Roll Meister

I must be paying for the sins of a past life. Why is it every time I locate a new sushi purveyor that I'd like to put into heavy rotation for my weekly feeding rounds, the joint is inevitably 30 minutes to an hour away from me? By Thor's mighty hammer, I live in the bloody center of town! You'd think central Phoenix could get some decent sushi action going, but the one or two places nearby me are so middling-fair that I might as well buy some raw fish from AJ's, make the rice myself, and D.I.Y. it.

I'm so disgusted with this situation, I plan to run for mayor against Hizzoner Philly G., with my whole platform focusing on bringing decent sushi to the main swath of the PHX. Does anyone remember those benches the city was giving away last year? Maybe they still are, as far as I know. What if they took that money and issued grants and tax incentives to prospective sushi merchants? At least then we wouldn't have to hoof it to Scottsdale or North BFE for better-than-average toro or salmon. Think of all the tax dollars that would be saved from leaking to Chandler or Surprise. Think of the Japanese tourists with more places to spend their yen. But most of all, think of me, a stomach-driven amateur ichthyologist if there ever was one, famished and always ready to stuff my gob with all the glorious treasures of the briny deep.

Such are my thoughts upon receiving a word-of-mouth recommendation from an acquaintance about Sushi Eye in Tempe, open now for a mere five months. It's in a little strip mall parked beside the immense Fascinations Superstore on Elliot Road, so you can browse for unmentionables before or after you get your roll on at SE. Unlike many a piscatory profiteer who cranks out specialty rolls by dumping loads of gunk atop a California roll base, owner and roll-meister Richard Cho creates some intriguing and mouth-watering maki, while forgoing in most cases the Cali cliché.


Sushi Eye Bar web link.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The ASU Roll is sure to placate the devilish Sparky, as well as anyone who craves such Nipponese noshes on a regular basis. Inside its rice sleeve is cucumber and crunchy shrimp tempura, and on top is spicy tuna, dressed in sweet unagi (eel) sauce, two kinds of wasabi sauce, slivers of jalapeño, strands of garlic, macadamia nuts and tobiko. As you can surmise, it's a smidgen on the spicy side, but not so much so that you cannot ingest it. We're talking Japanese cuisine here, not New Mexican, after all.

The Climax Roll, best eaten following your trip to Fascinations, is also rather piquant, with spicy tuna and cucumber making up the innards, the resulting rice tube being wrapped in tuna, then drizzled over with wasabi sauces. Amazing how all that tuna vanishes so quickly down into my tummy. If you feel like alternating some sweetness with the thrill of your Climax (no pun intended), have chef Cho craft a Cherry Blossom Roll for you. Inside is salmon and avocado. Outside the rice is a thick layer of tuna, and drizzled over it all is syrupy unagi sauce. As with all of Cho's creations, portions are generous, and prices reasonable. But I swear the fish seems much fresher here than at other sushi houses I've tarried in of late. Cho assures me that he will not put out fish that's substandard, and for once in my culinary career, I'm willing to believe a merchant when he tells me that. Here, the proof is in the Pisces.

I've read somewhere that Japanese wives used to make their men unagi as sort of a sign that they're in the mood for some lovin'. Seems eel's supposed to put lead in your pencil, like a lot of eats that are snakelike in appearance. Cho's Dragon Roll might cure what ails ya if you're 50-something and require a jolt to the libido. Fortunately, I'm not there yet, but I'll remember to look up Cho when I am. The Dragon Roll is similar to the ASU Roll, save for the fact it carries savory-sweet eel slices rather than spicy tuna. Needless to say, I slew that Dragon in no time flat.

Can't remember the last time I was on a diet, but you don't need to be on the Kirstie Alley plan to enjoy Cho's Atkins Roll. Similar to the "lollipops" over at Scottsdale's Stingray Sushi, the fish is rolled in cucumber, then sliced and skewered on a thin stick. A colorful arrangement of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, crabmeat and tobiko is tightly packed inside. Minus the rice, the fish flesh is cool and incredibly light, though Cho's Atkins Roll slices are slightly thicker than the "lollipops" you get at Stingray, if memory serves me correctly.

Cho, who is of Korean descent, was raised in San Jose, California, and has worked in sushi restaurants for the past eight years honing his craft. His traditional sushi is outstanding as well, though there are many other rolls on the menu I'm dying to consume. Cho's blue uni (named for the color of the creature's exterior), toro, salmon, ikura (salmon roe), etc., are spot-on, and he has a few items you don't see in every sushi outlet, like white tuna, halibut nigiri, and Pacific escolar sashimi. There are some winners on the appetizer list as well, like the tako karaage (fried octopus with garlic sauce), the Agedashi tofu, some of the better fried tofu I've enjoyed of late, and the hamachi kama, or yellowtail collar -- this last good, though not as juicy as the hamachi kama at Stingray.

Sushi Eye is a family affair. Cho's wife Hyun Soo waits tables, and Cho's parents are usually around keeping watch on the front of the house. Cho's sister is to be credited with the appealing, modern interior design of the place, with its mint and lime-green walls, and its hip logo, which looks like a casino chip with a fish in the middle. Some of the other staffers are a little young, and not as sure of the menu as they need to be, but this is a rather minuscule complaint that I think will be corrected with time. Otherwise, Sushi Eye is the kind of spot I wish were closer to me. If so, I might roll my tubby self over there every other day of the week.


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