables. The "Lee Road roll" ($5.95) contains eel and salmon skin. The "Rollins roll" ($4.95) offers crab, avocado, cucumbers with a tempura batter.

    This new restaurant near the busy crossroads of Lee Road and Highway 17-92 offers some of the most sumptuous sushi in the Winter Park area, and they name it after local points of interest. So the "Orlando Magic roll" ($8.95) is prepared with soft-shell crab and chopped vegetables. The "Lee Road roll" ($5.95) contains eel and salmon skin. The "Rollins roll" ($4.95) offers crab, avocado, cucumbers with a tempura batter.

    The names and ingredients don't always match up, or even make sense, but when the sushi is this good, who cares? Dining here was a rediscovery of how sensual sushi can be. Really good sushi, the kind served at Fuji, is dense in texture, yet light and oceanic in its flavors. A little bit goes a long way and is immensely satisfying.

    The names and ingredients don't always match up, or even make sense, but when the sushi is this good, who cares? Dining here was a rediscovery of how sensual sushi can be. Really good sushi, the kind served at Fuji, is dense in texture, yet light and oceanic in its flavors. A little bit goes a long way and is immensely satisfying.

    As a prelude to dinner, we enjoyed the "Fuji roll" ($7.95). Each slice was plump and heavy, packed with an array of hamachi, eel, scallions, cucumbers and asparagus. It was rolled in sesame seeds and flying-fish eggs for a blaze of atomic-orange color. Another appetizing variety is the "rock and roll" ($7.95), with tuna, eel, crab, asparagus and scallions. As a clever touch, the sliced rolls were cradled on the deck of a polished miniature boat platter.

    As a prelude to dinner, we enjoyed the "Fuji roll" ($7.95). Each slice was plump and heavy, packed with an array of hamachi, eel, scallions, cucumbers and asparagus. It was rolled in sesame seeds and flying-fish eggs for a blaze of atomic-orange color. Another appetizing variety is the "rock and roll" ($7.95), with tuna, eel, crab, asparagus and scallions. As a clever touch, the sliced rolls were cradled on the deck of a polished miniature boat platter.

    Moving along to soups and salads, we preferred osumashi ($1), clear fish broth, although the miso soup ($1) was not bad, with its soy-bean broth. We couldn't resist the hijiki ($4), a warm salad of black seaweed that had an intriguing smokiness. Of everything we ordered, this was the item that caused dueling chopsticks. A close second was ika karage ($4), strips of garlic-battered squid meat, then deep fried.

    Moving along to soups and salads, we preferred osumashi ($1), clear fish broth, although the miso soup ($1) was not bad, with its soy-bean broth. We couldn't resist the hijiki ($4), a warm salad of black seaweed that had an intriguing smokiness. Of everything we ordered, this was the item that caused dueling chopsticks. A close second was ika karage ($4), strips of garlic-battered squid meat, then deep fried.

    Out of curiosity, we tried the "Japanese curry" platter ($11.95), a medley of seafood, vegetables and rice in a mild sauce. It was OK but served as a reminder that curry is best saved for Indian restaurants.

    Out of curiosity, we tried the "Japanese curry" platter ($11.95), a medley of seafood, vegetables and rice in a mild sauce. It was OK but served as a reminder that curry is best saved for Indian restaurants.

    Adding to our enjoyment, the decor is simple and subdued. Lustrous wood partitions envelop the tables and make them seem utterly private, and the primary lighting comes from a single rice paper lantern.

    Adding to our enjoyment, the decor is simple and subdued. Lustrous wood partitions envelop the tables and make them seem utterly private, and the primary lighting comes from a single rice paper lantern.

    The service is sensitive and responsive. A glance from across the room brought someone immediately to the table. Fuji Sushi pays attention to detail – and it shows.

    Altamonte Drive near I-4 isn't exactly known as a dining hot spot, what with the never-ending strip of fast food, chain food and, well, almost-food lining the road. Still, there are a few shining moments in the otherwise ketchup-slathered landscape, such as Amira's and Sam Seltzer's nearby and, for a fairly decent meal just outside Altamonte Mall, Bahama Breeze.

    Add to that list Hana Sushi, situated in the Renaissance Shopping Center on the west side of the mall. It's a plaza going through a transition, with many stores vacant or under construction, and I guess the Hana folks, who have been there since December, are hoping the changes will do them good, because right now it is an obscure place to eat sushi.

    Add to that list Hana Sushi, situated in the Renaissance Shopping Center on the west side of the mall. It's a plaza going through a transition, with many stores vacant or under construction, and I guess the Hana folks, who have been there since December, are hoping the changes will do them good, because right now it is an obscure place to eat sushi.

    Like many of the town's new sushi bars, it's scantly decorated with light wood tables and some lovely brush prints on the walls. I felt sorry for the four fish in the corner tank and wondered if they knew what was going on right in front of them.

    Like many of the town's new sushi bars, it's scantly decorated with light wood tables and some lovely brush prints on the walls. I felt sorry for the four fish in the corner tank and wondered if they knew what was going on right in front of them.

    The restaurant's tables were practically empty when we were there, but the sushi bar was amazingly crowded with people who were obviously regulars, a surprising thing for such an odd location, with several people wagering who could eat the largest lump of wasabi. I guess nobody bets on football anymore.

    The restaurant's tables were practically empty when we were there, but the sushi bar was amazingly crowded with people who were obviously regulars, a surprising thing for such an odd location, with several people wagering who could eat the largest lump of wasabi. I guess nobody bets on football anymore.

