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Photo by Rob Bartlett

Sushi Kichi has prevailed through the pandemic, anti-Asian sentiment and Orlando's economic turmoil 

Teflon donburi

For years, regulars did their darnedest to conceal Sushi Kichi from the jabbering hordes of food-obsessed chatterboxes. But sake lets secrets out, so the saying goes, and it wasn't long before the restaurant prompted babble from the loose-lipped among us. For those regulars, the following may read like a contentious declassified document, but if ever there were a time to spread the news about this independent restaurant, it's now.

Since late 2013, Takanao and Yasue Nakashima have been serving area sushi fiends (many of whom are Japanese) at their unassuming strip-mall spot in touristy Williamsburg, just east of SeaWorld. But COVID-19 forced the couple to make some necessary changes just to stay in business. For one, the concept transitioned from full-service to fast casual. Customers must now place their order, pay and have a seat. The other significant change? Sushi rolls were eighty-sixed, and a focus placed on donburi bowls. Neither adjustment negatively affected my perception of the place any, and it certainly doesn't seem to have affected the loyalty of Sushi Kichi's regulars either.

On one visit my dining comrade and I ran into the Susuru and Jade Sushi chef/owner Lewis Lin, who dines here regularly with his family. "I think they have the best sushi rice," he tells us, and after one bite of the wickedly good kaisen don ($9), we couldn't help but echo the sentiment. The sesame-flecked, vinegared rice had that soft, sticky, but not too sticky texture one expects of proper sumeshi. Its flawless sweet-tart balance stunned our mouths long enough for us to stare at one another in a moment of simultaneous starchy appreciation. There's a dazzling assemblage of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, squid and octopus in there as well, all dressed with curls of scallion and dried seaweed.

Just as sensational was the amount of flavor packed into the chicken karaage ($8), which, by the way, comes served in a cute little bucket. The nuggets, darkly marinated in soy, garlic and ginger, weren't particularly crispy, but wow, were they incredibly juicy. Which brings me to the unfortunate napkin situation. It seems only cocktail napkins are served here, and that needs to change — using a hundred of these things to wipe up chicken juice was a trying exercise in annoyance.

I used more than a few to wipe the slick off my fingers left by the superb fried soft-shell crab ($10 for two). While the crab gave us the crisp we craved, the soft, silky agedashi tofu ($6) offered a contrast. Cutting into the fried cubes was like cutting into light, eggy flan, with the dashi-based sauce serving as a soaking solution, just as caramel does for flan. A thin layer of potato starch lent the tofu a delicate crackle, and the fragility and the proficient manner in which the dish was prepared colored us impressed. The udon noodle soup ($7) comprised an absolutely pristine dashi broth, with large fritters of tempura shrimp ($3 extra) adding crunch.

And, yes, traditional sushi is still offered — the yellowtail sushi/sashimi set ($12) makes a perfectly fine lunch. It's available in tuna and salmon varieties as well. But it's the donburi that stars at Sushi Kichi, and rightfully so. The prices are beyond reasonable, so if it's value that you value, do yourself a favor and pay Sushi Kichi a visit. You'll be doing an independent restaurant a solid too.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

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