Kyodai bills itself as Baltimore's only rotating sushi bar. The concept is simple, if at first unintentionally amusing: You sit at the bar with your napkin, chopsticks, soy, wasabi and ginger. The sushi-tenders roll up various concoctions, cut them, usually into quarters, plate them, and place them on a shiny silver conveyor belt that chugs along the inside perimeter of the bar. And as they pass, you reach up and pluck down plates that look right for you. No menu. No wondering what it might look like. The plates come in six colors that correspond to the price of each offering: two colors at $2.95, two at $4.95 and two at $5.95. At the end of the meal, they add up the colors for the grand total.
12:05 p.m. We enter Kyodai and get our bearings. By my count, they have eight small tables that can be pushed together to accommodate larger parties, or separated for smaller ones. They line a wall like afterthoughts. The real action is at the bar. We pick the bar.
12:10 p.m. I grab a plate bearing four sections of a tuna roll with each section topped by a generous medallion of seared, spiced tuna. It is a good way to start. My dining companion is interested in the vegetarian offerings, which she has to order from the menu. One of the two sushi-builders behind the bar advises us that the veggie offerings aren't placed on the track. We are pretty sure we see some pass by later in the meal … but, whatever.
I finish my seared tuna and my dining companion oohed at my $6 plate. I really hadn't paid any attention to its color-price code. I grab another, more modestly colored plate, this time with lush avocado and salmon. My friend has a nice tempura shrimp and a low-color-code crunchy asparagus number. Then we follow with a killer — and our favorite — a crab-packed roll topped with a seared spicy mayo sauce for $6. Finally, almost, we check out a veggie and shrimp roll that doesn't do much for us, but then, the crab is a tough act to follow.
12:37 p.m. Our feeding frenzy hits a long lull. Then a tuna-stuffed roll capped with salmon comes along and we grab it. Let's call it dessert. If we'd been offered a check at that point, we'd have cleared our lunch in about 35 minutes. But our attendants are off doing other things.
There are servers who make you feel like a guest and there are servers who, to varying degrees, often out of inexperience and ineptitude, make you feel like an obstacle in their workplace. To the two young guys, delightful in their intensity and alacrity, who kept us supplied with water and tea, we were clearly obstacles, but also ones to whom they were fiercely dedicated to keeping hydrated. What they lacked in grace they made up for in slam-bam timeliness. They made us smile.
And so does Kyodai generally. Compared to other sushi restaurants, I wouldn't put Kyodai's offerings at the very top. While I love some of the pieces we sampled and liked everything else, nothing rose above good, solid workmanship.
We never questioned the freshness of our pieces, but at the same time, we've experienced sushi whose ingredients seemed to crackle and gleam with freshness — even the rice at these places seems healthy and new. Kyodai's pieces never achieved that level of vivid sensation. Neither was I wowed by the inventiveness of the rolls, but there was plenty of variety.
My biggest gripe was that I kept losing rice to the soy bowl. After two or three dips, the bowl was full of floaters. This might speak to the way Kyodai prepares its rice, or it might have something to do with the production-line speed with which the rolls are assembled … or maybe I momentarily lost my dipping touch?
12:46 p.m. There's no question you can turn around a half-hour lunch at Kyodai. We spent 41 minutes, but then we were on a research mission. Otherwise, Kyodai's belly-up-to-the-bar, instant gratification shtick is perfect for diners in a hurry.
You can also order from Kyodai's menu if you prefer sitting at a table or if you want something other than sushi. Entrees run from $10 to $13 with one $18 outlier. The sushi and sashimi menu are priced the same as the plates with two $9 exceptions (sea urchin and sweet shrimp).
You can do pretty well here for $6-$9. But caveat emptor! The pricier pieces are showier and far more tempting. Maybe I could get away with ordering low-ticket items off the menu, but when the goods are parading by me, it's the salmon- and seared-tuna-capped rolls for $6 a plate that call to me. Undisciplined gourmands probably won't get out of here for anything less than $12.
Where: 1 Pennsylvania Ave, Towson
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Lunch entrees: Bar plates $3-$6, menu entrees $9-$13
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding;✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]
Dining time:41 minutes