    The sushi menu is full of those specialty rolls that combine odd and usually cooked ingredients for those who don't think pristinely fresh tuna is inventive enough but haven't gotten the hang of raw fish yet. I ordered the rainbow roll ($6.95), which seemed interesting: tuna, carrot and cucumber wrapped with grilled eel, which is a weakness of mine. It would have been perfect if not for the inclusion of cream cheese (who came up with that?) that melded the tastes and textures into one schmear-laden blur.

    The sushi menu is full of those specialty rolls that combine odd and usually cooked ingredients for those who don't think pristinely fresh tuna is inventive enough but haven't gotten the hang of raw fish yet. I ordered the rainbow roll ($6.95), which seemed interesting: tuna, carrot and cucumber wrapped with grilled eel, which is a weakness of mine. It would have been perfect if not for the inclusion of cream cheese (who came up with that?) that melded the tastes and textures into one schmear-laden blur.

    It may not be the best Japanese food in town, but you sure get a lot of it. Along with the regular list of tempuras and grilled meats, the definitive choice has to be the $19.95 bento box dinner. It comes with a ginger-dressed salad, miso soup, tuna roll, four pieces of sushi, tempura veggies, fried spring roll and your choice of chicken teriyaki, or shrimp or chicken tempura. Unfortunately, one of the "sushi" used that fake crabmeat, which I just object to on principle. But the food just keeps coming, bowl followed by plate followed by a lovely red and black box stuffed with food.

    It may not be the best Japanese food in town, but you sure get a lot of it. Along with the regular list of tempuras and grilled meats, the definitive choice has to be the $19.95 bento box dinner. It comes with a ginger-dressed salad, miso soup, tuna roll, four pieces of sushi, tempura veggies, fried spring roll and your choice of chicken teriyaki, or shrimp or chicken tempura. Unfortunately, one of the "sushi" used that fake crabmeat, which I just object to on principle. But the food just keeps coming, bowl followed by plate followed by a lovely red and black box stuffed with food.

    Sushi bars were never meant to be the chic, reverent eateries that a lot of folks have elevated them to: They were probably the original fast-food joints. Hana Sushi, tucked into a shopping center, has the right attitude.

    Japanese cuisine is all about harmony. Everything – from the food to the presentation to the restaurant's decor – is suppose to work together to create a flawlessly integrated and refreshing experience. But since my kind of sushi joint is the sort that blares music and uses Godzilla as a mascot, this concept of harmony remained foreign to me until I dined at Hanamizuki.

    Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

    Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

    My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

    My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

    Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

    Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

    From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

    From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

    Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

    Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

    Our otherwise exquisite meal was topped off by Japanese ice cream enhanced with red-bean toppings – a graceful way to end this feast. Hanamizuki isn't cheap, but it is a most gracious and delicious way to enjoy the foods of Japan.

    Way back in 1988, when sushi was considered more of a punchline than a serious dinner option, Ichiban bravely opened on Orange Avenue, offering sushi and sashimi along with tempura and grilled fare. Ten years later, this spunky downtown pioneer is like the woman scorned in the Gloria Gaynor song -- it has survived. And, its dance card is still filled up with admirers.

    Not everyone knows this, and those are the uninformed who show up on Friday and Saturday nights without reservations. There was a whole flock of them waiting outside when we visited. But with reservations, we were whisked into the dining area. It's the same as always -- soothing and casually elegant, with kimonos displayed on blond-brick walls, and a translucent glow thrown off by rice paper lanterns.

    Not everyone knows this, and those are the uninformed who show up on Friday and Saturday nights without reservations. There was a whole flock of them waiting outside when we visited. But with reservations, we were whisked into the dining area. It's the same as always -- soothing and casually elegant, with kimonos displayed on blond-brick walls, and a translucent glow thrown off by rice paper lanterns.

    Seated on tatami mats in one of the booths, we decided we were in a sushi mood and perused the options: rolls made with gator meat ($4.50), asparagus tempura ($3.95), sea urchin ($5) and even quail egg ($1.50). My guest gave up and chose the special ($9.50): tuna, cucumber and California rolls. Ichiban turned this sushi cliché into quite a presentation, slicing the rolls diagonally and arranging them like blossoms on a chop block.

    Seated on tatami mats in one of the booths, we decided we were in a sushi mood and perused the options: rolls made with gator meat ($4.50), asparagus tempura ($3.95), sea urchin ($5) and even quail egg ($1.50). My guest gave up and chose the special ($9.50): tuna, cucumber and California rolls. Ichiban turned this sushi cliché into quite a presentation, slicing the rolls diagonally and arranging them like blossoms on a chop block.

    "Dancing eel" turned out to be a happy surprise as well, if an expensive one ($11.95). Crab, cucumber, avocado and flying-fish eggs were rolled up together, bonded by cream cheese and topped with barbecued eel boldly glazed with a dark caramel sauce. Teamed with robust jolts of wasabi, the sushi did exactly what we wanted it to do: primed us for the main course.

    "Dancing eel" turned out to be a happy surprise as well, if an expensive one ($11.95). Crab, cucumber, avocado and flying-fish eggs were rolled up together, bonded by cream cheese and topped with barbecued eel boldly glazed with a dark caramel sauce. Teamed with robust jolts of wasabi, the sushi did exactly what we wanted it to do: primed us for the main course.

    For dinner, seafood tempura ($12.99) has to be one of the best deals in town. An abundance of shrimp, scallops and grouper fingers were deep-fried in a fine, frothy batter that melted in your mouth. Teamed with broccoli and zucchini tempura, and even a fried banana, they were artfully propped against a lacy "fan" of fried rice noodles.

