Sushi sensationPublished on October 21, 2008

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  • Ottawa's sushi offerings range from exotic to budget pleasers.

For most lovers of food from faraway lands, sushi is no longer just scary scraps of raw fish that you have to fumble to pick up with your chopsticks.

In fact, it isn't uncommon to find your standard - but unfortunately oh-so-blah - California roll and salmon sushi at the local supermarket or mall food court. But where can serious sushi samplers in search of more exotic fare find those oases of Zen in Ottawa? Sushi fanatic Krystle Chow went on the hunt for places that tantalize and tempt her taste buds and found these five favourites.

CHEF BENTO SUSHI, 606 Rideau St., 613-562-2563

It's not likely to win any awards for decor, but this tiny eatery gets top marks for making the best sushi in town. A little exaggeration, you say? Not when you consider that the friendly young owner and his wife handcraft each roll into a mini work of art, from the Rocky Mountain Roll, liberally sprinkled with crunchy tempura bits and drenched in a tangy, creamy sauce that will evoke images of Mount Fuji, to the melt-in-your-mouth Baked Scallop Roll, lightly charred with a blowtorch and topped with a spicy sauce for a sublimely smoky flavour. What's more, the chef will gladly whip you up a "Whatever Roll," with any two types of seafood and any other ingredients he has on hand. I tried a scallop, shrimp, avocado and cucumber concoction topped with teriyaki and the same spicy sauce on the Baked Scallop Roll, which was absolutely delish. Plus, the rolls are huge and relatively cheap compared to other sushi restaurants in town, and the owner usually treats you to two complimentary pieces of sushi at the end of your meal.

SUSHI KANATA, L1-655 Kanata Ave. (near AMC Kanata), 613-599-0009

If you're a west-end techie or a moviegoer with a penchant for Japanese food, check out Sushi Kanata for top-notch rolls with creative flair. Sushi novices who will only believe it when they see it will be glad to know there's pictures of almost everything on the menu, and there's something to cater to even the finickiest eater here. Sushi Kanata serves some of the best barbecued freshwater eel (unagi) rolls in the city, and don't worry, it's not as gross as it sounds; the peppery, buttery fish is wonderfully tender and smooth. For the more adventurous diner, there are fancy specialty rolls aplenty: I tried the Tiger Stripe Roll, or eel, shrimp, smoked salmon, avocado and flying fish eggs (Japanese caviar) on top of a tempura shrimp and cucumber roll, and the Canadian Roll - smoked salmon on lobster, asparagus and Japanese mayo, both of which were excellent. And there's plenty of plainer fare, starting at $3.75 for imitation crab sushi. Diners get free miso soup too, which is pretty rare in this city, and always nice.

GENJI, 175 Lisgar St., 613-236-2880

This popular downtown joint offers generous portions, warm service, and an oasis of calm just steps from the bustle of Elgin Street. The menu selection is broad, with a good many veggie choices clearly marked for the non-carnivore, and a long list of hot and cold appetizers, rolls and hand-rolls (temaki), including some rather "fruity" options. I was curious about the maki made with mango, kiwi or grapefruit, but decided to go instead with the Genji appetizer - four juicy shrimp tempura and seaweed dumplings served with a spicy dipping sauce - as a starter. Genji's food is fresh and filling; even a hearty eater like myself was happy with the hand-rolls that are filled to the brim with huge pieces of fish that go right to the bottom of the tightly wrapped cones of seaweed and rice - no measly scraps here. Plus servers actually check to see if your teapot needs refilling, so there's no need to frantically flag down staff when you need to wash down your wasabi.

1000 SUSHI ISLANDS, 1696 Carling Ave., 613-722-3803

Got a bottomless gullet, but not a bottomless wallet? Head on over to this all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant near Westboro, where quantity is the name of the game. You can find all the old favourites here, including California rolls, spider rolls (deep-fried soft-shell crab, cucumber, crab and avocado), shrimp tempura and sashimi. The tender, saucy beef rolls, filled with green onions and enoki mushrooms, are especially good, and you can cap off your meal with three different flavours of ice cream or seasonal fruit. Service is fast and efficient, so you can get started right away on getting your money's worth, and the itemized order sheets are a great idea, but make sure your eyes don't get bigger than your stomach! It's a great place for birthdays too, with the party room offering some respite from the often noisy, wide-open main dining area.

SUISHA GARDENS, 208 Slater St., 613-236-9602

For an authentic Japanese experience, it's hard to beat this favourite, where you can enjoy your sushi in a private screened room after crossing over a path of rocks and trickling water and leaving your shoes outside. While the rolls at Suisha can get rather pricey, the ŗ la carte bento boxes are a good option, with miso soup, rice and vegetables on a sizzling plate. The tempura is light and fluffy, and the ingredients used are quite fresh - try the appetizing Kamikaze Roll, with spicy tuna, avocado and tempura bits. There are some good dessert choices here too, including creamy, nutty black sesame ice cream and traditional mochi rice cakes filled with red bean and sesame, which complement each other nicely. Written by Krystle Chow




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