Just sit at the bar and grab the sushi as it passes by

Eats

Dining Reviews Hot Stuff

February 03, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One of the big challenges of dining out is deciding what to order. It all sounds so great on the menu, but you don't really know what you're getting until it arrives.

Well, Tony Yan has neatly solved this challenge - while setting his restaurant apart from the crowd of sushi places in Towson - with his Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar.

The centerpiece of his tiny establishment, which opened in October, is a sushi station staffed by two chefs who busily cut, roll and arrange, then place the finished dishes on a stainless-steel conveyor belt that glides soundlessly in a circle inside a bar. Patrons simply grab what looks appetizing.

Prices range from $2.25 to $5.50 per item and are indicated by the pattern of the plate. Servers add up the used plates at the end of the meal and deliver a bill.

Yan, who hails from Hong Kong, said these conveyor belts are popular throughout the world. He saw similar restaurants in Hong Kong as long as 15 years ago.

Of course, this kind of restaurant can work only if the food looks good. Nobody wants to watch dried-out slices of tuna drift sadly by. The sushi chefs at Kyodai deliver with colorful creations such as the Towson Tiger, topped with orange and black roe, and a Chesapeake roll, featuring slices of crisp-battered tempura shrimp wrapped in rice and topped with slivers of avocado.

As you might guess, many of the dishes are fanciful inventions, often with a local twist. A crab mixture in half an avocado shell, coated with cheese, was basically a crab dip that seemed more like something found at a sports bar. Other items are more traditional.

Beautifully seared tuna slices, mild and meltingly tender, were too good to pass by, as were "silly eel" rolls, filled with spicy tuna and topped with eel and avocado.

The chefs are happy to answer any questions about the food. Unfortunately, it's difficult to see them create. My only other complaint about the setup is that the bar is on the narrow side, so it fills quickly with plates, ceramic bowls for mixing soy sauce and wasabi, plus drinks. The bar stools aren't particularly comfortable, either. (If a corner is available, snag it - you'll have more room, plus you'll be able to converse better with your friends.)

For patrons who want to spread out, a few tables are available, but that means standing up to grab the sushi at the bar. At both the bar and the tables, service is remarkably attentive. Plates are whisked away as soon as they are empty, water glasses are refilled frequently and dropped chopsticks are replaced in moments.

Customers can also order from a menu that includes the typical teriyaki, udon noodles, sushi and sashimi plates, and tempura dishes. The teriyaki and tempura are beautifully presented and come with rice, a bowl of warm, cloudy miso soup and a small iceberg salad with sweet ginger dressing.

The salmon teriyaki is gently cooked so that it retains its fatty moistness, then topped with a mild sauce and served, sliced, on a plate strewn with perfectly crisp-tender string beans, carrots and broccoli florets. Particularly good were the string beans individually coated in crisp, light batter, but the broccoli, yams and shrimp are also beyond reproach.

As in most Asian restaurants, dessert choices are minimal. The only one offered the night we were there was a tempura banana drizzled in either chocolate or honey. This is prepared to order, so you don't get to see it in advance. But the warm combination of sweet, mushy banana and crispy coating provides a light, delicious ending to an enjoyable and satisfying meal.

Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar

Where: 1 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson

Call: 410-339-7500

Open: Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Prices: Appetizers $3-$8.95, entrees $11.95-$20.95

Food:*** (3 stars)

Service:*** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)

Atmosphere:*** (3 stars)

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