I knew I wasn’t in for a typical sushi experience when one of the first things I was served on a recent visit to Sushi House was guacamole.
Actually, I knew it was going to be a different experience as soon as I entered and saw the decor, which includes a cinema backdrop for the sushi chefs, but more on that in a moment.
The guacamole was presented as a fusion dish, a nod from a Japanese restaurant to its Latino neighbors in the area surrounding Florida Mall. It was made with spicy mayonnaise and a bit of citrus, plus ponzu and sriacha chili sauce. Just before serving, so they retain some pop, masago fish eggs are blended in. The guac is served atop tuna sashimi slices with fresh avocado slices, an orange dollop of masago, and crispy tortilla chips. It was extraordinarily good.
I’ll try not to use that phrase too often, but just about everything else was equally as enjoyable. There were more traditional offerings, such as the Emperor Roll, a favorite among Japanese sushi lovers, with hamachi and yellowtail and tempura flakes inside, and Alaskan salmon and fresh avocado on top. But there were also the hard-to-find rolls, such as the Victory Roll, a traditional looking roll with salmon and shrimp but with sticks of crisp Fuji apples inside. If that isn’t enough to set it apart, the roll is seared tableside with a 1500-degree blowtorch that gives the fish a slight char.
Or how about the Tokyo Sunrise, a hybrid of a California roll served with salmon and yellowfin tuna on top but with a hefty dollop of volcano mixture -- spicy mayo and crab salad -- in the center of the plate.
That one, said chef and owner Dun Chau, is for people who are a bit squeamish about eating raw fish; the volcano mix covers the rawness. For the really squeamish, there’s the Cowboy steak roll, which looks like a typical negirizushi offering but with thinly sliced medium-rare beef on top instead of fish.
There was only one roll that I sampled that I didn’t care for, and that was just because of a sensorial disconnect. It was the Florida, a roll of spicy tuna topped with salmon that is then baked and served hot (I guess it makes sense that the Florida roll would be baked). It was the mouthfeel of hot rice surrounding still-cool fish that just didn’t seem right.
The house sake is served, upon request, in the traditional style that includes a masu, a wooden box. The box sits on a white dish, and the host pours the sake until if overflows the box; this demonstrates the host’s generosity. All the guests at the table take turns drinking from a corner of the box. I have not seen sake served this way anywhere else in the area. Premium sakes are also available, and I would encourage you to get the sake sampler to experience the range of qualities and flavors.
For dessert there was banana flambe, tempura fried bananas set ablaze with rum and accompanied by vanilla ice cream.
The ambience of Sushi House is an integral part of the experience. The dominant decor feature is a wall-to-wall movie screen that serves as a backdrop for the chefs. Throughout dinner a Japanese movie -- this night “The House of Flying Daggers” -- showed sumptuously filmed scenes of bamboo forests, snow-covered hills and, yes, flying daggers. It’s a brilliant design touch. But it works because the lighting is kept low, with shocks of bright spots, including the white jackets of the chefs, and pinspots on the black-covered tables. Pulsating world music, not too loud, gives it a modern note.
I hope that when you visit you get a chance to talk to Chau. He’s truly passionate about sushi and Japanese tradition and clearly loves teaching others about it (he also teaches sushi classes). He’s not what you would expect from someone with a mechanical engineering degree from Florida State University. But I’ll save his full story for another time.
Some of you may have tried Sushi House when it was in a group of shops in an outparcel in front of Florida Mall, just off Sand Lake Road. It’s still in front of Florida Mall, but now in the shops that face Orange Blossom Trail. I reviewed Sushi House in its old spot many years ago, before Chau took it over. It was unmemorable -- literally; I can’t remember a thing about it.
This meal, however, will stick with me for a long time.
Sushi House is at 8204 Crystal Clear Lane, Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner daily. Sushi House also has a location at Universal Studios CityWalk and Buckhead in Atlanta. This link will take you to the Sushi House website. The phone number is 407-610-5921.
The house sake is poured to overflowing into a wooden box called a masu.
Red Dragon Roll
The Victory Roll is seared with a 1500-degree blowtorch.
Don't like raw fish? Have the beef sushi.