    For dinner, seafood tempura ($12.99) has to be one of the best deals in town. An abundance of shrimp, scallops and grouper fingers were deep-fried in a fine, frothy batter that melted in your mouth. Teamed with broccoli and zucchini tempura, and even a fried banana, they were artfully propped against a lacy "fan" of fried rice noodles.

    And the "Ichiban special," while pricey at $20.99, was a solid investment. A polished black box was divided into quarters, which were heaped with delicacies sized just-right for chopsticks: grilled lobster tips nestled into a split lobster tail; chargrilled shrimp and scallops that cast off a sweet, oceanic perfume; slivers of sweet teriyaki steak; and mixed grilled vegetables.

    And the "Ichiban special," while pricey at $20.99, was a solid investment. A polished black box was divided into quarters, which were heaped with delicacies sized just-right for chopsticks: grilled lobster tips nestled into a split lobster tail; chargrilled shrimp and scallops that cast off a sweet, oceanic perfume; slivers of sweet teriyaki steak; and mixed grilled vegetables.

    Ichiban offers the kind of choices that sushi and sashimi adventurers crave, along with tempura and grilled fare more agreeable with mainstream tastes. It may not break culinary ground, but it's good food, prepared skillfully, and served with attention and a sense of fun. Ichiban continues to inspires quiet confidence.

    From the moment we walked into Kimonos, we had the sense we were not in an ordinary sushi bar. This small enclave, located deep in the recesses of the Swan resort at Walt Disney World, has an unusual atmospheric cocktail mix that transports its visitors to a place that seems very far away.

    The dining area is smart and spare. Rich, lustrous wood paneling creates a luxurious look. A series of rice paper cylinder lamps are suspended overhead in repetition. A dramatic collection of ornate kimonos are suspended along the fringes of the room. A bustling wait staff are clad from head to toe in Japanese garb, and at the sushi bar by the front entrance, chefs carve and slice a lush assortment of seafood in a form of performance art.

    The dining area is smart and spare. Rich, lustrous wood paneling creates a luxurious look. A series of rice paper cylinder lamps are suspended overhead in repetition. A dramatic collection of ornate kimonos are suspended along the fringes of the room. A bustling wait staff are clad from head to toe in Japanese garb, and at the sushi bar by the front entrance, chefs carve and slice a lush assortment of seafood in a form of performance art.

    Simplicity is the hallmark of the dining experience here. The menu is brief and to the point: There are less than a dozen appetizers which include miso soup and tempura combos. The rest of the meal includes sushi -- lots of it, served exquisitely fresh.

    Simplicity is the hallmark of the dining experience here. The menu is brief and to the point: There are less than a dozen appetizers which include miso soup and tempura combos. The rest of the meal includes sushi -- lots of it, served exquisitely fresh.

    For starters, get numb with a Kimono Cocktail, which is scented with the sharp, distinctive flavors of Absolute Mandarin and cranberry juice, garnished with a snappy lime wedge. It has such an inviting perfume, you might momentarily forget to take a sip ($6.95).

    For starters, get numb with a Kimono Cocktail, which is scented with the sharp, distinctive flavors of Absolute Mandarin and cranberry juice, garnished with a snappy lime wedge. It has such an inviting perfume, you might momentarily forget to take a sip ($6.95).

    Among the appetizers, gyoza dumplings are an attractive Japanese version of pot stickers ($6). Won ton skins are filled with ground pork and a chopped assortment of water chestnuts, scallions and seasonings that are slightly edgy and spicy. Crimped into crescent shapes and pan-seared, they're easily wielded with chopsticks. A dish of Oriental sauce adds flavor; it's slightly salty, but milder than soy sauce.

    Among the appetizers, gyoza dumplings are an attractive Japanese version of pot stickers ($6). Won ton skins are filled with ground pork and a chopped assortment of water chestnuts, scallions and seasonings that are slightly edgy and spicy. Crimped into crescent shapes and pan-seared, they're easily wielded with chopsticks. A dish of Oriental sauce adds flavor; it's slightly salty, but milder than soy sauce.

    "Seaweed salad," however, was marred on our visit by a heavy-handed infusion of saltiness in the ponzu sauce ($4.50). But the seaweed itself was visually pleasing, with a deep, midnight color. The texture was silky and firm, too, accented by nutty hints of sesame seeds.

    "Seaweed salad," however, was marred on our visit by a heavy-handed infusion of saltiness in the ponzu sauce ($4.50). But the seaweed itself was visually pleasing, with a deep, midnight color. The texture was silky and firm, too, accented by nutty hints of sesame seeds.

    Among the variety of sushi we explored, the Spider Roll ($8) featured six pieces of soft shell crab, fried into a delicious tangle for visual impact. It was gently crunchy and highly flavorful. The Kimonos Roll ($5) was highlighted by rich-flavored tuna flesh and pale pink yellowtail, which had a slightly stronger taste.

    Among the variety of sushi we explored, the Spider Roll ($8) featured six pieces of soft shell crab, fried into a delicious tangle for visual impact. It was gently crunchy and highly flavorful. The Kimonos Roll ($5) was highlighted by rich-flavored tuna flesh and pale pink yellowtail, which had a slightly stronger taste.

    The "sushi deluxe plate" ($17.50) included the chef's selection of nightly offerings. We particularly enjoyed the squid roll, which had a rubbery quality that was curiously pleasing; and a bit of mackerel, which was savory. There also were generous carvings of sweet, firm shrimp and crab rolls, and a selection of red snapper, which was lean and tender.

