Sunday, July 13, 2008

Good sushi, bizarre atmosphere at Aoki

On Saturday night, I met up with my friends C (from home) and SB for a sushi dinner. We chose Aoki, a place on the outskirts of Times Square, for its extensive Japanese menu and relatively reasonable prices.

C and I arrived first; we were led to a table in the back. There are two distinctive elements of decor in the rather small dining room: a serene waterfall-wall and, opposite that, a garish, fluorescent cartoony mural. That was rather scary. But our booth was next to the waterfall, so it was a pleasant spot, even though the seats themselves weren't the most comfortable.

Waterfall...serenity now

Our rather insistent and awkward server asked us several times if we were ready to order, and finally we did. Our first courses came out only a few minutes after our order was placed, which was great because I was hungry.

Both SB's and C's entrees came with a choice of miso soup or salad. C got the salad: it was pretty small, with greens, carrot threads, one lone cherry tomato, and ginger dressing. It looked like the standard Japanese salad.

That tomato just looks so out of place

SB and I got miso soup. It was very, very standard, regular miso soup, salty and savory and yummy. My only complaint was it could have been a wee bit hotter.

I will not make a "me so" joke right now

Once we had finished with the appetizers, a runner cleared away our cups of soup (yet curiously left C's salad plate to sit empty on the table for the rest of the meal). My salad had already arrived while we were eating our apps... oops... but I waited for the sushi to arrive to begin eating. I had gotten the tofu salad, which was a standard Japanese mixed greens salad, ginger dressing, and bits of lightly fried tofu with sesame seeds. There were two random bits of paper-thin carrot in the salad as well, which at first I thought were plastic. The serving of tofu was very generous and fresh, and the salad was good as well, although I would have enjoyed a bit more of the ginger dressing.

The ginger dressing was under the pile of tofu

Close-up on tofu with fried skin

SB got the Metropolitan roll fan, which was an assortment of two rolls. She chose the crunchy spicy tuna roll and the avocado and cucumber roll. I polished off her last two avocado/cuke rolls because she was full, and they were definitely fresh and tasty.

Both crunchy AND spicy!

C also chose an assortment of two sushi rolls. The summer roll arrived first: avocado, asparagus, and caviar topped with mango and smoked salmon. It was quite beautifully presented.

All the colors of summer

She also chose the salamander roll, which was shrimp tempura in a roll topped with spicy tuna, crab, and caviar. This was also quite the striking dish. It's worth noting that both of these were HUGE-- while C enjoyed them, she couldn't finish the entire summer roll. And I eagerly polished off the piles of vinegary pickled ginger from all three sushi plates.

The ones with the tails poking out on the ends made for awkward eating

Close-up: shrimp inside, topped by spicy tuna, then crab, then roe

Once we finished our meal, a runner cleared SB's and my plates and once again left C's to sit awkwardly on the table for the remainder of our time (why???). In contrast to their insistence that we order right away, when it came time for the check, we waited for quite a while while nobody brought the bill (or dessert menus or anything) and finally had to flag a waiter down. So in the end, Aoki offered us very reasonably-priced delicious Japanese food in a somewhat awkward atmosphere. I would recommend this place for take-out (definitely) or maybe for lunch-- I've heard they have some awesome lunch specials. Not the greatest dinner spot, but for the solid food at a good value, I'll give Aoki three Offset Spatulas.

234 W. 48th St., between 8th and Broadway

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