Tiny Sushi Ya has more than sushi

January 06, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Cleanliness. Very important in any restaurant, but particularly a sushi bar. How clean is Sushi Ya? Well, the owner was assiduously running his Dust Buster around our chair legs as we walked out the door.

Not that this guarantees the raw fish will be perfectly fresh and handled with care, but symbolically it's reassuring. It's reinforced by the general look of this tiny shopping center eatery: Sushi Ya looks spotlessly clean.

It also looks fresh, bright and serene. The dining room is painted white, with calming Japanese prints and bamboo motifs. It holds nine tables and the sushi bar in back; to one side is a little alcove for private parties.

If you aren't a raw-fish eater, don't let the name turn you away. You might get something like the New Year's roll, with cooked shrimp, cucumber matchsticks and egg wrapped in seaweed and rice with fish roe on top. Or try a first course of green beans. Yes, green beans. The salted pod isn't edible -- it's some variety that's too tough -- so you use your teeth to squeeze the beans out. They're addictive after a while.

Sushi Ya has beautiful tempura -- huge shrimp and a variety of vegetables in a crisp, lacy batter. You can get such standards as chicken teriyaki with tender boneless white meat in a delicately sweet sauce.

Both these dinners come with an elegant miso soup, steaming hot and decorated with scallions, seaweed and crumbled tofu. There's also an uninteresting iceberg lettuce and grated carrot salad with a sour-sweet dressing. And rice, of course.

But branch out a little and try one of the traditional casserole dishes, such as sukiyaki or the one I ordered, shabu shabu. The cooker is placed on the table; you can adjust the heat under the pan filled with a fishy broth, two kinds of noodles, carrots, cabbage, bean curd and sea legs. You add the tissue-thin slices of raw beef yourself and push them down in the hot liquid until they turn gray, then put meat, noodles and vegetables in an individual bowl. Very popular in Japan in cold weather, our kimono-clad waitress told us.

I liked the delicate, creamy green tea ice cream for dessert, and I was amused by the tempura ice cream -- vanilla ice cream fried in the hot, crisp rice flour batter. But my dessert-loving husband and daughter were crushed by the dish (whose name I never figured out) that looked like chocolate dominoes set on edge but didn't taste like chocolate -- or anything else I can put a name to. This was a first for me: a dessert garnished with a lettuce leaf. Even more interesting, with the check came three tiny boxes of Japanese bubble gum.

Sushi Ya

Where: Valley Centre, Owings Mills

Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 3 p.m.-10 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V

Features: Japanese food

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 356-9996

Prices: Appetizers, $3.95-$7.95; entrees, $9.95-$17.95

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