Some restaurants are like department stores. Their menus tend to offer something for almost everyone. Others are more like boutiques, offering a more specialized type of cuisine. One such place is SushiQ on Washington Boulevard in Elkridge. Rather than taking the Pan-Asian route that seems to be so popular these days, SushiQ owners Jennifer and Kenny Qiu provide fare that is virtually all Japanese.
Here, you won’t find your future dinner entrée performing as part of a floor show. No flaming onion towers, no juggled cleavers hover overhead. You can watch one of the four sushi chefs prepare your favorite versions if you sit at the small sushi bar at the back of the dining room. But it’s not all that dramatic until you taste the subtle, oh-so-satisfying results.
Another nice thing about this boutique approach is that SushiQ, which opened in April 2012, is small. There are just 64 seats in its well-appointed dining room that provides a Zen-type backdrop for the food.
Although black dominates the decor, it’s done in such a way as to encourage relaxation and conversation. And the service my quartet of diners experienced on a recent evening was warmly diffident and knowledgeable, adding to the pleasant ambiance.
A welcoming gesture was the (complimentary) “amuse bouche” our server presented to us — a couple of tempura-fried crab pouches to tide us over while we perused the bill of fare.
Of course we had to try a few appetizers, among them the seaweed salad ($4.95) we habitually order. This was as good as that salad gets. Two-tone algae for chewy texture, plenty of sesame seeds and a hint of hot red pepper flakes.
Gyoza ($5.25) included eight attractively served golden-fried dumpling pillows boasting chicken, scallion and shredded carrots set on shredded lettuce. Crunchy, with nary a hint of oil. Fine for sharing.
Japanese spring rolls ($2.50 for a pair) were nicely sized, replete with tender-crisp vegetables. They were served with some soy and sweet sauces for dunking.
A daily sushi special beckoned as well. The Dancing Dragon Roll ($14.95) was an extremely generous example of SushiQ’s culinary talent. Inside, shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and cool, juicy mango, wrapped in rice, then seaweed, then topped with lobster sauce -- a soothing, pinkish seafood-y overlay that seemed to pull together the wonderful elements in the roll. Talk about great first impressions!
The Dragon Roll encouraged more sushi sampling as main dishes. SushiQ offers a menu of more elaborate Chef’s Special Rolls, but we opted to order from the selection of regular rolls, which range in price from $4.25 to $8.50. The shrimp avocado roll ($5.50) featured crunchy/tender shrimp, perfectly ripe avocado slivers, sticky rice and seaweed. The spicy tuna crunchy roll ($5.50) was piquant, melt-in-your-mouth tender, with sticky rice, seaweed and plenty of teeny-tiny fish eggs for crunch. And Dabomb ($6.50) boasted shrimp tempura (again), crabmeat and avocado, along with rice, seaweed and a slather of spicy sauce.
Other than sushi …
Subtle, complex flavors and textures -- that’s what we love about sushi. But SushiQ is not about sushi alone. Three of our party ordered from the “kitchen entrees” menu, which includes hibachi, teriyaki, katsu and tempura, along with rice and noodle dishes. (The offering of pad Thai noodles seems to be the only non-Japanese item on SushiQ’s menu.)
The combination yaki udon plate (dinner/$13.95) provided a generous offering of tender beef and chicken slices stir-fried with thick noodles in a teriyaki-style sauce. The pad Thai chicken and beef combo (dinner/$12.95) proffered tender, stir-fried rice noodles in a most satisfying version of that “pasta” classic.
Katsu, in Japanese, is best translated as “schnitzel.” Pork, fish or chicken cutlets are pounded very thin, breaded with panko crumbs (in this case), and fried to lightly crisped, golden tenderness. Even the most timid palate would have a difficult time finding fault with the SushiQ version of this culinary approach.
Sides included a “clear soup” (basically just miso broth), a “salad” (iceberg lettuce and not much else) and steamed or fried rice. We chose the latter; it was generally unremarkable, but then we were already full from that wonderful sushi.
Even desserts here are mild-mannered: ice cream, banana or ice cream tempura, cheesecake. We debated but didn’t have to decide because our server presented us with a complimentary wedge of vanilla sponge cake topped with a thick vanilla frosting. Didn’t need the sweet, but we all happily shared.
SushiQ seems a little gem of a strip-center eatery; Elkridge is lucky to have it nearby. Manager Jennifer Qiu and owner Kenny Qiu had set up shop in Owings Mills, but decided to move to Elkridge a year and a half ago. According to Jennifer, husband Kenny (one of four sushi chefs here) learned the art virtually from the ground up, meaning his first year of training included learning to wash rice. From what we’ve sampled, his methods go far beyond that seemingly simple task.
With plenty of regulars at their eatery, Jennifer reflects that their philosophy is not so much about how many customers they have, it’s about how happy they are when they walk out the door.
SushiQ Bar and Grill
6325 Washington Blvd., Elkridge