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Stray Fish Sushi

The New Squid On The Block

The décor has changed little since this locale's days as comfort food maven Rock Soup; its cavernous ceiling, spacious seating, and modern peacock blue paint are appealing, but it doesn't exactly scream sushi. Pancakes or beef stew, as the look indicates, could easily grace the plates. And the service has that less-than-earnest scatter one would expect when being served a short stack, rather than shiro-maguro. A narrow sushi bar accented by a quiet koto's gentle ping it is not, but you won't be disappointed for long at Stray Fish -- at least not once the sushi arrives. Despite its first impressions and its horrendous name (I can't get the connotations of feminine hygiene products or weak, slow swimming sea life out of my brain), this new squid on the block is quietly, and economically, slinging some of the freshest fish in town.

The sushi is where the party is at, but some other dishes merit mention. Wakame salad ($3.50) impressed me first -- a plentiful pile of thinly sliced cukes and tasty seaweed (though not enough of the latter), drenched in a wasabi-punched miso vinegar. While thicker and more viscous than a traditional dressing, we welcomed it with open chopsticks. I am a sucker for monkfish liver ($7) -- I had assumed that monkfish "lever", as the menu listed it, would be similar -- and their steamed, round medallions guzzling a sweet, teriyaki style sauce dotted with hot peppers was savory, but too pink and too strange for my taste.

Tempura is one of the toughest Japanese dishes to perfect, and the Kaki Age ($5.50), a puffy shredded vegetable mix, was more like a deep fried pancake than delicate dainty. But keep that fryer on, daddy: the tonkatsu dinner ($10.50), a batter-fried boneless pork fillet dipped in a tamarind and soy sauce, had the right balance of crumb crust and moist meat, and was served in a proper, overindulgent portion.

So far I am pleased, but my dining pleasure puffed up like a blowfish once the fish and rice arrived. The sushi proved to be outstanding and high quality across the board. And at $2.95 for two pieces of nigiri, or $3.95 for most generous six-piece maki rolls, this might be one of the best sushi secrets in town (Psst! Three of us stuffed ourselves silly for about $75).

The maguro (tuna) and hamachi (yellow tail) were pure, buttery indulgence, a velvety rectangle cut wide and long enough to trump the perfectly sweet and sour sushi rice. Rolls of unagi (barbecued eel), avocado, cucumber, and oshinko (pickled daikon radish) were tight, artistic, and obviously made from a skilled hand. Kudos to Stray Fish for not wasting too much menu space on fusion-y bastard rolls made toxic with cream cheese, mango, or more than three ingredients. The sushi, like the place itself, is simple, fresh, and pleasingly familiar.

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