    The "sushi deluxe plate" ($17.50) included the chef's selection of nightly offerings. We particularly enjoyed the squid roll, which had a rubbery quality that was curiously pleasing; and a bit of mackerel, which was savory. There also were generous carvings of sweet, firm shrimp and crab rolls, and a selection of red snapper, which was lean and tender.

    Kimono's has one distinction that must be noted for those who visit in large groups -- seating is dominated by tables for two, which staff members cluster together when necessary. And the sushi bar scarcely seats half a dozen people. Due to the intimate dimensions of the dining area, it can also be hazardous territory for those allergic to smoke. When someone lit up at the next table over, my allergy-prone friend had to flee while I waited for the bill.

    Kimono's has one distinction that must be noted for those who visit in large groups -- seating is dominated by tables for two, which staff members cluster together when necessary. And the sushi bar scarcely seats half a dozen people. Due to the intimate dimensions of the dining area, it can also be hazardous territory for those allergic to smoke. When someone lit up at the next table over, my allergy-prone friend had to flee while I waited for the bill.

    Nevertheless, Kimono's is one of the most elegant settings for sushi in all of Orlando. The gorgeous collection of ornate robes on display are almost worth a visit in themselves.

    It isn't often that restaurants go to war over names. But in June, Ron Woodsby, whose company owns the Fishbones chain, took Bonefish Grill to court, claiming their similar name and logo of a fish skeleton was violating trademark and confusing customers.

    Then he opens Moonfish, a mile down Sand Lake Road from Fishbones and across the street from his competitor. (A moonfish, by the way, is called "opah" in Hawaii.) And why use "bone" to name a fish spot anyway?

    Then he opens Moonfish, a mile down Sand Lake Road from Fishbones and across the street from his competitor. (A moonfish, by the way, is called "opah" in Hawaii.) And why use "bone" to name a fish spot anyway?

    But a lot of thought and effort has gone into the design of the nonbony Moonfish, from the cast-metal opah on the front door to the magnificent art glass in the dining rooms. Everything revolves around fish. Hanging lights over the hectic bar look like little octopuses, and a giant tropical fish tank is echoed in video screens in the rest rooms. Walk around behind the sushi bar to see the catch of the day displayed next to the open kitchen -- clear eyes and bright, firm fish abound.

    But a lot of thought and effort has gone into the design of the nonbony Moonfish, from the cast-metal opah on the front door to the magnificent art glass in the dining rooms. Everything revolves around fish. Hanging lights over the hectic bar look like little octopuses, and a giant tropical fish tank is echoed in video screens in the rest rooms. Walk around behind the sushi bar to see the catch of the day displayed next to the open kitchen -- clear eyes and bright, firm fish abound.

    Don't plan on rushing through a meal at Moonfish; whether it's busy or quiet, things take a very long time. Our server gave new meaning to "wait staff," and the space between courses went way beyond luxurious and into interminable.

    Don't plan on rushing through a meal at Moonfish; whether it's busy or quiet, things take a very long time. Our server gave new meaning to "wait staff," and the space between courses went way beyond luxurious and into interminable.

    But while waiting for a table you can order immaculately prepared sushi like "dancing eel," which combines broiled eel, king crab and avocado, or the "yum-yum" roll of tuna, salmon and fried yellowtail (both $11.95). The expertise of their fish-buyer is evident in these jewels.

    But while waiting for a table you can order immaculately prepared sushi like "dancing eel," which combines broiled eel, king crab and avocado, or the "yum-yum" roll of tuna, salmon and fried yellowtail (both $11.95). The expertise of their fish-buyer is evident in these jewels.

    Portions are enormous, and when a dish hits the mark, it couldn't be better. A giant steamer full of Prince Edward Island mussels in garlic and white wine ($10.95) is worth the trip by itself. The open, citrus and oak-fired grill does wonderful things to the Oscar mignon, a thick sirloin filet topped with crab and Hollandaise (yes, good steak in a fish house; $20.95).

    Portions are enormous, and when a dish hits the mark, it couldn't be better. A giant steamer full of Prince Edward Island mussels in garlic and white wine ($10.95) is worth the trip by itself. The open, citrus and oak-fired grill does wonderful things to the Oscar mignon, a thick sirloin filet topped with crab and Hollandaise (yes, good steak in a fish house; $20.95).

    The "catch" menu changes daily, and lists not only the fish, but who caught it and where -- giving map coordinates. I didn't write down who caught my tilefish ($23.95) but it was a mild and moist one. The "chef's mixed grill," ($21.95) however, gets demerits for whoever picked our oily mahi-mahi and salmon, which were unimaginative choices from such an extensive variety. And serving overcooked shrimp scampi in such environs is practically criminal.

    The "catch" menu changes daily, and lists not only the fish, but who caught it and where -- giving map coordinates. I didn't write down who caught my tilefish ($23.95) but it was a mild and moist one. The "chef's mixed grill," ($21.95) however, gets demerits for whoever picked our oily mahi-mahi and salmon, which were unimaginative choices from such an extensive variety. And serving overcooked shrimp scampi in such environs is practically criminal.

    So Moonfish does occasionally miss the mark; still, in terms of the food overall, it turns out to be a lucky entry in the growing number of "concept" restaurants. No bones about it.

    Some pubs in Ireland keep a rack behind the bar for personalized beer mugs -- sort of an incentive for steady guests and a companionable gesture. Why don't other establishments do that -- personalized chili sauce dispensers at Thai House? Monogrammed bibs at O-Boys?

    Nagoya Sushi has the idea, with a rack of labeled chopstick holders by the front door. Owner Jenny Tay Lu says it lets her get closer to frequent visitors and saves a tree or two.

