Eatside: Roll Playing at IzaKaya

Mystery sushi reigns in Renton.

Everyone loves surprises—good ones, anyway. Getting to the heart of an artichoke for the first time after getting those sticky hair-like petals stuck all over your hands is worth the work. Occasionally you stumble upon an imposter dish like a cake disguised as a hamburger or a bowl of spaghetti—these are weird, but still good. And then there are the "so glad I had no idea" surprises, like you can find at IzaKaya Sushi in Renton. Anyone willing to publicly proclaim "I love sushi" has had enough nigiri, hand rolls, or sashimi to figure out which pieces they toss back like candy and which ingredients they avoid—like, say, raw squid, large roe, or cream cheese. But sometimes curiosity gets the best of you, and next thing you know, a raw quail egg or monkfish liver shows up at the table. It's not really a surprise since you know it's coming, but the flavor, texture, and likability are still undetermined. Then there are the gold, pink, and blue plates that whiz by on the conveyor belt at IzaKaya. Most have explanatory signs preceding them; good on IzaKaya for preventing people from picking things they won't eat, or worse, will put back. As the train chugs past, a few straggler plates pass by every now and again with no sign. The mystery roll was too tempting not to grab. This mystery roll ($2.50 for three pieces) was smoky and salty like BBQ eel, but nearly too crunchy to be BBQ eel. Oddly enough, the roll was still really delicious. It had toasted sesame seeds and a thick, sweet sauce with the finest shavings of what looked like Parmesan cheese covering the top. After devouring all three pieces, the chef explained it was a crispy fried salmon-skin roll, which was good to know, albeit a little unappetizing. However, that still didn't solve the mystery of the questionable (and flavorless) shavings, which turned out to be dried salmon skin shaved with a cheese grater. Somehow that was more off-putting than the large chunks of skin in the roll (think dandruff). And yet, the next time that roll came by, still without a sign, it was just as tempting as the first time. For all other train rolls, gyozas, and nigiri, IzaKaya offers good quality for a decent price. The edamame was relatively fresh, and there wasn't a single bad item to be had, save for the fake cake, which is what sushi trains offer for dessert on the conveyor belt for the less adventurous. Usually fake cake is forgivable if there are also a few quality Asian items available, like deep-fried sesame balls. Unfortunately they didn't have those, so fake cake won by default. It was, as predicted, gross and a complete waste of calories. Luckily, that was the only disappointment. The sushi parading by was better than that on most trains, and the bento boxes are generous enough to feed two.

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