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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

West Hartford guide to Sushi, Sashimi, etc (revised)

Since I consider myself a Sushi addict, I thought I'd share a complete rant on my view of West Hartford area restaurants that offer a "Sushi fix" and few points of interest for those of you who seek a quality Sushi / Sashimi experience in the West Hartford area.

For those of you who understand what it's like to have a burning desire to crave sushi then you will appreciate my rant. For those who don't, I recommend trying it and you too can feel the "nicotine-type" craving for raw fish.

There are quite a few places in the West Hartford area that offer Sushi; I'm limiting my comments to components that matter to me: quality and quantity, freshness and taste, cleanliness of the restaurant, customer service, and of course - price. Also, I've included links where available. In order to be fair in evaluating price, I'm going to use the standard "Sushi Dinner" price tag which I will list based on what's shown on the menu (tax not included unless otherwise indicated). As a rule of thumb, Sushi Dinner consists of a tuna or California roll, seven pieces of select fish fashioned over rice, and is usually accompanied by either a salad with ginger dressing, or miso soup.

To level set, I want to mention that everything written here is based upon my own experience with each restaurant. I've visited each of the restaurants at least 10-12 times so I am certainly qualified to report what I've seen and tasted. If you have a different experience, well good for you (or not) - it will not change my rating or view of the restaurant. My ratings are based on consistency and not the one or two good or bad experiences. Every restaurant has its bad days!

Ichiban located on 530 Farmington Avenue in Hartford (just over the Hartford/West Hartford line) is a excellent choice for the Sushi connoisseur. The restaurant is interesting because it offers a blend of Japanese and Korean entrees. I've often visited Ichiban for both lunch and dinner and find the portions more than adequate for the price. The sushi or sashimi is generally fresh and I've not had a bad experience in the restaurant. The service is quite good, and the wait staff is very attentive and friendly. This is particularly helpful when you are rushing at lunchtime. The only negative is that they don't offer a large number of custom sushi rolls. Clean enviroment. Sushi Regular Dinner is $14.95. You are better off ordering from the Dinner menu for lunch or you will leave disappointed and starved.

I love Sushi/Egg Roll Express (no website found) is located on 278 Park Road in West Hartford near AC Petersen's. I used to frequent this restaurant which is primarily take out (one half Chinese - fast food style, and the other half Sushi take out.) This restaurant gets the lowest rating for most categories. My last two visits (2006) gave me the experience of distinctly tasting fish that wasn't fresh and what is worse - finding bones in my sushi. Also, I found that the people preparing sushi are quite young, and the owner is a bit of an ogre to deal with. Also, service is faster in the evening; do not expect to make a lunch run unless you have plenty of time on your hands and your boss won't be looking for you. This isn't to say that I haven't had OK experiences, but enough turn-off experiences to turn me off from going there in 2007. It's a hole in the wall. Sushi Dinner will cost you $14.85, tax incl.

Muraski Japanese Restaurant is located on La Salle drive in West Hartford Center. The very fact that it's in West Hartford Center should tell you something - that its good, no - that its expensive. In fact, its insanely expensive for the minuscule portion you receive. The sushi and sashimi are fresh and of excellent quality, but after consuming an entree, you are left wondering if you've just consumed an appetizer. It's certainly a place for rich West Hartfordites to brag that they go there to sip expensive wine, eat sushi, and be seen. It is funny that the website reference uses a New York Times food editorial that mentions that its a "real find" for the price. They must be comparing the prices to New York prices, because they are clearly over-priced in the market. The service is adequate, but who cares if you leave hungry. The atmosphere is crowded; very tight quarters, but clean. Sushi Dinner will set you back $19.50.

