We should all know better by now, but somehow, a sushi restaurant to most people still means a meal of prettily arranged raw fish on rice.
When I asked friends recently to join me at Edo Mae Sushi, which opened about six months ago in an Owings Mills shopping center, they were skeptical. They had lived happy lives without eating raw fish, they both said, so why should they start now?
But, bless their adventurous hearts, they were willing to give Edo Mae a try, especially after hearing another friend rave about Edo Mae's sister restaurants in Timonium and Owings Mills, Edo Sushi and Edo Sushi II. (Another Edo Sushi is scheduled to open in the Inner Harbor this summer.)
The newest Edo restaurant offers a finer dining experience than the other two, with a more opulent wood-and-mirrors interior (love that giant kimono gracing one wall) and more choices on the menu.
The service is so attentive that when I merely mentioned to my tablemates that I was thinking of getting green tea ice cream for dessert, our waiter appeared, ready to deliver it. The only thing he couldn't do was bring me a beer because Edo Mae has no liquor license.
At Edo Mae, you can have a wonderful meal without eating raw fish, but this is a good place to try it. Sushi is all about contrasting tastes and colors wrapped up in bite-sized packages. And Edo Mae delivers on the concept, whether the food is cooked or raw.
On the cooked side, an appetizer of tiny wasabi shumai dumplings contrasted the ginger-inflected, finely minced pork inside with freshly made, very thin wasabi-infused wrappers to create a kind of nose-tingling burst of flavor.
The Japanese egg roll, on the other hand, was more about contrasting textures, pitting crackly layers of fried wonton against a silken seafood filling. The only appetizer that lacked this tantalizing complexity was the chicken kushiyaki, basically skewers of broiled white meat with a peanut sauce.
Entrees come with a choice of cloudy, salty miso soup studded with tiny squares of tofu or a crisp green salad with a sweet orange (in both flavor and color) dressing.
I steered one sushi-skittish friend to the udon, enormous steaming bowls of miso broth and slippery soft noodles. Her chicken udon included slices of golden-seared chicken and mounds of just-tender vegetables, but you can also get udon with vegetables, beef or shrimp tempura.
The other friend ordered beef negimaki, thin strips of meat wrapped around tiny slivers of scallion and carrot to create a plateful of savory pinwheels. This reminded me of the gumdrops in Willy Wonka that pack an entire meal, as every mouthful contained a beef stew of flavors.
Nigiri, which refers to any fish -- raw, cooked or pickled -- over rice balls, seems available in infinite variety, from slices of fatty and mild raw salmon to cooked items such as breaded and fried crabs that spiral alluringly from the plate. Among the greatest hits: thin slabs of seared tuna with moist pink interiors, flaky, spicy cooked eel and chunks of tempura-coated shrimp.
By the time we had plowed through an enormous plate of the cooked stuff, my tablemate was sufficiently confident in the Edo Mae kitchen to try raw fish in the form of a tuna roll. She dipped the circle of rice, seaweed, fish and vegetables in soy sauce, popped it into her mouth. It was good, she said. So good that she quickly nabbed another with her chopsticks and ate that, too.
Desserts, as at many Japanese restaurants, were limited to green tea ice cream or fried vanilla ice cream. The creamy and subtle green tea ice cream was soothing but couldn't compare to the fried stuff. The tempura batter was still warm, creating yet another tantalizing contrast, this time in temperature, with the rapidly melting ice cream.
Edo Mae Sushi
Where: 10995 Owings Mill Blvd., Suite 106-107, Owings Mills
Open: Daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major
Prices: Appetizers, $2.50-$11.95; entrees, $8.95-$21.95
Food: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)
Service: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)
Atmosphere: *** (3 STARS)