    Nagoya Sushi has the idea, with a rack of labeled chopstick holders by the front door. Owner Jenny Tay Lu says it lets her get closer to frequent visitors and saves a tree or two.

    Nagoya the city is dead center in the island of Japan and is a cultural and economic hub. Nagoya the restaurant isn't in the center of anything, tucked away in a MetroWest shopping center. But judging by the rows of chopsticks, it attracts a loyal following. Lu's husband, Danny, can be found behind the sushi bar, along with his brother, Calvin, creating masterpieces from deep-red tuna, paper-thin cucumber, neon-orange fish eggs and translucent yellowtail.

    Nagoya the city is dead center in the island of Japan and is a cultural and economic hub. Nagoya the restaurant isn't in the center of anything, tucked away in a MetroWest shopping center. But judging by the rows of chopsticks, it attracts a loyal following. Lu's husband, Danny, can be found behind the sushi bar, along with his brother, Calvin, creating masterpieces from deep-red tuna, paper-thin cucumber, neon-orange fish eggs and translucent yellowtail.

    There's a view of the action from the booths and tables in the relatively small place, but give yourself a treat and sit at the bar. Watch Calvin slide his knife across the grain of fatty salmon (let it melt on your tongue), as well as chop pickled mackerel and slice slivers of tender octopus for the chirashi bowl ($16.95). Dobinmushi ($4.95) is seafood soup steamed (mushi) in a little teapot (dobin) and served with a tiny cup. Danny peeked his head over the counter to see if we liked it. And we did.

    There's a view of the action from the booths and tables in the relatively small place, but give yourself a treat and sit at the bar. Watch Calvin slide his knife across the grain of fatty salmon (let it melt on your tongue), as well as chop pickled mackerel and slice slivers of tender octopus for the chirashi bowl ($16.95). Dobinmushi ($4.95) is seafood soup steamed (mushi) in a little teapot (dobin) and served with a tiny cup. Danny peeked his head over the counter to see if we liked it. And we did.

    I adore grilled eel but hadn't tried grilled lobster sushi (ise ebi; $3.75) -- now it's a new favorite. Try the miso eggplant ($4.95), a stubby eggplant-half covered in sweet miso sauce that caramelizes under the grill -- a simple but extraordinary dish. Miso shows up again on tender pan-fried scallops ($14.95), which would have been more exciting if I hadn't had the eggplant, too. Pick one or the other and enjoy.

    I adore grilled eel but hadn't tried grilled lobster sushi (ise ebi; $3.75) -- now it's a new favorite. Try the miso eggplant ($4.95), a stubby eggplant-half covered in sweet miso sauce that caramelizes under the grill -- a simple but extraordinary dish. Miso shows up again on tender pan-fried scallops ($14.95), which would have been more exciting if I hadn't had the eggplant, too. Pick one or the other and enjoy.

    The owners successfully play with flavor and color combinations. The flamboyant "New York roll" ($8.95) combines pale hamachi (young yellowtail) with tuna, salmon, avocado and flying-fish roe. Tender shrimp peek through baked mango like crustaceans swimming in a sweet ocean for the "mango shrimp" entree ($15.95). There are several beautiful vegetable rolls -- bright-green asparagus, avocado and cucumber ($3.25), or a dark and spicy kimchi ($2.95).

    The owners successfully play with flavor and color combinations. The flamboyant "New York roll" ($8.95) combines pale hamachi (young yellowtail) with tuna, salmon, avocado and flying-fish roe. Tender shrimp peek through baked mango like crustaceans swimming in a sweet ocean for the "mango shrimp" entree ($15.95). There are several beautiful vegetable rolls -- bright-green asparagus, avocado and cucumber ($3.25), or a dark and spicy kimchi ($2.95).

    The sushi rice -- a recipe Jenny Lu brought from her former restaurant in Manhattan -- is as tasty a starch as you'll find anywhere. Which means it's about as good as everything else at Nagoya. Go several times, earn your chopsticks.

    While there is a host -- nay, horde -- of sushi bars within walking distance of Lake Eola, we haven't seen very much Thai food downtown, which is odd considering how much pad Thai can be found elsewhere.

    One of the places known for that sweet, sticky rice-noodle dish is Thai Cuisine on Edgewater Drive. This was where my partner and I had our first chicken sate and spring rolls together, and I remember the food cooked by its original owners (since changed) quite fondly. Those owners, it turns out, were the parents of the young people who opened Sawadee Thai on Kirkman in 2001, a restaurant I quite liked. Now those (still) young folks, lead by Odum Ketsatha and his wife, Kanjana, have moved to Pine Street and brought the flavors of Siam to the old Le Provence building in the form of Napasorn Thai.

    One of the places known for that sweet, sticky rice-noodle dish is Thai Cuisine on Edgewater Drive. This was where my partner and I had our first chicken sate and spring rolls together, and I remember the food cooked by its original owners (since changed) quite fondly. Those owners, it turns out, were the parents of the young people who opened Sawadee Thai on Kirkman in 2001, a restaurant I quite liked. Now those (still) young folks, lead by Odum Ketsatha and his wife, Kanjana, have moved to Pine Street and brought the flavors of Siam to the old Le Provence building in the form of Napasorn Thai.

    Not much has been changed inside, aside from a new color scheme for the two-level room, a new bar and a complete overhaul of the kitchen, run by Ketsatha's Uncle Damri. ("Thai cooking is very different from French," Uncle Damri tells me.) The menu isn't 100 percent Thai, with smatterings of Chinese (a dark-brothed and savory wonton soup with plump dumplings for $3.50), Japanese gyoza and a good but not stellar sushi menu.

