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Restaurant Review: Sushi Sono delivers on its reputation

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On a busy night at Sushi Sono, which by many accounts is every night, the wait for a table in the cramped entrance area, even with a reservation, can be an exercise in patience. Formalities and niceties are mostly dispensed with, and the service on a busy night can border on the hectoring. The idea that you could maintain a state of quiet contemplation in Sushi Sono's hectic dining room is laughable.

None of this matters. The reason to make the trip to Lake Kittamaqundi, to put up with the confusing signs and alienating ingress into Wincopin Circle, is that Sushi Sono might just have the best sushi in the four-county area.

Now a perennial award winner, the Japanese restaurant has steadily built its reputation over the nearly 13 years it's been open. News that the owner and chef, who goes by the name of King, is introducing a new roll to this repertoire spreads like green tea over rice.

If you've ever worried that you might not be able to tell the difference between very good sushi and excellent sushi, then you owe yourself a trip to Sushi Sono. Order something you've had before at your perfectly fine neighborhood sushi joint — say, the hamachi (yellowtail) — take a bite, and you'll know. You can tell the difference. It's better here.

And it's best not to reason why. You might be tempted to assume that the hamachi you've tried before is some inferior variety, or you might decide that the hamachi Sushi Sono sells is flown in hourly from a private hamachi farm. Could be, but more and more I'm learning that the best kitchens have mastered the art of freezing and thawing.

It's best to take things as they come at Sushi Sono and enjoy every bite. You might be tempted to dive headlong into the sushi preparations, but I think you'll have a better time here if you come up with ways to slow down the evening's pace. In addition to the offerings from its sushi bar, Sushi Sono offers a lengthy list of appetizers and a selection of tempura, teriyaki and casserole entrees. Managing your meal, and especially setting a comfortable pace for it, is no simple matter.

I think we made the right choice by starting with a few sense-awakening appetizers, little dishes of pickled vegetables and seasoned seaweed. And when we saw how beautiful a neighboring table's vegetable tempura was, we had to have a plate for our table, too. How necessary are a breaded pork cutlet or a even a relatively light noodle dish like the yaki udon? They might not feel essential, but I think they perform an essential function in tempering the richness of the sushi, which can be sensually overwhelming.

Sushi Sono is known for the creativity of its special rolls. The Neptune Garden roll wraps shrimp, crab, roe and avocado with thin membranes of lettuce and rice paper. The Royal Crab Roll tops lump crab meat and fresh seaweed with a creamy sauce and bonitos; these slivers of fish, which elsewhere take on a stale, freeze-dried look, are otherworldly here. Nothing is just for show — they're delicious.

When we were at Sushi Sono, the chef was introducing a few new creations, which were listed but not described on a board over the sushi bar. Servers all but demand they be ordered, and when they arrive at the table, they are gaped at, admired, puzzled over and devoured. And by the time you're all back in the garage looking for the car, their individual components have started to blur in your mind. On the ride home, we tried to reconstruct them — we remembered mostly the sensation of having seen something new and tasted something wonderful and especially of having been extremely satisfied.

I called King to get his descriptions. The Sushi Nugget is cooked tuna with onion, topped with scallops before being quickly baked; the Sunshine Roll is spicy tuna and crunchy seaweed circled by pan-seared salmon and a finished with the chef's mango sauce. (I had coincidentally seen a post on the HowChow blog with rapturous, and accurate, descriptions of the new rolls, which King said will be around indefinitely.)

It's odd, really. For the longest time, I've chafed against the idea of the sushi temple, a hushed and serene environment of quiet contemplation. But with sushi this good, I wish Sushi Sono were quieter, smaller and not so popular. I feel as if Sushi Sono and I need some alone time.

A colleague here at The Baltimore Sun tells me that I should stop whining about the crowds and go there for lunch.

richard.gorelick@baltsun.com

Sushi Sono

Where: 10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia

Contact: 410-997-6131, http://www.sushisonomd.com

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday

Prices: Appetizers, $4-16 Entrees, $13-$32

Food: ✭✭✭1/2

Service: ✭✭1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭1/2

[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]

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