Amid the clutter, the offbeat commercialism and the bar scene in Fells Point, Asahi Sushi has the feel of a genuine neighborhood haunt. Small, low-key and quiet, this fairly new eatery is a family-run place, with at least three generations in evidence. When the waitress (the only nonfamily employee) is off duty, the owner handles the dining room himself.
Neighborhood residents stop by for takeout or a quick meal at the sushi bar. There's no liquor license, and although you can bring your own alcohol, no one seems inclined to have one drink too many.
Asahi has a modest menu. Lunch is limited to chicken or beef teriyaki, vegetable or fish cake ou dong, beef or pork kat su (breaded, fried meat served over rice) and a few sushi selections. Each dish comes with miso soup and each costs only $6.95.
For dinner, the choices are more plentiful and include a few surprises. Our favorite was panjun, an eggy Korean scallion pancake made, in this case, with shrimp, squid and oysters. It's usually served whole on a platter, but Asahi's chef cuts his into bite-size pieces, perfect for picking up with chopsticks. The dish comes with kochu jang, a piquant Korean miso sauce.
Asahi also has several creative variations on the sushi roll theme, including Asahi Special (a generous roll of deep-fried shrimp with crab and avocado), Fells Point roll (eel and avocado wrapped in tuna) and Broadway roll (shrimp tempura and tuna, avocado and crab). All were fresh and quickly prepared, without flourish.
We're sushi fans, but we know that some people prefer their Japanese food cooked, so we also tried salmon teriyaki, tempura ou dong and tan kat su. The teriyaki was pleasingly well-cooked, the fish not overdone and not competing with or overwhelmed by the savory sauce. It came with a generous portion of rice but, curiously, lacked the vegetables that usually accompany the dish.
Made in front of us by the chef's mother, tempura ou dong had lovely, lightly breaded shrimp served in a rich broth with long noodles that had plenty of heft and chewiness. Tan kat su, a breaded pork chop served with lots of rice and a syrupy sauce, is a staple in Japanese restaurants. Asahi's was a little leaden, but tan kat su is not what we look for at Japanese restaurants. There are plenty of other items on the menu that we are drawn to -- rich-tasting but light on the palate and in the stomach.
For appetizers, we had eda mame and seaweed salad. Eda mame, steamed soybeans that you suck out of their pods, are riding a crest of popularity in Baltimore's Japanese restaurants. Properly so, if you ask us. And Asahi's were served just the way we like them: warm, salty and crisp. On the other hand, seaweed salad -- an enduring favorite of ours -- was a disappointment here, with an overabundance of heavy, sweetened sesame dressing and chewy leaves.
All the preparations and cooking are done behind the long sushi bar at Asahi Sushi, and it's fun to watch. For other entertainment, there is a television in a corner.
This is a modest place, with scuffed-up floors (the building is not new), a few familiar posters and prints and the requisite Hello-Kitty sake figurine.
Although its food is Asian, Asahi Sushi spoke to us like an old-time luncheonette: hard-working, dependable and without pretense. Which is fine with us.
It's a nice stop for the folks who call the neighborhood home and a nice addition to the restaurant scene in Fells Point as well.
629 S. Broadway
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Prices: $6.95 for lunch; $7.95-$19.95 for dinner
Food: * *1/2
Service: * * *
Atmosphere: * *
Ratings system: Outstanding: * * * *; Good * * *; Fair or uneven * *; Poor *