Most every Memorial Day weekend finds me in Lansing, Michigan for the annual MediaWest*Con convention. Lansing is not exactly a hot spot for outstanding foodie finds, sad to say, but I always try to avoid the ubiquitous national chains and sample a few different local restaurants if the buzz about them is positive. After two days on the roads and eating in rest stops, I was ready for some light and healthy food – sushi was beckoning me, as was Sushi Blue, a new (to me) sushi restaurant not far from the convention hotel. The head chef, Lexus Kim, had previously been sushi/head chef at Ai Fusion Sushi & Grill in Okemos, a well-regarded restaurant in East Lansing. I thought Sushi Blue would be well worth trying out since it was so close by – even if it’s location in a former “Mr. Taco” fast food building left quite a bit desired. Sadly, so did the meal I ended up tasting.
At Sushi Blue, they certainly have tried to dress up the interior as much as possible, but it’s still clearly an old fast food restaurant – now with paper lanterns, bamboo in the windows and blue lighting everywhere. Grabbing a seat in a booth, I began studying the sushi menu before the waitress appeared with the full offerings. Standard nigiri and maki rolls are offered, but the emphasis is clearly on house specialty fancy rolls – most of which feature tempura fried items (or entirely fried rolls), mayo sauces, cheese and other non-traditional sushi offerings. Some examples include the “Blue Willie” (shrimp tempura, tuna, salmon, snapper, avocado, crab salad, scallop ‘deep fried’ w/two kinds of sauce, $15,95), “Kentucky Derby” (chicken tempura, cream cheese, asparagus, cucumber, crab salad and special sauce, $11.95), “Las Vegas” (salmon, mozarella, crab salad ‘deep fried’ with two kinds of sauce, $9.95) and the Maui Roll (shrimp tempura, cream cheese, asparagus topped with mango, avocado, mixed nuts and special sauce, $14.95).
A small selection of cooked Japanese and Korean dishes are also offered: typical Udon, Teriyaki, Katsu and Bulgogi. I really wanted light and fresh – not heavy and deep fried – so I went with the Chirashi ($14.95), which is always one of my standard choices when I really want to test out a sushi chef and kitchen. You can’t hide the quality of the fish when served plainly over seasoned rice, and it’s also a test to see if the restaurant just tries to fill you up with cheaper items (crab stick, tamago) or offers better tuna, salmon and snapper.
The Chirashi came with standard miso soup and salad, both of which were just that: quite standard. The miso did not have much fresh tofu in it but was soothing to the stomach. The dressing on the salad was more creamy and less gingery than I’m used to, more of a Japanese “Thousand Island” instead of ginger.
My Chirashi came fairly quickly and the box was quite full, attractively arranged with a pretty carrot butterfly on top. However, my first bite of salmon, tasted without any wasabi or soy, was very disappointing. While not “off”, it absolutely had a previously-frozen, less-than-fresh flavor – salmon that would be fine to cook with but was not what I’d consider “sushi quality”. The other selections were similarly disappointing in flavor and also texture, being quite chewy and lacking that melt-in-your-mouth quality that I crave in good sushi. The bowl was also quite packed with cheaper offerings as I feared it might, and lacking in any of the Japanese pickled vegetables one usually finds in a Chirashi bowl.
With copious soy and wasabi – and because of my hunger – I was able to eat it but not especially enjoy the meal. I could say based on this experience that it’s no surprise, perhaps, that so many of the rolls at Sushi Blue are covered in sauce, fried or otherwise cooked. Indeed, that was what I saw most other tables ordering. But given how the “naked” fish tasted I’m not inclined to go back and try them out. For a similar price of about $15, I can get much better quality Chirashi at home in South Jersey and Philadelphia.
My total, with a mug of green tea, was about $20 with tip. Later this weekend I will be going instead, no doubt multiple times, to Sansu Sushi in Okemos where I’m expecting a much better bang for my sushi bucks. Two years ago I’d had nearly every dinner for 5 nights there as I was staying at the nearby Marriott and had been blown away by the quality of their sushi. Sushi Blue seems quite popular among Lansing locals, but I have to wonder if it’s just from lack of sushi competition in the nearby area because the food and atmosphere was nothing, in my opinion, to get excited about.