Sushi bar for people who don't eat sushi

June 06, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Imo yaki (potatoes with butter). My kind of sushi. Of course, it's not really sushi; but it is something you can order from Minato's sushi bar menu.

If you're like me, you've sworn off raw fish. (Although I can't resist a raw oyster every now and then, I feel more comfortable if they're farm raised.) But I miss the exotic flavors and contrasting textures, the subtle pleasures of sushi. The sticky rice, the distinctive taste of nori (dried seaweed), the delicate smoothness and briny sweetness of superbly fresh fish, accompanied by the sharp sting of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and spicy delights of pickled ginger -- all in one neat little roll you pick up with your fingers.

Minato, formerly CoChin and now Baltimore's newest Japanese restaurant, wisely offers a wide selection of rolls made with ingredients other than raw fish, so sissies like me can enjoy most of the pleasures of eating sushi. There's a crisply fried soft shell crab roll that's out of this world, an equally good wild mushroom roll and many other delicious choices. You can also get lots of little dishes of yaki (grilled) items like the aforementioned potatoes or tender rings of squid in a teriyaki sauce, so you can enjoy a sort of Japanese tapas over drinks.

Minato also has excellent sushi and sashimi (raw seafood without the rice) -- these days I take my official still-eating-raw-fish taster with me. She had already eaten at Minato a couple of times and pronounced herself well pleased. She particularly recommended the restaurant's sunomono, a pretty selection of seafood in a vinegar sauce.

Everything we tried was good, except the green tea ice cream (which tastes like green tea with too much sugar and cream in it) and the red bean ice cream (which tastes like chocolate ice cream with too little chocolate in it).

Shrimp and vegetable tempura boasted a batter that was delicate, grease-free and deliciously crisp. Salmon shioyaki -- grilled salmon with salt -- was wonderfully fresh and not overgrilled. And in spite of the name, not too salty.

From the noodle dishes I particularly liked the yaki soba, noodles stir fried with strips of tender pork (or your choice of meat or seafood) and various vegetables, including broccoli, carrots and baby asparagus.

Don't overlook the salads: a vinegary, palate-cleansing seaweed salad or an American green salad that's more successful than you often get in an Asian restaurant.

Except for the sushi bar with a Japanese show on the TV, the several dining rooms here don't look very different from when this was the Washington Place Grill (the restaurant before CoChin). The walls are exposed brick, with mirrors, contemporary art and vaguely Colonial appointments. Oh well, who cares if there's not a lot of atmosphere? It's pleasant enough, and the food and service are remarkably good for a restaurant that's just getting started.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

Minato

800 N. Charles St.

(410) 332-0332

Major credit cards

Open for lunch 11: 30 a.m.-2: 30 p.m., for dinner Monday through Thursday 5-10: 30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-11: 30 p.m., Sunday 5-10 p.m.

Prices: sushi bar, 75 cents-$12; entrees, $8.50-$16.50

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