    Not much has been changed inside, aside from a new color scheme for the two-level room, a new bar and a complete overhaul of the kitchen, run by Ketsatha's Uncle Damri. ("Thai cooking is very different from French," Uncle Damri tells me.) The menu isn't 100 percent Thai, with smatterings of Chinese (a dark-brothed and savory wonton soup with plump dumplings for $3.50), Japanese gyoza and a good but not stellar sushi menu.

    Appetizers are both authentic and jazzed-up. The crispy spring rolls ($3.95) are stuffed with ground chicken and a coleslaw-like shredding of vegetables, both crisp and mellow. The "cheese roll crisp," on the other hand ($3.95), finds cream cheese and tiny bits of shrimp inside the wrap, and I'm still not sure if I liked it or not, but it's different. Most traditional is "sate gai" ($5.95), rich, peanut-sauced chicken slices on a skewer.

    Appetizers are both authentic and jazzed-up. The crispy spring rolls ($3.95) are stuffed with ground chicken and a coleslaw-like shredding of vegetables, both crisp and mellow. The "cheese roll crisp," on the other hand ($3.95), finds cream cheese and tiny bits of shrimp inside the wrap, and I'm still not sure if I liked it or not, but it's different. Most traditional is "sate gai" ($5.95), rich, peanut-sauced chicken slices on a skewer.

    My favorite carryover from the Sawadee days is the basil duck dish ($15.95), a savory combination of dark duck meat and spinach-like basil leaves that now features mushrooms and peppers added to the lime-and-basil flavored sauce. Also a treat is "garlic and pepper meat" ($9.95), your choice of beef or chicken ($2 more for seafood) with a tang of spicy garlic, spicier black pepper and even spicier sauce that sneaks up on you until the sweat is pouring. I wasn't as impressed with the "madsa mahn" curry ($10.95), a dish from Islamic south Thailand that is usually loaded with potatoes which here seemed to have cooked down to a thick paste. Still, the combination of roasted peanuts and tender chicken was enjoyable.

    My favorite carryover from the Sawadee days is the basil duck dish ($15.95), a savory combination of dark duck meat and spinach-like basil leaves that now features mushrooms and peppers added to the lime-and-basil flavored sauce. Also a treat is "garlic and pepper meat" ($9.95), your choice of beef or chicken ($2 more for seafood) with a tang of spicy garlic, spicier black pepper and even spicier sauce that sneaks up on you until the sweat is pouring. I wasn't as impressed with the "madsa mahn" curry ($10.95), a dish from Islamic south Thailand that is usually loaded with potatoes which here seemed to have cooked down to a thick paste. Still, the combination of roasted peanuts and tender chicken was enjoyable.

    Napasorn is both a welcome addition to the downtown food scene and a chance to eat Uncle Damri's great cooking a lot closer to home.

    The wilds of east Orlando, almost to the edge of civilization where Colonial Drive intersects Alafaya Trail, is not an area that immediately springs to mind for those on the hunt for good sushi; burgers, steakhouses, Wal-Mart and used-car lots, yes. Sushi, not so much.

    Tucked away in the Alafaya Commons Plaza, a few stores west of the Publix, is Origami Sushi, an island of hip serenity in a vast sea of suburbia. Outside it looks like every other store in the strip mall. Inside the walls are painted soothing tones of muted, dusky green and burnt orange, the lighting is toned down and there are Japanese screen prints on the walls. Think funky minimalism and you'll get an appropriate mental picture.

    Tucked away in the Alafaya Commons Plaza, a few stores west of the Publix, is Origami Sushi, an island of hip serenity in a vast sea of suburbia. Outside it looks like every other store in the strip mall. Inside the walls are painted soothing tones of muted, dusky green and burnt orange, the lighting is toned down and there are Japanese screen prints on the walls. Think funky minimalism and you'll get an appropriate mental picture.

    Added bonus: The sushi's good, too.

    Added bonus: The sushi's good, too.

    Many factors go into a memorable sushi experience, but when the discussion is limited to the food, what counts is the quality and cut of the fish, the consistency and taste of the rice, and the presentation. Origami gets all three right.

    Many factors go into a memorable sushi experience, but when the discussion is limited to the food, what counts is the quality and cut of the fish, the consistency and taste of the rice, and the presentation. Origami gets all three right.

    Maguro (tuna, $3.95) and sake (salmon, $3.95) sushi came from the bar on a proper geta (a small wooden block used as a plate), each piece an identically formed ball of rice topped with, but not covered by, a slice of fish. Report card: "A" for presentation.

    Maguro (tuna, $3.95) and sake (salmon, $3.95) sushi came from the bar on a proper geta (a small wooden block used as a plate), each piece an identically formed ball of rice topped with, but not covered by, a slice of fish. Report card: "A" for presentation.

    With the exception of squid, which will take a few chomps, sushi fish should melt in your mouth, no chewing necessary. Both the tuna and the salmon dissolved without much additional help. That's the mark of sushi-quality, correctly cut fish. Report card: "A" for fish.

    With the exception of squid, which will take a few chomps, sushi fish should melt in your mouth, no chewing necessary. Both the tuna and the salmon dissolved without much additional help. That's the mark of sushi-quality, correctly cut fish. Report card: "A" for fish.

    Sushi rice is itself a deceptive art form -- how hard can it be to make vinegared rice? Very, judging by the lumpy, starchy version common in sushi restaurants. Origami's rice was another story; slightly sweet, it held together when handled with chopsticks (you're supposed to dip your sushi into the soy sauce fish-side down, you know), yet retained its granularity. Report card: "A" for nice rice.

