For a city that boasts one of the most beautiful metros in the Midwest, downtown Tulsa's Third Street is remarkably nondescript. It's lined with a row of mid-sized beige buildings, briefly interrupted by the black, angular Williams Towers, and flanked with parking lots: the BOK Center's on the west at Cheyenne Avenue and the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's on the east at Cincinnati Avenue.
The Wright Building, 115 W. Third St., is wedged between two other identical structures -- all historical but none decorated with the ornate details that adorn other downtown facades -- and the only thing separating it from the others is a red awning, which stretches over a set of broad glass windows, with "The Sushi Place" painted on it in thick, white letters.
Though not entirely pleasing to the eye, it is catching, and the fact that downtowners have another sushi restaurant to visit at lunch and dinner is the most attractive feature of all.
Joey Leong and Jayme Tan opened The Sushi Place in May. Prior to the restaurant's opening, the Wright Building's storefront, which once housed a deli, was empty for two years.
Leong and Tan have had -- what might seem like obvious -- success at lunch time, but the pair is also trying to capitalize on dinner diners, staying open until 8:30pm and offering a 10-percent discount on to-go meals ordered in the evening.
A coworker and I visited The Sushi Place for lunch, making the brief trek from our offices at Fifth Street and Boston Avenue on foot, and arriving at about 12:30 p.m. The small café was busy, but not too crowded, and we were immediately greeted by friends and business acquaintances also craving sushi.
We were also greeted by white walls, painted red around the bottom, on which hung some generic, quasi-Asian, hotel-inspired art. Black wooden letters affixed to a pillar in the center of the place reminded us of our location, and the small shelf below them offered magazines for our reading pleasure, as well as a stack of red paper menus.
We ordered at a cash register next to the small sushi bar, where two chefs were busy preparing rolls, with a diner looking on.
The menu at The Sushi Place offers a nice selection of rolls, as well as nigiri ($4; raw fish resting on a small pillow of rice), sashimi ($7; thinly sliced raw fish) and temaki ($4; hand rolls -- a piece of nori rolled into a cone and stuffed with rice and fish). Also on the menu are appetizers, like edamame (steamed and salted soybeans), gyoza (fried pork dumplings), wakame (seaweed salad), ika (calamari) salad and miso soup, which range from $3 to $5.
We turned our attention to the rolls, of which there are 30, ranging in price from $5 to $12. Some, like the California Roll (crabstick, avocado, cucumber and masago) and the Philly Roll (smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado and sesame seeds), you'd expect to find on the menu of every other sushi joint in town.
Others, like the Big Daddy Roll (crab, cream cheese and cucumber, topped with cheesy baked shrimp and sweet sauce) and the Cajun Lover Roll (shrimp, asparagus and avocado, topped with crawfish, sesame seeds, scallions and spicy mayo) are unique to The Sushi Place.
My friend and I chose what we thought sounded like four of the most interesting and yummy options on the menu, as well as a cup of miso soup.
The 918 Crunch Roll ($8; shrimp tempura, crabstick, avocado and cucumber, topped with tempura flakes and a sweet and spicy sauce) was our favorite, by far. The roll was flavorful, with the sweet and spicy sauce leaning decidedly toward sweet, and all of the ingredients inside fresh and tasty. The tempura that stuck to the rice on the outside of the roll offered a pleasant crunch. I refrained from dipping this one in soy sauce because I so enjoyed its flavor and texture.
The My Valentine Roll ($10; yellowtail, wasabi and cucumber, topped with salmon and tuna) was also a winner. The fish itself with delightful -- catch-of-the-day fresh, mild and delicate -- and the wasabi on the inside was perfectly portioned, so the roll offered a smack of flavor and spice when it went in your mouth but didn't burn you afterward. This one, too, avoided the soy sauce. For Oklahomans, soy sauce for our sushi is like Ranch dressing for our everything else -- it's the necessary sauce into which we're compelled to dip, no matter how it annoys our more cultured counterparts (or those preparing our food).
We also tried the Teriyaki Roll ($9; baked salmon, shrimp and avocado, topped with sesame seeds and sweet sauce) and the Zesty Shrimp Roll ($8; shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and cucumber, topped with sesame seeds and spicy mayo). The cooked salmon in the Teriyaki Roll took a little getting used to, but it offered a nice depth of flavor you don't usually find in sushi. I would have liked a more teriyaki-style sauce on top of the roll, rather than the sweet sauce, which got lost in the hearty flavor of the fish.
The Zesty Shrimp Roll was our least favorite of the day. Though it was spicy -- again, not so spicy that it was uncomfortable to eat -- we found it somewhat lacking in flavor. I think just a pinch of salt would have helped the spicy mayo, which fell just a little flat on our palates. Once we dipped the roll in the salty soy sauce, it tasted just fine.
Salivate the 918.
Each roll is served in eight pieces, perfectly sized, so we avoided looking like chipmunks, with our cheeks stuffed too full by an extra-large slice of sushi.
The miso soup ($3) was quite tasty. The broth was perfectly seasoned -- not overly salty but not bland -- and the tofu, seaweed and scallions swimming inside it were well-balanced.
On another occasion, I placed a to-go order at the restaurant, taking back to the office one of The Sushi Place's lunch specials: the Lunch Box ($8), which featured an eight-piece spicy tuna roll, two pieces of gyoza and a seaweed salad. The roll was good -- the fish fresh and the heat balanced, just as it was the day we dined in. The gyoza was rich and savory, the dumpling's edges just slightly crispy.
With seaweed salad, texture is always an issue, and the one I had at The Sushi Place seemed especially rubbery. The flavor was spot-on, though, so I still ate most of it.
The restaurant seats about 25 at two- and four-top tables and another four or five at the sushi bar. There are no fountain drinks, but iced tea and water are available, as well as Coke and Pepsi products packaged in 20-ounce plastic bottles.
The service at The Sushi Place was impeccable. Our food arrived at our table so quickly that I didn't think to time it, but my companion and I estimated we were eating about 10 minutes after ordering. Our water glasses were never less than half-full, and the entire staff was friendly and helpful.
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