We’re new here, but one thing we are already sure about is that fresh fish and seafood are not among the local specialties of the New York Capital region. Apples: of course. Winter Squashes: certainly. Italian Pastries: Oh my, yes. Seafood: what’s that? We haven’t really been able to find a good fish purveyor, although decent wild salmon occasionally makes its way to our Price Chopper. Is this a sign of the days to come, as quality fish stocks dwindle due to unsustainable practices? Maybe one is better off staying away from fish, contaminated as they may be by PCB’s and heavy metals.
Sometimes, though, we get a hankering for a little raw fish, and ‘sushi restaurant’ goes right into our Google Maps search engine. Local favorites that we have tried include Mari’s on Van Vranken in Schenectady and Hiro’s on Central Avenue in Albany. But our current favorite is a relatively new place on Union St. in Schenectady: Mr. Wasabi. To be fair, one of our colleagues deserves credit for recommending the place to us (and to the rest of you).
The storefront is narrow but the restaurant has an elongated layout that allows for the 32 seats to be well spaced rather than cramped. Rather than the traditional paper screens and woodblock prints, the walls are decorated with abstract acrylic paintings, and the sushi bar looks right in on the open kitchen. The furnishings are all still shiny and new, which make sense for a restaurant that’s only four months old.
The menu goes far beyond sushi to include hibachi-grilled meats, tempura and noodle soups and stir fries. We were especially impressed with the variety of appetizers on the menu. We skipped the miso soup ($1.95) and went for Hamaguri (clam) Soup ($3.95, shown below) and Eggplant Yaki ($4.95). The clam soup had 3 clams in the shell in hot strained clam soup broth, and the eggplant was sliced, grilled in the skin and topped with a lightly sweetened miso sauce. Both are excellent appetizers, whose brininess whets ones appetite for the freshness of the raw fish to come.
The sushi menu includes all of the expected rolled (maki) and pressed (nigiri) sushi options, as well as some more creative Chef’s Specials, such as the Mango Special (tuna, avocado, and crab topped with mango) and the Tri-Color Roll (salmon, avocado, and ginger inside, topped with tuna, yellowtail, and sweet chili sauce), both $11.95.
We went with a ‘regular’ sushi platter ($14.95, above) and a rainbow roll ($9.95, below). The sushi was excellent, made from well-prepared, fresh-tasting, good quality fish. The avocado in the rainbow roll was ripe and firm, and the sushi rice was cooked and seasoned just right. We felt like we couldn’t really ask for more at this price level.
As for dessert, we were surprised by a green tea cheesecake which was really a layer cake with green-tea mousse($5.50), and a scoop of tempura-fried red-bean ice cream served flambe($5.00).
Although better than most sushi-restaurant desserts, they offered much more to look at than to enjoy eating. Our advice: skip dessert.
Rather than traditional Japanese ceramics, the orders are served in trendy square bowls and oblong platters, suggesting that this restaurant plans to take a youthful and fresh approach to sushi, unlike most places that try to evoke Old Japan through décor and atmosphere. This was confirmed to us by the peppy Japanese pop music that started to play over the sound system that had been silent until we received our desserts. As we paid, our server asked us to be sure to come back again to try items from the revised menu that will be appearing soon. I can confidently say that we’ll be taking that suggestion, and we’ll post an update when we do. For now, we’re especially attracted to the $8.95 lunch special.
Mr. Wasabi is located at 1671 Union St. in Schenectady, and is open 11:30 am- 2:30 pm for lunch/ 4:30 pm-10:30 pm for dinner Monday- Saturday, and noon to 10pm on Sunday.