    Sushi rice is itself a deceptive art form -- how hard can it be to make vinegared rice? Very, judging by the lumpy, starchy version common in sushi restaurants. Origami's rice was another story; slightly sweet, it held together when handled with chopsticks (you're supposed to dip your sushi into the soy sauce fish-side down, you know), yet retained its granularity. Report card: "A" for nice rice.

    The rolls (maki) were less of a success. I tried a "New Orleans roll" ($6.95) that was a mixture of crab salad, scallions, avocado and spicy mayonnaise, and found it interesting, if a bit heavy due to the mayonnaise.

    The rolls (maki) were less of a success. I tried a "New Orleans roll" ($6.95) that was a mixture of crab salad, scallions, avocado and spicy mayonnaise, and found it interesting, if a bit heavy due to the mayonnaise.

    Then there are the "special" rolls. Sushi purists probably wouldn't order them anyway, dismissing them as a Western bastardization of Japanese cooking, but I gave it a shot for the sake of diversity. The "heaven roll" ($9.95) crammed just about everything in the kitchen (salmon, tuna, asparagus, cream cheese and flying fish eggs) into a roll, batter fried (tempura) the result, and served it up sliced on the diagonal. Again, the adjective that comes to mind is "interesting" or perhaps "filling." I wouldn't exactly call it "tasty."

    Then there are the "special" rolls. Sushi purists probably wouldn't order them anyway, dismissing them as a Western bastardization of Japanese cooking, but I gave it a shot for the sake of diversity. The "heaven roll" ($9.95) crammed just about everything in the kitchen (salmon, tuna, asparagus, cream cheese and flying fish eggs) into a roll, batter fried (tempura) the result, and served it up sliced on the diagonal. Again, the adjective that comes to mind is "interesting" or perhaps "filling." I wouldn't exactly call it "tasty."

    Appetizers were also hit-and-miss. The batter on both the chicken ($3.95) and vegetable ($3.50) tempura was crunchy, light and perfect. But a deep-fried soft-shell crab ($6.95) came to the table greasy on the outside and cold on the inside -- a disappointment at the price.

    Appetizers were also hit-and-miss. The batter on both the chicken ($3.95) and vegetable ($3.50) tempura was crunchy, light and perfect. But a deep-fried soft-shell crab ($6.95) came to the table greasy on the outside and cold on the inside -- a disappointment at the price.

    Service throughout the meal was attentive but not bothersome, in keeping with the low-key atmosphere. The clientele was young, indicating that the University of Central Florida crowd has found the place. Perhaps the far-out location was a shrewd business move after all.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    If location is everything, Seito Sushi has it made. Located next to the Regal Winter Park Village 20 complex, Seito enjoys a constant flow of theater patrons walking past its long, rectangular dining room. A cynical restaurant owner might use this captive audience as an excuse to serve inferior food. Lord knows the four yuppie rubes who sat next to me, joking about this immaculate and stylish establishment as a "hole in the wall" deserved just that. But wiser minds have prevailed and, instead, Seito turns out sushi every bit as fresh and well-prepared as downtown's longtime favorite Sushi Hatsu.

    Like Sushi Hatsu, Seito bypasses the sometimes challenging culinary aspirations of I-Drive's excellent Hamimasuki to target the casual diner. The menu is brief, focusing on sushi, sashimi and a handful of teriyakis and tempuras -- nothing except wasabi could potentially frighten tastebuds. With the luxury of two visits, my dining partner and I were able to roam Seito's menu. For starters, there's an "octopus salad" ($5.95), a small plate of sashimi-style octopus flavored with a vinegar-soy sauce -- very simple but perfect. Also sampled was a seaweed salad ($4.95), colored a bright relish-green and nicely flavored with lemon sauce.

    Like Sushi Hatsu, Seito bypasses the sometimes challenging culinary aspirations of I-Drive's excellent Hamimasuki to target the casual diner. The menu is brief, focusing on sushi, sashimi and a handful of teriyakis and tempuras -- nothing except wasabi could potentially frighten tastebuds. With the luxury of two visits, my dining partner and I were able to roam Seito's menu. For starters, there's an "octopus salad" ($5.95), a small plate of sashimi-style octopus flavored with a vinegar-soy sauce -- very simple but perfect. Also sampled was a seaweed salad ($4.95), colored a bright relish-green and nicely flavored with lemon sauce.

    Meat fans will enjoy starting with "beef negi maki" ($5.95), thinly sliced sirloin grilled and wrapped around green onions and bean sprouts. Like others on the menu, this dish comes with a garnish of leafy lettuce that seems somewhat out of place.

    Meat fans will enjoy starting with "beef negi maki" ($5.95), thinly sliced sirloin grilled and wrapped around green onions and bean sprouts. Like others on the menu, this dish comes with a garnish of leafy lettuce that seems somewhat out of place.

    Next up, a lovely salmon teriyaki featuring twin fillets in a rich teriyaki sauce, flavored sweetly instead of too salty. Although presented as entrees, these teriyaki dishes should be considered as a side order, for a change of pace during the otherwise all-fish repast.

    Next up, a lovely salmon teriyaki featuring twin fillets in a rich teriyaki sauce, flavored sweetly instead of too salty. Although presented as entrees, these teriyaki dishes should be considered as a side order, for a change of pace during the otherwise all-fish repast.

    Seito's sushi menu offers all the usual suspects prepared with care and presented gracefully. Of special note is a "burduck root and dakuhan roll" ($4.25).The sushi chef couldn't explain "burdock" much past "a tuber," so he handed us a sample of the small, slightly spicy carrotlike root, which produced a wonderfully different texture and taste.

