Busan Sushi is an entirely delightful hole in the wall. There are four tables or so and a sushi bar in the first room in from the door, and about eight tables in a second room, which is decorated with one large fan, two screens and two seashells in a goldfish bowl.
We visited twice, just two of us. The second time around, our waiter greeted us by name. I no longer carry an American Express card, and on our first visit we hadn't brought cash. Because we live not far away, the restaurant took our check. Our waiter knew us from that. No, it was clear he wasn't aware I was writing for The Sun. He remembered because he's a gracious, affectionate person who likes people.
The menu is mostly comprehensible to a Westerner; our waiter patiently explained what was mysterious to us -- entries such as hwe dupbob, hwe bibimbop, eel dopbop and oden. Our strategy at our first meal was to order appetizers of sashimi ($7.95) and tempura ($7.95), and then to share an entree of steamed fish ($12). It was a gargantuan feast, but because nothing was
greasy, we were healthily hungry by morning.
Three generous dishes of appetite teasers appeared before any of our orders. In one, there were three chili-hot mounds: chilied kelp, thick as a slice of pea pod, marginally gelatinous, and, believe it or not, marvelous and addictive; a sort of kimchee, or vinegared radish and carrot pickle; and greens, cooked and tumbled in oil, vinegar and chilies.
The second dish held a Western-style salad of red cabbage, green peas and wonderfully fresh iceberg and romaine lettuces, tossed in a sweetish Russian dressing. The third contained a fat scoop of potato salad -- not American potato salad, with oil or mayonnaise, but an oil-less potato salad accented with cucumber, carrot, a subtle edge of sweetening, a cap of grated, hard-cooked egg, and a curl of dewy lettuce at the side for the eye.
The sashimi was not served plain on a board or a plate, Japanese style, but in a big bowl mounded with crisp, fresh shreds of daikon, or radish. The salmon, tuna and two sorts of white fish were immaculately fresh, and prettily complimented by a spoonful of tiny, gold-red fish eggs. Nothing had been forgotten, not the wasabe (a green Japanese horseradish paste), nor the small dish necessary for mixing the wasabe with soy.
The tempura was glorious. Tempura is so often flannelly and greasy, because it requires a perfect temperature in the frying oil, a carefully made batter, and scrupulous attention. Busan's tempura was lacy, light, delicate and appetizing. It included shafts of sweet potato, three shrimp, a bit of sea crab, leaves that bore some resemblance to Italian parsley leaves, and green beans.
Our entree of steamed fish combined cuts of salmon and steak fish with thin slices of a sweet soft pickle in a hot chili sauce pebbled with a serious number of chopped cloves of garlic. What a vibrant, exuberant dish! With it, we received covered lacquered bowls of just-cooked steamed rice, and bowls of miso soup, a delicious combination of fish broth and bean paste. For all of this, plus a beer apiece ($2.90 each), we paid about $34.50 before tip.
Two days later we returned in high spirits, expecting a good meal. We were not disappointed. Once again, we received a green salad, a potato salad and three relishes in a dish. This time, the carrot and daikon pickle included small flowers of sauced fresh baby squid, and instead of greens, there were large, pale yellow, sauced bean sprouts.
Figuring two entrees would constitute a substantial meal, we ordered dupbob ($12), a hot spicy fish soup ($8.99) and vessels of sake ($3 each). Dupbob was a crazy dish that might not be to everyone's taste but was to mine. At first glance, it looked like torn fragments of shining olive-green paper over heaps of sashimi over heaps of lettuce and shaved daikon. I began by dipping the seaweed, fish and lettuce into an accompanying small bowl of sweet-and-sour sauce nutty with sesame paste. In a few minutes, our waiter asked, wouldn't I like to try it Korean style? After stirring the sauce in with a spoon, I discovered there was also a beautiful amount of white rice underneath, which was ideal for absorbing oils and lending texture.
The fish soup was the simplest sort of fare, and lovely: a gentle, clear, chilied broth, steak fish, tofu, a mammoth but tender clam, and Chinese cabbage, served with a bowl of rice.
Our second meal cost about $28 before tip, and once again, we'd eaten far more than we usually do. Into the bargain, we'd admired not only the chef's culinary ability but the rapturous
smile he delivers from behind the sushi bar. *
Next: American Cafe,
Busan Sushi, 2101 Maryland Ave., 727-2929
Hours: Tuesdays to Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Features: Sushi and Korean cuisine
No-smoking area: No
Wheelchair access: No