Midvale » Let's begin with the adage: "Never judge a book by its cover." If people did, especially people who love food, chances are we'd be missing out on a great deal of gustatory adventures. The ones where on the way to work we spot an unassuming stand-alone structure with a hand-hewn sign that might have some of the best handmade Mexican around. And especially the ones filed within the countless strip malls, holding any number of cuisines, Thai, or maybe even Japanese.
If we judged a place like Sushi in Joy, we'd be skeptical of a place that served sushi in the middle of Midvale. We'd cautiously eye the longish menu of mostly rolls and wonder why it isn't as full as other places in the city that offer sushi at comparable prices.
For the serious sushi lover, these are legitimate concerns in light of the world-class sushi available in downtown Salt Lake City. For the casual sushi fan, it's something to consider when forking over a good deal of the monthly budget to satisfy that sashimi craving. In either case, I say that Sushi in Joy gives us reason to shed the geographic and aesthetic prejudice. It's a good place to eat sushi, whether it be a red bull roll (shrimp tempura, fried jalapeño, spicy tuna, $12), briny mackerel nigiri ($4.50) or hamachi sashimi ($11-$35, depending on number of slices), and the setting -- complete with seaside motifs, Japanese kitana swords -- is welcoming to those who partake in raw fish goodness, or not.
Looking below Sushi in Joy's cover, the pages are written and spoken in a polyglot dialog. A Japanese-focused menu, the Korean owners who speak good enough English to coax you to try the appealingly intense and ice cold "cinnamon punch" ($1.50) and place orders with the sushi chefs who hold court at the L-shaped bar at the back of the room.
English is what's spoken when there's a dispute on what exactly goes on a dish. The chefs banter between themselves in Japanese and whenever a soft-shell crab needs to be fried for a spider roll ($7), the Japanese sushi chefs bellow out kitchen Spanish through a small window into the prep kitchen. The soundtrack for the evening: A not too loud stream of Korean pop music ("K-Pop" to the music savvy).
Sushi in Joy's selection and vibe reminds me of the places in Los Angeles or suburban branches of the Bay Area where my parents liked to eat. They were low-key, clean, friendly and affordable.
Whether or not this restaurant and others like it are indicators of Salt Lake City's growing status in diversity (ethnically and culinarily) remains to be seen. But it's pretty cool to be part of a dining crowd that's as eclectic as the menu -- couples of all shapes, sizes and sushi expertise, along with a trio of construction workers who sampled a procession of rolls with constantly re-filled glasses of Diet Coke.
Most folks reveled in the flat screen TV on the east wall with the latest NBA scores.
Rolls comprise the bulk of the restaurant's menu; most involve some manner of cooked component and many are too sweet for my tastes. Their names run from the quirky -- a way too sweet sushi vampire (crab, shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, topped with baked lobster and eel sauce, $12.50) -- to the poetic -- white or summer dragon ($12, $11.50).
With all the tempura-gilded, eel sauce-slicked sushi rolls in the world (and especially here), the cherry blossom roll ($12) is a relatively simple one. From the formidable house list of rolls, it stands out in description: pale green avocado and coral pink salmon, topped with deep red tuna and glistening tobiko . On the plate it's as well composed as an Asian watercolor. The teardrop-shaped roll is sliced and arranged so that the tapered ends meet in the center evoking a flower complete with a deep green leaf.
The prawn king appetizer ($6.50) came out of the kitchen just as composed, with three, lightly fried shrimp glossed with a mayo-based sauce that wasn't too sweet. The shrimp wasn't of the highest quality, probably frozen, but nevertheless the complete package was appealing. Mussel shooters ($4.50) offered a tangy counterpoint with tender chunks of shellfish and an oozing quail egg topper.
Sushi wise, it's consistent with good rice (a fundamental of nigiri and the like). But, if there's one complaint about the sushi it isn't necessarily the quality of the fish. Every sliver was fresh, without a trace of suspect odor. But sometimes, they came without a trace of flavor. The maguro nigiri (tuna, $4.50) for instance was rich and soft on the palate but lacked its characteristic deep, meaty flavor.
The cherry blossom roll on one night was a little too simple during one dinner, delivering a monotone flavor to an otherwise Technicolor dish.
Some things may be lost in translation, but Sushi in Joy offers a bit of an adventure when you find yourself in the middle of a strip mall jungle. Between the pages of its expansive menu, there's usually something appealing in this polyglot sushi hub.
E-mail Vanessa Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bottom line » The polyglot crew in the small Midvale venue offers a colorful, eclectic and consistent roster of rolls, nigiri and sashimi like the elegantly simple cherry blossom. A few Korean flourishes coexist with the raw fish. Most refreshingly, the cinnamon punch.
Location » 856 Fort Union Blvd., Midvale; 801-563-3337
Hours » Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 3 p.m.; Monday to Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $
Liquor » Beer and wine
Corkage » $10
Reservations » Large groups only
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major