    Seito's sushi menu offers all the usual suspects prepared with care and presented gracefully. Of special note is a "burduck root and dakuhan roll" ($4.25).The sushi chef couldn't explain "burdock" much past "a tuber," so he handed us a sample of the small, slightly spicy carrotlike root, which produced a wonderfully different texture and taste.

    One of Seito's more interesting choices are the "boat combinations," prearranged meals of several items for two to six diners, served in a large wooden boat. We sampled the "love boat" ($34.95) full of teriyaki chicken, seafood and vegetable tempura, and kalbi (beef short ribs), followed by a small plate of a half dozen or so chirashi sushi items and a California roll. Our enjoyment from the "boat" was squashed when it showed up a half hour after ordering with many of the hot items rendered lukewarm.

    One of Seito's more interesting choices are the "boat combinations," prearranged meals of several items for two to six diners, served in a large wooden boat. We sampled the "love boat" ($34.95) full of teriyaki chicken, seafood and vegetable tempura, and kalbi (beef short ribs), followed by a small plate of a half dozen or so chirashi sushi items and a California roll. Our enjoyment from the "boat" was squashed when it showed up a half hour after ordering with many of the hot items rendered lukewarm.

    Other than this oversight, Seito Sushi is easy to recommend and a welcome addition to the sushi scene.

    I'm a lucky guy. What I do for a living doesn't require that I spend long days out in a fishing boat or toiling in the fields. So, unlike the people sushi was originally developed for, I eat it as a luxury.

    That's right, sushi was the original box lunch, with the fermented or vinegared rice -- called "shari" -- the ingredient that preserves the fish without refrigeration. Like most things Japanese, the craft became an art, all of which culminates in the atmosphere of the new Shari Sushi Lounge, full of artistic morsels that delight the eye and the palate.

    That's right, sushi was the original box lunch, with the fermented or vinegared rice -- called "shari" -- the ingredient that preserves the fish without refrigeration. Like most things Japanese, the craft became an art, all of which culminates in the atmosphere of the new Shari Sushi Lounge, full of artistic morsels that delight the eye and the palate.

    This latest restaurant to join the hip habitat of Thornton Park Central makes up in height what it lacks in width, two levels of shimmery chairs and black-clothed tables in a creamy white room. The sushi bar is a chrome and ebony island; the cases of fresh sashimi glimmering under tiny spotlights.

    This latest restaurant to join the hip habitat of Thornton Park Central makes up in height what it lacks in width, two levels of shimmery chairs and black-clothed tables in a creamy white room. The sushi bar is a chrome and ebony island; the cases of fresh sashimi glimmering under tiny spotlights.

    Technically, sushi means the fish part of the delicacy, with the shari having just as much importance as the colorful protein atop it. The fish that landed here are among the best I've tasted, and a combination roll like the "Fort Myers" ($7), with yellowtail and whitefish rolled alongside avocado, scallions and spicy mayo, is a savory showcase. "Beauty and the Beast" ($9) is a knockout, two rolls alternating tuna and eel with avocado, asparagus and flying fish roe -- I don 't know which part is considered the "beast," but this dish is a "beauty."

    Technically, sushi means the fish part of the delicacy, with the shari having just as much importance as the colorful protein atop it. The fish that landed here are among the best I've tasted, and a combination roll like the "Fort Myers" ($7), with yellowtail and whitefish rolled alongside avocado, scallions and spicy mayo, is a savory showcase. "Beauty and the Beast" ($9) is a knockout, two rolls alternating tuna and eel with avocado, asparagus and flying fish roe -- I don 't know which part is considered the "beast," but this dish is a "beauty."

    Simple offerings, such as boiled soybean edamame ($4) or a tako salad of pickled octopus, cucumber, orange slices and spicy kimchee ($7), are done to perfection. More elaborate and original dishes are irresistible. I tried something called "Toro Tartare" ($12) and was served mounds of deep red tuna on top of fried and flaky tortilla wedges; the textures were only surpassed by the taste.

    Simple offerings, such as boiled soybean edamame ($4) or a tako salad of pickled octopus, cucumber, orange slices and spicy kimchee ($7), are done to perfection. More elaborate and original dishes are irresistible. I tried something called "Toro Tartare" ($12) and was served mounds of deep red tuna on top of fried and flaky tortilla wedges; the textures were only surpassed by the taste.

    Behind the silver bar is a cool-looking itamai-san (sushi chef) called Chau ("just Chau," he says). Chau's parents own Saikyo Sushi on Aloma Avenue, which is where some of Shari's inventive menu was tested. It is quite extensive, and I can envision several months worth of regular visits before exhausting the tasty options, but the prize is "Chau's truffles" ($15), an assortment platter that offers ever-changing samples of his remarkable talent. Octopus cupped in a crepe, translucent salmon covered in wasabi-flavored roe, and eel with cucumber thankfully bereft of sweet sauce, were just some of the treasures.

    Behind the silver bar is a cool-looking itamai-san (sushi chef) called Chau ("just Chau," he says). Chau's parents own Saikyo Sushi on Aloma Avenue, which is where some of Shari's inventive menu was tested. It is quite extensive, and I can envision several months worth of regular visits before exhausting the tasty options, but the prize is "Chau's truffles" ($15), an assortment platter that offers ever-changing samples of his remarkable talent. Octopus cupped in a crepe, translucent salmon covered in wasabi-flavored roe, and eel with cucumber thankfully bereft of sweet sauce, were just some of the treasures.

    As sushi chef, manager and co-owner, Chau is responsible for much of Shari's superb quality, and you'll thank him when you leave.

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