Dining Dish: Sushi House hosts authentic sushi, best in the land

Spinnaker

In the heart of the St. Johns Town Center — well, close to the center, anyway — tucked inconspicuously between a Mattress Giant and a dry cleaner, sits perhaps one of Jacksonville’s finest sushi establishments: Sushi House.

Inside, the casual diner is greeted with the welcoming gaze of the lucky porcelain cat perched atop the counter, while scrolls depicting scenes of medieval Japan adorn the walls. This serene atmosphere is only enhanced by the traditional Japanese melodies playing overhead: Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and John Denver’s “Country Roads.”

It is amidst this quaint atmosphere that we find Elizabeth Campbell, a UNF English graduate student, and Kyle Fortenberry, a UNF English and history senior — dining companions, adversaries and sometimes, friends — as they embark upon a new adventure in culinary exploration and criticism.

(Note: Elizabeth writes in regular font while Kyle is italicized.)

I can feel Kyle boring a hole into my head with his eyes as I order the Shrimp Tempura roll, and I know the inevitable reprimand about to come my way — That’s not real sushi.

I gently remind Kyle, with great respect for his delicate psyche, that I don’t care. Luckily for this un-picky eater, Sushi House’s recently revamped menu offers several variations of this roll: “The Pink Dragon,” with salmon on top; “The Green Dragon,” with avocado; and the “Black Dragon,” with eel. Despite my many options, I place my usual order: a shrimp tempura roll and steamed gyoza.

I try to explain to Elizabeth that the beauty of sushi lies in its simplicity: the subtle taste of the fish and rice, the clean, beautiful aestheticism of the presentation. Unfortunately, this is all lost on her as she insists on ordering a fried ‘sushi’ roll and then proceeds to slather it unceremoniously in shrimp sauce. I, however, stick with the nigiri, a small ball of rice topped with a slice of fish. I round out my order with a special request: baby octopus. It is my experience in sushi dining — as well as all other types — that baby animals are delicious. Whether it be baby octopus, corn, cow or giraffe. I’m a sucker for eating babies.

I continue to ignore Kyle as the waitress arrives with my order of gyoza, and it’s little wonder he spends every Friday night alone. I finally tell him to shut up about eating babies and partake in the gyoza, which has arrived in all of its meaty goodness in an awesome little boat dish — which Kyle proceeds to play with as if he were five. Gyoza is a dumpling filled with a pork and vegetable mixture and is prepared steamed or pan-fried according to one’s preference. I can say, with certain authority, that Sushi House’s gyoza is the best in all the land. I also strongly recommend the rainbow roll, which is essentially a California roll topped with yellow tail, tuna, salmon and avocado. Just make sure you slather it with shrimp sauce.

While I am sure Elizabeth’s recommendation is the result of relentless and scrupulous testing, Sushi House nevertheless remains a solid dining experience. My nigiri and simpler rolls — such as the yellowtail or spicy tuna — were excellent as the freshness of the fish is most evident. If one does not care for sushi or seafood in general, Sushi House offers a variety of dishes, from chicken hibachi to tempura. While the prices may seem steep when compared to McDonald’s dollar menu, Sushi House’s prices are appropriate, and one can easily enjoy a filling meal for around $10. Daily lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday make it even more affordable for the student on a budget.