Sushi Sono, the new restaurant and sushi bar in Columbia, has good Japanese food, no better and certainly no worse than most of Baltimore's Japanese restaurants. So why is it worth making the trip from Baltimore to Columbia to eat there? I can tell you in one word. Well, two.
Sushi Sono is right on the lake, very near Clyde's and the Tomato Palace. But those are restaurants where a lot is happening. At Sushi Sono you can sit very quietly in the serene blond-wood dining room and contemplate the water, the branch of a pine tree, a family of ducks floating calmly by.
And, of course, enjoy food like Sushi Sono's spicy crab roll. The lump crab and avocado mixture is rolled in sticky rice and spiked with pickled ginger and wasabi. It's a happy alternative to the usual California roll, with its imitation crab meat.
A more adventuresome first course, though, is the shredded jelly fish salad, with its marvelous texture and tangy sauce. Or try the seaweed salad, a beautiful crystalline green studded with sesame seeds. Its texture is as interesting as its flavor. (The iceberg lettuce salad that comes with Sushi Sono's dinners is a bow to American tastes, and not much thought has been put into it.)
As for main courses, sukiyaki can only be ordered for two and you have to do the work of cooking it yourself, but that allows you to pace your meal.
Vegetables and fragile rice noodles were brought to the table simmering in a flavorful, slightly sweet broth. We added the paper-thin slices of beef and cooked them just till they changed color. (I would have been happier with more vegetables and fewer of the red-edged processed cakes made from various kinds of fish).
Sushi Sono has a fine tempura, crisply battered and almost grease-free, with vegetables and enormous shrimp. But the chef's specialty is a handsome assortment of sushi and sashimi - 12 pieces of impeccably fresh raw fish and nine pieces of nigiri, raw fish layered with rice.
I've seen such assortments that were more works of art; this was decorated simply with shredded daikon radish and real maple leaves. but there were no complaints about freshness or flavor.
Sushi Sono is a restaurant where you'd do best to avoid concessions to American tastes. Have sake or Japanese beer; skip the nameless Chardonnay sold by the glass. And don't end your meal with the green tea ice cream or tempura ice cream (vanilla surrounded by fried batter) - the two dessert choices. Both are fairly tasteless. Have instead a steaming cup of green tea.
Atmosphere: *** 1/2
Where: 10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday
Prices: Appetizers: $2.95-$11.95. Entrees: $10.95-$35; major credit cards
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *
Pub Date: 5/24/98