Walk inside Sushi Moon, and everyone on the staff yells to greet you. Not an original gesture, perhaps, but still a welcome touch that, for a few seconds at least, makes you feel special. That's a good thing for a brand-new restaurant -- and one that bodes well its future.
Located on the busy corner of Brimhall and Calloway in a building that until recently housed Hourglass restaurant, Sushi Moon features an entirely new interior. The show-stopper is a tile mural of a woman with the reddest lipstick possible preparing to consume a moon trapped between two chopsticks.
I couldn't stop staring. My companion loved the lanterns, and the patio, in use despite the chill when we visited, is a nice touch. The old bar has been turned into a sushi bar, the staff (while green) seems to be everywhere, and the menu is extensive and chock-full of special features.
My biggest complaint about the ambience was the playlist: old rock music that appeared to come from a dated radio station.
The exceptional values at Sushi Moon are worth noting, both during happy hour (from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday) and at lunch, which features specials and bowls, most under $10. The respectable house wines are only $4.50 a glass.
The menu features sushi and sashimi, baked rolls, tempura rolls, regular rolls and "special fresh fish rolls." And there are boats full of food for groups as well as various Korean grilled specialties, including bulgogi and bibimbap.
We visited on a weekday evening. My companion selected the spicy salmon roll ($6.95) and the avocado roll ($4.50), while I ordered the spicy chicken with shrimp and vegetable tempura ($16.95), one of the combo dinners. Everything was solid and fresh, the spicy salmon making me forget my almost obsessive love of spicy tuna, and the rolls were so firm that eating them was not a crumbly misadventure.
I wasn't quite sure what Korean spicy chicken was when I ordered it but was so pleased with what I was served that I'll be ordering it again. Think of chicken prepared as if it were kimchi, with a red pepper flake presence so pronounced that relief from any sinus blockage is just around the corner. I don't mean to imply that it was offensively hot. It wasn't, and I wondered if the brined anchovy sauce sometimes used in kimchi helped restrain it.
The poultry was presented on a bed of white onion strands that had been partially cooked on a hot platter, with white rice on the side.
If you like Korean food, I highly recommend it. The tempura served with it was not as winning (shrimp, broccoli, yams, potatoes), but still satisfying.
I must mention a service glitch. Though the restaurant was not particularly crowded that night, the kitchen seemed to have problems with timing; a party of eight in the corner ordered a couple boats of meat (literally presented on wooden ships), so my companion's rolls were served about 20 minutes before I received my food. It was explained to us that the meat boats put the kitchen behind.
But what saved the restaurant was the soliticious nature of the staff to the issue. I've received emails from readers detailing worse snafus at other eateries, and the staff meeting such complaints with indifference, shrugs, half-hearted apologies and nothing comped. Here the apologies were so frequent that any offense taken was quickly lost, and a free dessert was offered as a way to make amends. The staff wants to win you over. We ended up eating off each other's plates, making it seem like a multi-course meal rather than a problem.
Though the staff won me over, I think some additional training would help. During lulls in the eating for conversational purposes, they tried to take the food away. That sixth sense may come with time. And I'm not sure they're completely familiar with the extensive menu yet, so I wouldn't count on recommendations.
For our comped dessert, we ended up getting mochi ice cream made with green-tea ice cream. It's an interesting Japanese treat: balls of ice cream are coated by a pounded sticky rice cake, then coated with corn starch.
Think of it as chewy ice cream. I believe it's a fusion dessert that was created in the United States.
What you end up taking away from Sushi Moon is the impression that a lot of thought is going into presentation and execution of everything, top to bottom. Take the salad that came with my dinner: The greens were excellent, the simple dressing enhancing the vegetables rather than overwhelming them, and there were crispy flat egg noodles placed like croutons on top. Down below was a walnut, a fresh mushroom in another corner, a few shavings of fresh carrot.
That something so perfunctory can be so interesting shows an attention to detail that I think bodes well for a Full Moon.