When writing a review, I typically have one bout with self-doubt and wonder if Stranger readers and loyal patrons of the restaurant will think I'm completely insane. Restaurant preferences are, obviously, subjective and, sometimes, painfully personal. I've already found my favorite sushi restaurant in Seattle (Maneki, 304 Sixth Ave S, 622-2631), so I often have a hard time bringing myself to go anywhere else and must rely on people's suggestions to keep things in perspective. I set out to expand my sushi horizons at Stranger readers' most beloved spots: Capitol Hill's Aoki Japanese Grill & Sushi Bar (621 Broadway E, 324-3633) and Fremont's Chiso (3520 Fremont Ave N, 632-3430).
It's probably been two years since I ate at Aoki, the bustling, stalwart restaurant on the north end of Broadway, but the lovely little golden wood sushi bar and bizarre, downright dizzying red-and-white striped booths welcomed me back with open arms. The iceberg-lettuce salad with miso dressing ($1.25) and sunomono with shrimp ($3) were gloriously simple and satisfying. We dined happily on wasabi tobiko (two for $3.50) and surf clam (two for $3.30) nigiri, but the best options are the standards—spicy tuna roll ($5.75), spider roll ($7.25), and a very generously filled yellowtail and scallion roll ($5.50). (One question, Aoki: Why is fresh salmon sushi not on your menu? It baffles me, and everyone else I know.) I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of interesting hot food options—especially delicate, grilled enoki mushrooms ($5.25) and grilled sardines (two for $3).
I agree with (ingeniously named) reader M.F.er Food Eater, who succinctly offers this: "Cheap and real and good. Pleasant staff. Nice atmosphere." But when I get back to Aoki, it will be because of what reader Steve had to say: "I'm new to eating sushi alone... and now I try to do it alone as much as possible. I sat at the bar for the first time here... I was lucky to pick such a great place." I'm intrigued and can't wait to rediscover the sushi bar at Aoki on my own (and to have another plate of those fabulous, salty, crunchy sardines).
Hayleyrae's endorsement of Chiso resonated deeply with me: "I could eat this every day. If I still lived in Fremont, I just might." And Hayleyrae has got good reason to make such a proclamation—the quality of fish at Chiso is spectacular, particularly hamachi (two for $4.50) so fatty and tasty and supple it almost makes me want to cry, chutoro (fatty tuna, two for $8), and fresh wild sockeye (two for $6.50). Breaking with my usual Japanese all-sushi dinner menu, we ordered some great panko-breaded fried oysters (six for $8.50), lightly and perfectly fried, as well as yakiniku, kalbi-marinated beef that you roll in lettuce leaves and dip in a beautiful, thick sesame paste.
Even more than the excellent food, what I love about Chiso is the same thing reader Tim K enjoys: "I like the place mostly for its subterranean, quiet location, just a stone's throw from the center of Fremont." Tucked underneath a UPS store and across the street from the rowdy Dubliner, Chiso is, unexpectedly, but quite possibly, the perfect place for a late-night, lingering date—subterranean, yes, dreamy, definitely.