Szechuan Tokyo is located at 1245 New Britain Avenue, West Hartford. The group that owns this also used to own Osaka which was in West Hartford Center until it closed its doors in Winter of 2006-07 (sidebar: Osaka was excellent in all categories, and portions were reasonably sized and the prices were ridiculously low in contrast to Muraski - perhaps that's why they didn't survive, who knows?) Based on my revised appraisal of this resturant, Szechuan doesn't deliver in terms of quality and price. Sushi portions are meager and food quality has dwindled. Sashimi portions are very disappointing. Service at Szechuan is exceedingly poor. Routinely, you are greeted at the desk by an angry looking woman who immediately dispenses with all niceties, and is often seen lording over the staff and yelling at employees. Phone orders are often misunderstood and you feel rushed through the order. Moreover, if you order take out you must be careful to inspect every aspect of the order prior to paying and leaving. Over the last eight visits (I used to eat there weekly until this week's poor experience) I've required modification to my meals every time. I've been forced to inspect take out orders after having experienced the frustrating scenario of arriving to home to find food missing and having to make a second trip (and once a third trip) back. Moreover, do not expect them to keep record of the credit you are owed. This has been lost more than once, and you are made to look and feel that you are trying to pull one over on them. You can avoid embarrassment by inspecting your order before you leave. It is pretty difficult for them to manage an order of two meals. Eat in service is slightly better. Despite it's name, this is a Japanese restaurant in name only; its clearly a Chinese restaurant. Sushi Dinner is only $12, but you are better off ordering Sushi Deluxe at $14.50 to get the experience that is contrasted in competing restaurants. Bathrooms are filthy and disgusting.

Update: 5/8/07: Szechuan Tokya has worsened from two perspectives: 1) My last two times visiting found that in the sushi quality has diminished greatly, in fact the fish "smelled" and 2) the customer service has gone from bad to worse; it is exceedingly poor. The mean lady at the front was seen arguing with customers. Also, she argued with me last week when I told her she forgot something - her reply was that my wife never ordered it. To which I replied, yes she did, I was standing right there. She said it twice. Her reply was "oh yeah?" Rude and obnoxious. I'm so tired of their antics, that they've lost my business. My honest recommendation is for people NOT to eat at Szechuan Tokyo.

Fuji Sushi, 1144 New Britain Avenue in West Hartford. This sushi spot has sky-rocketed to the top of the charts. My first rating didn't include Fuji Sushi because I had not eaten there enough to really provide feedback. But since I started visiting regularly, I can provide good feedback on fish quality and preparation. Prices are average for sushi in our area. The building is ugly and probably doesn't do much for itself being next to a pet store. But the portions are decent and the service is very upbeat and pleasant. Eat in may be your best option due to the small dining area. Kids are welcome.

Ginza located at 14 Witonbury Road, Bloomfield (in the strip mall) and is frequented by many West Hartford residents. While somewhat pricey, the sushi and sashimi are both fantastic - fresh, and give you that "melt in your mouth" experience. There are many options on the menu for the sushi and sashimi connoisseur with special rolls galore. It's worth going as an eat-in experience and deserves the Best of Advocate Awards won in 2005 and 2006. A young friendly guy named Alex greets you at the door, and he's pleasant, and eager to please his guests. The wait staff is pleasant, friendly and helpful (and very good with children). The only other negative is that they used to offer Japanese style ice cream, but removed it as part of the Sushi Dinner. Not that you are there for ice cream, but its hard to take something away that everyone enjoyed as part of the meal. Very clean, and well maintained. Sushi Dinner is $19.

Feng located at 93 Asylum , Hartford. This is supposed to be the high-end Sushi spot based on it's location and atmosphere. However, I recommend going for lunch as the prices jump at dinnertime. The quality was very good when Feng first opened over the winter 2006-07, but popular opinion (including my own) is that over the past month both the quality and freshness of the food, and the service has dove-tailed. On my last two trips, the in-service wait staff has been fairly inattentive with my soup coming after my Sushi arrived (and after I've enquired about it). My last visit showed the confusion between the wait staff and Sushi bar chefs who actually got into an argument about who was responsible collecting the order, etc. The place is clean and well maintained. Sushi Dinner will set you back $24. Again, go for lunch and choose Sushi B for about $15 dollars and change. (A side note is that this group is actually owned by the same group that owns Ginza. They could use a good manager to get the place back in order to where it was when if first opened.)

And lastly, Koji downtown located at 17 Asylum Street in Hartford. Good for lunch. Fresh fish under the banner of "Chef's choice". The only issue is that you tend to get what's available so each lunch is a mystery - sometimes good choices and sometimes a mix. This is more of a hip hangout for folks who like Martini's. Based on my recent experience at Feng, I probably prefer Koji at this point. And for a while I was alternating between the two restaurants. Clean surroundings. Sushi Dinner is a bit expensive for the size portion you receive: $18.

Well, I hope this is helpful. Let the hate mail begin! Seriously, everyone has a select taste and their own experience. I recommend that you try all of these options at least once, and then form your own opinion as to which restaurant is best for you. As for my favorite, well, honestly the jury is still out! But Ginza is certainly hard to beat for eat-in.

In the future I'll write a little more on Sushi etiquette and how to "ease into" sushi for the uninitiated.

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