I confess: I am a sushi snob. I was spoiled by my first introduction to legit sushi at Ebisu during its heyday in San Francisco by my then Tokyo-born-and-raised boyfriend. I was blown away by the lusciousness of the ultimate fresh, raw fish paired with real sushi rice (sushi refers to the seasoned rice combined with other ingredients and doesn’t necessarily come in roll form), and amazing temaki presented in small cones of crisp seaweed. Later, I would actually go to Tokyo and have the real deal there, too. This Colorado-born landlubber was sold, and spoiled.
What makes good sushi in my mind? I like traditional, for a start. When I see sushi rolls loaded down with mayonnaise, ham (gasp!) and piles of fried tempura, I turn away. Sushi is meant to be eaten in a single bite (maybe two), so I’m also put-off by huge rolls or enormous mounds of rice with a slab of fish on top. Supermarket sushi? Can’t go there.
Though I don’t go for too many whacky ingredients, if it is creative and maybe not so traditional, it can still be good if the quality is there. Sushi rolls with the rice on the outside and nori (seaweed) in the middle are a Western phenomenon. In Japan, the nori is on the outside on maki rolls. California rolls and their “inside-out” cousins are definitely an American invention and pretty hard to avoid, so I don’t totally snub a place if it had more Western tastes in mind, but the quality and flavor that are hallmarks of authentic Japanese sushi are a must to get my vote. Here are my top picks in the city:
This I-Drive restaurant caters to Japanese tourists looking for a taste of home. Beyond sushi, Japanese staples such as ramen, bento boxes, grilled fish and various small bites are as authentic as they come inside the U.S. Sushi is represented here, too, and you will find more traditional sushi presentations and varieties such as fluke sashimi with ponzu sauce and nama uni (sea urchin). 8255 International Drive
This place is out of the way for visitors staying in the I-Drive or Disney area, but you won’t be sorry if you go. Critically acclaimed by most of Orlando’s food experts and cuisine hounds, the innovative sushi is dreamy. Traditional nigiri such as saba (makerel), hamachi (yellowtail) and uni (urchin) are serious (and seriously good); and the irreverent, such as The Everything Bagel made with salmon and crème fraiche, excel in taste and presentation. Japanese pop culture is the theme with anime flashing on the walls and a hot-pink bar; the whole experience will have you convinced you are in much, much larger city than Oviedo. 310 W. Mitchell Hammock Road, Oviedo
Set inside a banal strip mall that could “almost” be a massage parlor from the outside, belies its pretty, modern interior. The sushi here is spectacular. Though not traditional, sushi is approached with a foodie sensibility with seasonal ingredients, delicate flavors and extremely fresh seafood. Also cool is the unusual sake selection. The owners make a point to offer brands and varieties not often found here in the states. 3122 E. Colonial Drive
This unpretentious spot in downtown Orlando is on a relatively sleepy section of the downtown business district. The sushi is compact, fresh and very traditional. Fresh fish specials rotate, and the sashimi is always delicate and sumptuous. For American-style roll lovers with funkier ingredients (such as the Cajun salmon roll), are unusually tasteful and artfully presented. 803 N. Orange Ave.