Sushi makes appearance as healthy, traditional and trendy

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In Japanese, sushi is defined as a food made with vinegared rice combined with seafood. Most, but not all fish used in sushi is uncooked, but other ingredients may be cooked, blanched, sauted or marinated.

In Old Town, sushi is big in the restaurant scene, catering to the lunch and dinner crowd alike. There are six restaurants specializing in sushi in and around the King Street area alone, possibly making Old Town a sushi destination.

Bunching of one genre of stores works in retail so it may work with restaurants as well, said Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President Christine Michaels. Sushi may draw people, and it helps other restaurants as well, said Michaels.

At least thats the hope of Joe Vallieres, manager at Flying Fish. Theres more [sushi restaurants] than there used to be, and thats good, Vallieres said, the more restaurants there are, the more a destination it is.

Down King Street in the 200 block is the Ichiban Sushi House, a traditional Japanese sushi house in a space once occupied by the Kyoto Restaurant. My sushi chef has 8 to 10 years experience, said co-owner George Chen. Their specialty is the Black Dragon, ($13.75) which is an eel stuffed with steamed shrimp, crab stick, cucumber, avocado and topped with fish eggs and spicy mayonnaise. More people like this, said Chen.

The Ichiban interior screams Japanese cuisine with shiny, wood tables, a sushi bar, polished wood floor, rice-paper covered lighting and light music on the stereo. Kan, the sushi chef has a rising sun-styled hat, and robe. Chen said this isnt uncommon on the sushi circuit. Most every sushi chef has a uniform, same style, he said.

Every day but Sunday they get fresh tuna, salmon, flounder, red snapper and snow crab. Sushi is very Japanese, Chen said. Ichiban opened this winter and is seeing an increase in popularity as the weather gets warmer.

Up the street on the corner of King and Washington streets is Bumblefish, with a relaxed atmosphere that specializes in carry out, even though there is a table and window bar. The sound system plays a modern fair you would find in a college venue. They opened in February and Manager Tim Ito thinks theyve got the right formula and location. The concept is grab and go, he said.

Favorites on their menu include rainbow roll ($8.99) and dragon rolls ($9.59), and u sunk my battered shrimp, ($8.59) a tempura roll that is play on words from the popular 70s board game Battleship.

Ito has a partner, Kent Scholla, who opened another Bumblefish in Kansas City, and both met while working at American Online in the Dulles area. The atmosphere at Bumblefish is similar to places in the dot com era where the employees embarked on foosball and coffee house specialities to groom their creativity. We wanted to create a place thats really comfortable, Ito said.

On the menu
Up King Street a block is Flying Fish, a regular on the sushi scene for over two years. The top seller is their Dynamite Roll, ($8.99) which is escolar with spicy mayonnaise, topped with crab meat, tempura bits and tobiko. A newcomer to their menu is the Firecracker Roll ($9.99), which is cream cheese, crabstick, and scallions topped with toasted spicy scallop and escolar.

Flying Fish has a seafood and dinner menu as well as sushi, and a few artist touches that sets it apart from the rest. On the main floor, there are three rooms and a sushi bar with aquariums as main attractions. The table tops are all hand painted by local artists, as well as the wall-sized flying fish mural. The room downstairs, named the Speakeasy Room, is laid out for their live entertainment about three days a week.

Vallieres thinks there is a healthy style and avante garde taste to sushi that attracts a certain crowd. Its very art oriented, sushis an art, said Vallieres. The sushi continues to be the main attraction, but having a full menu works well, Vallieres said. Not everyone at the table may be ordering sushi.

Next door, the Asian Bistro has sushi as one of their many Asian foods they offer on the menu. Popular selections are Dynamite Roll ($5.75), a smaller roll with crab meat and avocado, and the TNT Roll ($9.95)  with two kinds of tuna baked with basil to bring the Thai flavor into the sushi, said sushi chef Harin Peree. Their menu includes toro which is fatty meat from the belly of the Bluefin tuna. Its very hard to get in this area, said Peree.

Healing powers
On Queen Street, Momo Sushi & Caf is a smaller, airy restaurant where there isnt room to concentrate on anything else. They opened two years ago after trying out spots in Herndon and Bethesda before settling in Old Town. I love it here, I dont want to move, said Yeon Son, who runs the restaurant with her husband Han, the main sushi chef.

The St. Thomas Roll, ($6.95) is their specialty, and it got its name from two frequent customers. The St. Thomas Roll is a lightly fried combination of tuna, topped with a special sauce and fish eggs. Another favorite, the Green Tree Roll ($8.95), is a combination of eel, cucumber, crab, masago, topped with avocado and spicy sauce.

Minami Sushi is completely off the beaten track of the Old Town restaurant scene, with a location in the 600 block of North St. Asaph Street, across from Trader Joes. The sushi bar, located inside the Sizzling Express Restaurant, has been open since 2000, but was renovated a few years ago to meet the demand, said manager and sushi chef Kevin Kim. They have a huge lunchtime crowd and a full house on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but are closed Sunday.

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