Mr. Sushi is a relatively new Downtown eatery on Walnut Street, located right next to the former Oceanaire, another seafood-themed restaurant chain that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed July 6, 2009.
The name of the chain restaurant, which sounds almost fast-food like, belies its atmosphere. I'd been reticent to try Mr. Sushi, not because I don't like sushi --I do-- but because I know Cincinnati sushi joints typically cater to a kind of environment I'm uncomfortable engaging in: the upscale, snooty kind.
Self-imposed, class-derived trepidation in check, I opened the large, seemingly 12-foot-high, cathedral-like glass doors to enter. I half expected a loud church chorus to sing, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! Suuuushhhhii!!!" What is it with all the new sushi joints these days? It seems the less fish we have available on the planet, the more these restaurants crop up. Maybe it's that innate need to experience something you know will soon disappear. "I want to see the frontier, before it's gone."
There was only one table occupied at 1:30 pm on a weekday. Perhaps I'd missed the lunch rush, perhaps not. As expected, the place exuded an upscale feel, a marriage of smooth lines, dark woods and gleaming stainless steel. It's the kind of restaurant many self-proclaimed bon-vivants, business execs, lawyers, Metrosexuals, tieless, jacket-adorned men and faux wine connoisseurs like to be seen in. As I stood there, newspaper tucked under arm, with my no frills, button-down, long-sleeve shirt and Dockers, I got the sense from the hostess --who had all but ignored me up to this point-- that I didn't quite fit her idea of the right social demographic for this fine, fine, fishy establishment. "Tell us about the accommodations in steerage, dear sir" I imagined her say, to which I replied, "The best I've seen, Ma'am. Hardly any rats."
After waiting for the Mr. Sushi employees to catch up with the mad rush of one person coming through their door, a man finally pulled out a menu, looked me over and asked, "Table for one?" I said yes, feeling the hot white sting of the spotlight on my back, burning a hole through me as I was seated at a table near the bar, conspicuously placed on the other side of a partition separating me from the only other diners.
The waitress soon arrived and seemed nice enough, offering me a pencil, the sushi menu and the lunch menu. I quickly scanned the items and immediately gravitated to the Bibimbap (Mr. Sushi spells it Bibimbab), a Korean dish I've come to love over the years. What a great opportunity to compare Mr. Sushi's version to that of other Bibimbaps, like those from Riverside Korean, Sung Korean Bistro, The Korea House and Sunny Deli! With a finger point and a nod to my waitress, it was a done deal.
To my surprise, the meal came with a side salad with house dressing, which soon arrived at my table. I realized after the waitress had left that there were no eating utensils available beyond chopsticks, with which I thought would be silly eating a standard side salad. I waited several minutes before I saw my waitress again to ask for a fork.
When my Bibimbap arrived, I noted it wasn't of the Dolsot variety. Dolsot Bibimbap is served in a hot, stone bowl, so when it arrives, the rice at the bottom is still cooking, forming a nice, crunchy crust. This version was simply served in a ceramic bowl, a disappointment, given that it cost me $10. The mistake was mine, though: Mr. Sushi does offer Dolsot Bibimbap for a dollar more, but I was already well over my alloted lunch budget.
Still, it looked attractive, with assorted vegetables, Bulgogi beef and a fried egg all segregated in their allotted, pre-mixed places. Gochujang sauce (a fermented, hot pepper paste) was provided on the side, but I found it lacked much of a spicy punch, using every last drop as I mixed it into the Bibimbap. Overall, the meal was devoid of much flavor, save the Bulgogi beef, which had a nice, marinated spice I found pleasing.
My waitress sat down a fresh Pepsi before me early in the meal. I'm familiar with the tactic. Nothing says "I'm not coming back for at least 10 minutes while I take a smoke break" like placing a second glass of Pepsi on the table when my first glass is still more than half full. Be that as it may, the service wasn't bad; I found the longer gaps in interruption conducive to reading the paper during my meal.
Overall, Mr. Sushi wasn't an awful experience. It's simply a place that "my kind" don't find particularly comfortable eating at. But I'll never let go, Rose. I'll never let go.