Usagi Ya looked promising with its modernist mid-century decor and safe, neutral brown earth tones and kanji in black ink. It was 4pm, a bit early for the dinner crowd so we were the only table for an hour. Our dining experience was pleasant and the empty restaurant made our meal intimate and romantic. My beau and talked, drank lots of sake and beer, wracking up an $84 late lunch bill. It was worth the ambiance and service but the sushi needs to come up a notch for the place to succeed.
I kept meaning to go back. The ambiance really had me hooked with its minimalist color palette of pure neutrals. I think I might have even gone back with a friend for a cocktail and sushi nibbles a few months after my romantic outing with my beau. But to be honest, I can't remember if I ever really went before last Thursday. The ho-hum sushi Usagi Ya serves puts this restaurant at the bottom of my priority list for sushi restaurants. Such low priority that it took a LivingSocial.com voucher to get me back. It's kind of a shame because the place looks promising.
But I am a sushi slut and LivingSocial.com vouchers appeal to people who can barely afford their pleasures. The recession made vouchers the norm and now consumers wield power over struggling business who must deal with leaner profits. Now diners whip out their smartphones and present them to waitstaff to scan and redeem. I am still feeling the sting of plane tickets, rental car and meals from last Christmas. So is everybody else.
A good friend and fellow sushi slut, Nina, joined me to redeem the voucher and check it out. We ordered the tuna tartare, the uni shooter and various assort nigiri pictured above. The tuna tartare tasted well-excuted, palatable and fresh enough but nothing exciting or exquisite. Non-sushi restaurants like the Local make solid tuna tartare that tastes creamy and like, almost mild and sleek like yellowtail. The uni shooter stood out as the best experience of the meal. I expected the chili and ponzu to overwhelm the uni but it actually complimented it nicely. The shooter itself contained too much juice so it took at 2-3 tries to get the whole thing down.
We almost ordered another one and I wish we had. That shooter worked nicely, the hot chili oil perking up the earthy kelp flavor and soft, creamy flesh while the ponzu washed it down in a citrus haze. Sometimes food innovations work and this one gave me a different way to enjoy uni. But the menu offered quite a bit of variety, more variety than I remember when I dined with my beau. And I wanted to try everything so we decided to move on to our sushi and sashimi.
The assorted nigiri looked promising enough for Nina to photograph and send to me. Ama ebi with deep-fried shrimp heads, saba, hamachi, escolar, hotate, a sushi cornucopia that looked exciting. But my first taste took me back to my memory of dining with my beau and deciding that it was ho-hum. The fish seems to be a bit lower in quality than comparable places, especially Seadog Sushi across the street. Now that place I still dream of going again because their fish is spot-on.
I won't lie. I might get another LivingSocial.com voucher just to experience their uni shooters. I still want to try their Jalopeno Hamachi just to see how it compares to the same dish served in other sushi restaurants. But I'll put this desire out to the ether now and see if the opportunity comes up. In the meantime, I've set my sights on Wasabi and maybe even Mirai Sushi in my new Gold Coast neighborhood.