A refreshing kind of place

January 03, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN the United States, Kentucky Fried Chicken is a Christmas tradition. At least that's what a Japanese KFC executive told his countrymen before the holiday, according to a report on National Public Radio's Marketplace.

A bucket of chicken is what Americans eat at Christmas, the crafty businessman claimed. So - following our lead - Japanese consumers began lining up at KFC stores on the other side of the planet to place their orders in advance for regular or extra-crispy.

Because some form of reciprocity would only be polite, I decided that a holiday meal of sushi was in order. Plus, after consuming excessive amounts of ham, crown roast, tenderloin, eggnog, gingerbread folk, candies and those Yule log cakes made of chocolate wafers and whipped cream, a meal of raw fish and rice sounded kind of clean and refreshing.

Johnny Sushi is a clean, refreshing kind of place, tucked between a giant Super Fresh and an REI store in Timonium's Fairgrounds Plaza. Sprays of orchids are the main decorations in the small, bright dining room.

One kimono-clad waitress glides between two rows of tables, while Lixin "Johnny" Zhang runs the sushi bar in the back. He and his sister Lisa opened the restaurant that bears his name in July. Two months later, they expanded their business when they began providing sushi for Eddie's of Roland Park.

Some of the sushi is pretty good and certainly a bargain, because Johnny is more generous than he needs to be with the fish; the slices of fresh yellowtail in the nigiri sushi (two pieces for $5) were almost 2 inches long and a little less in width.

Six to eight pieces of fried soft-shell crab roll ($6.95) were a delicious, albeit not traditional Japanese, offering, with tender, sweet crab, cucumber slivers and a dab of creamy yellow mayonnaise.

The chef's use of "crab stick" instead of whole crab in the California roll gave it a strange, grainy consistency that we weren't wild about. Nor were we enthusiastic about the excessively fishy taste of the salmon, tuna and red snapper featured in the rainbow roll.

The excessively fishy problem surfaced again in a hot entrM-ie called honey-sesame shrimp. The honey-sesame sauce struggled to complement eight giant shrimp, but couldn't drown out the strong taste of shellfish. The only chance we had to appreciate the golden-brown sauce was with the rice and shredded cabbage that came with the dish.

On the nonseafood side, Johnny Sushi shines. An unusual-looking appetizer of glistening green seaweed salad perfectly paired crunchy shredded cucumbers with smooth, rectangular chunks of dark-red raw tuna, dressed in a sweet-sour vinaigrette and sesame seeds. And yaki udon, which appeared to be bland at first bite, turned out to be a wonderful, subtle entrM-ie loaded with ribbonlike potato noodles, pork slivers and scallions grilled just enough to retain some crunch.

Service here is top-notch and is winning Lee and Zhang some fans, judging by the impressive number of customers whom the owners addressed by name.

We were greeted warmly as soon as we crossed the threshold, and there was a pot of steaming green tea on the table within minutes after we'd shed our coats.

So, to our fried-chicken-eating brethren in Japan, we hope you enjoyed Colonel Sanders over the holidays. Especially since we enjoyed Johnny Sushi.

Johnny Sushi

51 W. Aylesbury Road, Timonium

410-560-0024

Open: For lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Prices: Appetizers $1.50 to $7.95; entrees $7.95 to $17.95

Food: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

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