Blue C Sushi
3411 Fremont Ave N, 633-3411

Mon-Wed 11 am-9 pm, Thurs 11 am-10 pm, Fri 11 am-11 pm, Sat noon- 11 pm, Sun noon-9 pm.

Todai
Pacific Place

600 Pine St, fourth floor, 749-5100

Lunch daily 11:30-2:30 pm; dinner Mon-Thurs 5:30-9 pm, Fri-Sat 5:30-9:30 pm, Sun 5-9 pm.

Eating sushi always involves more accounting than the average restaurant meal: To protect your own investment, you've got to keep track of every bite taken, lest someone snag a piece of yellowtail that's been budgeted for you.

Of all common foods, only sweet, unshareable sushi leaves you with this problem. Some restaurants around town have been confronting it head on, with sushi that's endlessly abundant and moderately priced.

Blue C Sushi is located in the candy-colored hub of New Fremont, and it's a design-heavy take on kaiten, or conveyor-belt sushi--a concept that's been around Japan since the late '50s. Old anime flashes on the walls as you sit down to the bar and face a small conveyor belt that snakes around the room like a model railroad. Just above eye level, the small plates travel along, each plate color-coded to its price. It's like a high-speed dim sum: Grab what you want, and dishes are tallied up at the end of the meal.

There is a cover on every plate and rubber gloves on every worker's hands, something that should be reassuring, but somehow these signposts of sterility make me doubt the skill and judgment of the sushi workers at the center of the room. To keep the sushi operation up to speed, the rice is pre-formed, the fish is pre-sliced, and the sushi is merely assembled in front of customers. Inside the conveyor beltway, a young worker struggles with a bamboo sushi-rolling mat.

The fish isn't bad, but it's sloppy: A tempura shrimp roll ($3) threatened to unravel; a two-piece order of toro ($2.50) came raggedy and mismatched; and the mackerel ($2.50) was dry and even stinkier than it should be. There are a few offbeat options: A smoked squid salad ($2) encased in a barricade of nori was new to me, and full of flavor. The non-sushi food is just passable--like katsu chicken ($4) with a tough crust that's insufficiently warmed by the little tea light that travels with it.

Still, there is a certain Laverne and Shirley appeal to the conveyor belt, and "it is the place to come if you're hungry," pointed out my husband, who eagerly stacked up five plates before I made it through my second.

Todai, the all-you-can-eat Japanese cafeteria (from $12.95 for a weekday lunch to $23.95 weekend nights), seems very comfortable in a food court, unlike Stars Bar & Dining, its white-linen predecessor. The cavernous space was bustling even late lunchtime on a Monday.

Seattle's Todai is one of a growing nationwide chain that promotes itself as "the greatest of all seafood buffets." It's actually several buffets: there's a hot table with yakisoba, teriyaki chicken, and a dreary mountain of tempura vegetables; a salad bar with marinated mussels and tomato/mozzarella salad; a dessert bar of dry tea cakes; and, to complete the Epcot effect, a crêpe station. But the heart of Todai is the sushi buffet. Behind the sneeze guard, food workers busily assemble pieces of sushi by the dozens, doling thin seafood slices out as quick as blackjack dealers. One guy loads rice into a machine--a sushi robot--with both gloved hands: It will soon spit out hundreds of pats of rice. Todai stocks mostly American sushi favorites--futomaki with mushrooms, spicy tuna rolls, salmon and tuna nigiri, and glazed river eel. My heart filled with lust as I gazed upon the sushi acreage, when I bit into scanty slices of fish and dry, under-vinegared rice; I knew there was a gap between all I could eat and all I wanted to eat.

Some Japanese food--ramen, udon, or savory pancakes--is brilliant on the cheap, but not sushi (not that Todai is very cheap). I left Todai craving the soft balance of well-made sushi rice and the sheen of a freshly cut slice of fish. Because sushi's such a simple art, it's not worth compromising on these details. Clearly heaven comes with an unlimited sushi bar, but while we're still in this world, mere nigiri abundance may not be enough.

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