IT WAS TUESDAY NIGHT of WTO week, and I'd made plans to dine at Capitol Hill's friendly and dependable Hana. Hoping to work up a sushi appetite, my dining companion and I drove downtown, into the teeth of a scene characterized by burning dumpsters and freaked-out police officers dressed like Robo Cop. We drove smack into a police line, quickly U-turning and speeding the wrong way down Fifth Avenue, out of the police-misbehavior zone and up to the safe (so we thought) haven of Hana on Capitol Hill. We were seated, glad to be in Hana's homey environment and away from the stick-wielding sci-fi action figures we had just left downtown.

Hana can't be beat for trustworthy, bountiful, and inexpensive Japanese food. The bento medleys provide a huge assortment of fresh, nutritious, and colorful dishes. (Is there anything unhealthy about Japanese food? Miso soup can be a little salty, and tempura frying adds fat, but what other rap can be laid on this food?) If there is Japanese food we don't like, we haven't tasted it yet, and Hana continues our streak. Hana Bento ($12.25) is built around a centerpiece of sushi (chilled and mellow tuna and salmon, plus the perennially irrelevant California roll). A small and artful piece of salmon teriyaki provides accompaniment, along with predictable yet pleasing tempura-battered shrimp, pork, and oysters. A dainty pile of cucumbers provides a taste from the wonderful world of plants, which sometimes takes too much of a back seat in this genre. Miso soup and a huge bowl of steamed rice bookend this grand menu selection. Sister Sashimi Bento ($13.25) comes with yellow tail tuna, salmon and octopus sashimi, copious chicken teriyaki, and prawn and vegetable tempura.

Hana's tempura batter is as crispy and light as they come, and the variety of vegetables (green beans, yams, carrots) is a welcome addition to the flesh and crab bento cornerstones. You probably can't eat all the chicken teriyaki; and paired with some of the steamed rice and other remaining tidbits, you've got lunch, baby, with a capital L. Yellowtail tuna, salmon, and octopus represent the sashimi contingent of this meal.

Edamame (Japanese for fresh soy beans) is an appetizer that tastes freshly picked out of the garden. The lightly cooked little gems pop easily out of their jackets, and have a mild and nutty flavor. Hana's Inari Sushi ($1.50) is incomparably delicious. Also called cone sushi, inari is the least glamorous of the sushi family, with its simple rice interior and soft and spongy fried bean-curd shell. The rice is moist and fresh and the shell is succulent, unlike many tougher inari which may have been sitting around awhile. This inari is newly born, and I celebrate its birth.

Hana's a fairly hectic place, but the efficient service and elegant touches (like the artistic flower arrangements) make it a nice oasis. The winter lilies at our table were interspersed with baby's breath, which would not stand up on their thin stems alone, so the flower arranger had made little holders out of extra lily stems. Where else would someone go to that trouble? I felt special and honored. While the stems of the flower arrangement are carefully separated from each other as a matter of flower-arrangement principle, there is no such separation among the very close-together tables, but that's okay. Overhearing engaging conversations from nearby fellow sushi-eaters is an added attraction. We overhead one fellow saying, "And then on TV they started to gas the people again, but I had to leave to go to work so I missed some of it." The only regular annoyance at Hana are the somewhat nasty bathrooms, shared with other shops in the little mini-mall.

Fortified by Hana's faultless food, we emerged back into the WTO chaos with renewed vigor. Within five minutes, we were being gassed with a small group of mostly passive onlookers at Melrose and Pine, marveling at the SPD's cowardice and hooliganism. As we gagged, coughed, and wheezed, we gave a moment of thanks that we had eaten Hana's light and nutritional fare before darting away from the scene with cat-like quickness.

Hana Sushi, 219 Broadway E, 328-1187. Mon-Sat 11 am-10 pm, Sun 4-10 pm. Beer and wine. $$

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up

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