While lower Queen Anne threatens to be overrun with tourist/suburbanite attractions (the opera, the ballet, the Titanic, the Space Needle, the EMP) and subsequent ludicrous traffic situations, this hectic collection of streets is, underneath it all, still a neighborhood. In fact, few neighborhoods in Seattle can boast a sing-along piano bar, and I can't imagine anything besting evenings at Sorry Charlie's, with Howard tinkling at the ivories. Across the street, the Mecca flashes its neon, squaring off what I hope is an eternal embrace (or duel) of strong drink, comfort food, and cocktail waitresses you can talk with. Just down the street, Seattle's only sit-down Dick's oversees the whole business. Add to this heavenly circuit of refreshment a new pillar of the community--Shiki Sushi. Shiki inhabits the modest space at the base of Queen Anne Avenue, where the old Mediterranean Kitchen used to be, and it inhabits it with character.

After stopping in for a quick, sweet bowl of unagi donburi (broiled eel over rice, $7), I noticed a very familiar-looking, strongly built man, clad entirely in leather, pulling up to Caffe Ladro on his Harley. It took several days for me to connect this road warrior to the gregarious sushi chef of Shiki.

Shiki is just plain good--all the standard Japanese fare done exactly right, such as saba shioyaki (broiled mackerel, $6.50 for lunch). You can't beat the bento box ($8.50) for its value and array of compartmentalized taste treats. The bento includes ample samples of sushi, miniature seasonal vegetables, dead-on spicy noodles, and, when I visited, perfect tempura, and, well, chicken teriyaki. (What can I say about chicken teriyaki? It is chicken. Teriyaki.)

On to why Shiki is a new pillar of the community. Chef Ken Yamamoto greets each and every person who enters his restaurant at the door with a friendly shout-out in Japanese--"Irasshyaimase!" ("Welcome!"). Perhaps it is this contagiously friendly greeting, but word has caught on about Shiki, and after being open only a month and a half, the place is packed with business lunchers and older Japanese Americans out for some authentic fare. The prices are exceedingly reasonable, and crazy things happen, like the other day when Yamamoto told me that since Copper River salmon were in season, that was the only kind of salmon they were serving. "I know, I'm losing money. But the season is so short!" Upon hearing this, the entire early lunch crowd hastily ordered salmon dishes.

Everybody knows that sushi ain't cheap, and I for one am glad this city hosts no discount sushi joints where I might tempt the food-poisoning fates. Shiki's sushi will cost you, but it is worth the coin. Each and every piece of sushi nigiri that entered my mouth brought about a warm, happy feeling inside, as good food is apt to do. Shiki's sushi is superior to fancy-schmancy Nikko and the like, and is more affordable. The recommended daily specials range from good and fresh to extremely exciting. When available, Shiki serves up the extreme sport of sushi consumption--fugu (market price), the revered blowfish. I'm a sucker for the unakyu roll ($4.75)--sweet, salty eel intertwined with cucumber. And of course, the spider roll ($10) is magnificent, if problematic to eat without horrifying onlookers.

If one is concerned about impressing a fellow diner with one's food-to-mouth finesse, the delicately fried soft-shell crab is available as a much more manageable appetizer ($4.50), along with about eight other really excellent reasons to eat precisely and artfully fried food. I, for one, am thankful for Shiki's neighborhood presence in a burg groaning under a heavy pile of schtick-oriented restaurants. Eschewing FAO Schwarz-inspired signage for a demure exterior, Shiki has the presence of mind to provide truly excellent food infused with passion and intelligence in a clean and comfortable setting.

Shiki

4 West Roy St, 281-1352.

Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm; dinner Mon-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm; closed Sundays. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

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

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