Jay Paul photos
A tall communal table made of burgundy granite merges with the sushi bar. A towering Buddha nearly touches the ceiling while seemingly eyeing the provocative close-up of a Geisha's lips. A neon-blue "ice cube" illuminates a frosty martini glass on top of which is balanced a narrow serving tray and a row of jewel-like sashimi. A striking waitress dressed in a tight black T-shirt glides by, her asymmetrical bob showing off the elaborate tattoo on the nape of her neck. Sushi O is packed on this Saturday night. Families of all ages give way to more and more adults enjoying a night on the town as the evening progresses. The energy is high, the vibe is right and the atmosphere just couldn't be any cooler.
I'm not qualified to describe an authentic Japanese dining experience. I haven't eaten a meal in Japan since my childhood, when my father was stationed there. What I love about Sushi O, which opened last summer in Midlothian, is that it isn't even trying. In fact, it offers many pleasant surprises, especially for customers who don't really like "traditional" (aka American) sushi or even Asian-style food, for that matter. The menu is full of enticing and reasonably priced alternatives: grilled lamp chops, Grand Marnier shrimp and a sautéed chicken breast served with — astonishingly and very anti-theme — a curry sauce!
You'll find the expected, too, and in one disconcerting example, the unexpected. The sushi, special rolls and sashimi are fresh, delicious and artfully arranged. Crabsticks were even more beautiful because they were lined up on a single banana leaf. A special rice roll featured lump crabmeat, tempura shrimp and avocado presented with loops of eel sauce on an oversized white platter; the effect was that of a giant sunflower. The tender pieces of buttery white tuna and clean-tasting yellowtail I ordered were firm, mild and a conservative choice for those not so sure about eating raw fish.
My friend's enjoyable chicken teriyaki was, thankfully, not breaded and fried. She was grateful for the generous helping of crispy, bright-green broccoli on a bed of sautéed onions and carrots that accompanied her entrée.
The children's bento box is a deal at $11. Delicious pork-filled gyoza dumplings; battered sesame chicken, sticky with its sweet and syrupy sauce; and shrimp and veggie tempura were all nestled in a shiny black compartmentalized tray. Each goodie was appetizing and presented with pizazz.
But my daughter's house fried rice was a bit strange. We enjoyed the substitution of soybeans for peas, and red pepper instead of carrots, but the inclusion of raisins, cashews and chunks of pineapple really shouldn't make an appearance in fried rice of any version. It's as if there was a little free-for-all going on in the kitchen, and the dessert condiments somehow commingled with the savory fare. Our waitress hinted that a new chef from Osaka, which shares the same owner, was showing off a bit.
The actual desserts reflected a similar disregard for convention, but with better results. Catering almost exclusively to Western tastes, Sushi O even offered a cookie-dough ice-cream cake made by their next-door neighbors at Cold Stone Creamery. A huge, delicious slab was eagerly wolfed down by my youngest daughter. Her older sister preferred the strawberry mochi, a Japanese import for which I've never managed to acquire a taste, though I sample it again and again. She likes the doughy rice-cake exterior that surrounds the golf-ball-sized center of ice cream (which can come in many flavors, including green tea and even bean curd).
On a previous visit with a girlfriend, we decided to split the chocolate volcano cake with raspberry sauce, adorned with enormous fresh berries and a magenta orchid for an added flourish. Brownie (as in fudgy) points for making this dessert in-house and not serving me a warm, gooey flourless chocolate cake. I'm so over those.
Sushi O is a slick, good-looking restaurant with friendly service and a big-city feel. A fun martini menu and an impressive selection of sake help make this sophisticated eatery a dream come true for grown-ups who love sushi — and even for those who don't.
1228 Alverser Plaza, Midlothian, 897-9878
Soups, salads and appetizers $4 to $14. Entrées and platters $11 to $29. Sushi platters $13 to $63 (serves four). Desserts $4 to $10.
Lunch is served Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner is served Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m.