Nagoya Sushi

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Nagoya: A Worthy Discovery

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2008

At first glance: Nagoya Sushi is tucked around the back of a block of restaurants near the Safeway in Rockville's King Farm Center development. The decoration nods to the traditional, with yellow walls; niches behind the sushi bar displaying Japanese dolls, ceramics and sake casks; and large live plants in the corners. The restaurant's only view is of a drive-up banking queue, but some evenings a parade of very young budding martial arts experts from the nearby school march past alongside their parents, which gives the scenery a comical authenticity.

On the menu: There is the ubiquitous list of Americanized rolls (tuna, cilantro and jalapeno; a deep-fried combo of eel, avocado and cream cheese; and a similar unbattered combo with fried bits of batter and mayo mixed in) as well as the classic combinations. In addition to tempura and teriyaki entrees, the kitchen offers several homier dishes such as noodle soups, pan-fried noodles and Japanese-style fried rice. Nagoya has happy hour from 3:30 to 6:30 daily, with lowered prices on nigiri.

At your service: Although at least two sushi chefs work at a time, service can occasionally be slow, partly because of the number of carryout orders. However, patience and return business may earn you off-the-menu appetizers or dessert on the house.

On the table: Among the house specials is a grilled scallop appetizer that consists of a mound of (mostly) mixed shredded surimi (faux crab) and chopped scallops tinted red by tobiko, the tiny flying fish roe. It arrives in a scallop shell on a flaming bed of alcohol-soaked salt. Rather like the filling of a Japanese lobster roll, perhaps more texturally intriguing than flavorful, the appetizer certainly looks impressive, but don't leave it on the shell too long or it overcooks. The miso dressing on the avocado-cucumber salad is a little sweet, but the half-fruit was fully ripe and almost invisibly sliced. The tempura appetizers are the size of the main dish but without salad and rice, so either the vegetable assortment ($5.95) or the version that includes two shrimp ($7.50) are filling and admirably crisp.

Sushi is as much (or perhaps more) about the rice than about the fish, and although Nagoya's rice is not perfect, it's better than the sadly pasty norm these days. Recommendations from the chefs are to be trusted, especially if they recommend the sea urchin, salmon belly flash-seared with a blowtorch to caramelize some of the fat or the toro (tuna fatty enough for flavor but not to the point of pure grease). If you order ama-ebi, the small raw sweet shrimp, the heads are deep-fried separately in the traditional fashion, crisp and crunchy and brought to the table zigzagged with teriyaki sauce. Although grilled jaw of yellowtail is not on the menu, a request produced a nice, moist version and a sizable portion, also glazed with teriyaki sauce. Nagoya also makes unusually tasty Japanese-style pan-fried noodles, a version of those "sizzling" Chinese entrees with a generous toss of veggies, chicken or shrimp.

What to avoid: Edamame are a little overdone and not fully drained of water. The broth is bland and there are few vegetables in the udon soups. Unless you like wasabi strong enough to take your breath away, be leery of the wasabi shumai; it overwhelms the otherwise delicate steamed dumplings.

Wet your whistle: Nagoya has a minimal sake list, a few beers and house wine.