A prize-winning paradox at Sono

Landlocked seafood, Taiwanese sushi chef blending beautifully

August 19, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Land-locked Columbia, lacking an Inner Harbor or a Chesapeake Bay, might not be the place anyone would expect to find good seafood. And diners searching for high-quality sushi surely wouldn't figure it to be prepared by a chef from Taiwan.

But not all is as it seems at Sushi Sono in downtown Columbia, with its view of a lake and its Japanese menu designed by Taiwanese-born owners.

King Lin and Hui Jou Lin, the husband and wife who have owned Columbia's Sushi King since 1991, opened the more upscale Sushi Sono on Lake Kittamaqundi almost 18 months ago. In that time, the well-situated restaurant has become a popular dinner spot, earning loyal customers because of its quiet, relaxed atmosphere, a long row of lakeside window tables and, of course, the sushi.

"It's the best probably I've ever had. Ever," said Bruce Windesheim, a 34-year-old Bell Atlantic employee and Columbia resident who stopped in for a late lunch yesterday. He, his wife and a group of friends have been Sushi Sono regulars for the last six months. "My wife was not a sushi fan. Now she's completely hooked."

Daniel Bloch, a 54-year-old doctor at Howard County General Hospital, said the sushi "is equal to or better than" what he's had in California and New York.

How did good sushi find its way from Taipei to suburban Maryland? King Lin, 44, trained in Taipei at Japanese restaurants for close to 15 years, including a stint at the Japanese Embassy. He and Hui Jou came to the United States in 1984 and ended up in Ellicott City in 1985.

After a brief try at running a Chinese restaurant, the couple bought Sushi King in East Columbia in 1991. A couple of years ago, the Lins were pondering opening a second restaurant as the Rouse Co. was looking for a different kind of cuisine on the lake, and Sushi Sono was born.

The Lins still own Sushi King, but King Lin says he buys choice fish at Sushi Sono, which translates into better taste and slightly higher prices. Two pieces of traditional sushi can cost $3 to $4.95. The cooked entrees range from $9.95 to $18.95, and elaborate sushi and seafood combinations can cost more.

Lin says he frequently makes an array of off-menu dishes for dinner groups, customizing what he makes based on how much the customers say they want to pay. A couple of rooms in the restaurant can accommodate a dozen to 15 diners each.

Customers say they like the service, which is always friendly. But there is the rare quirk.

For instance, King Lin refuses to allow customers to order nine of the restaurant's lunch specials for carryout because he doesn't feel they can be presented properly as takeout dishes. Lin may be an affable, jovial chef, but the man from Taipei is serious about his Japanese cooking.

Sushi Sono

Where: 10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia; 410-997-6131.

Hours: 11: 30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays.

Prices: appetizers, $2.95-$11.95; entrees, $9.95-$24.95.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diner's Club.

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