Over the past number of years the Eastern Shore has seen an influx of sushi restaurants with various concepts and varying degrees of success. As the title implies one would think that the areas proximity to the ocean and all its bounty would logically lead to some great sushi but one must understand that there is so much more to this cuisine than just the availability of fresh fish. The Japanese culture is a study in the purity and art of simplicity and sushi is a prime example of this belief. It takes an apprentice years to just master the art of making sushi rice much less then learning how to properly fillet and slice fish. It is therefore not hard to see why there are so many more poor sushi restaurants than excellent ones. The following is a list of the local sushi bars and a brief description and critique.
The Cultured Pearl in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware is probably the best know sushi restaurant in the area. It is a beautifully appointed space with an roof top deck for those who wish to eat outdoors. Its decor, as well as its food, are very trendy and “cutting edge” which is synonymous with overpriced. The sushi is fresh but the rolls are so overwrought /over thought that you miss the flavor and texture of the fish and isn’t that why you are eating sushi in the first place? The drinks are fun but more attention should be paid to the cuisine and less on the “experience”. The service also has a tendency to be aloof and at times pretentious.
Ocean City, Maryland has a number of sushi bars as well as combination Chinese/Sushi restaurants and local eclectic American seafood restaurants that offer sushi nights or appetizers. Yokozuna, which is located in the Gold Coast Mall is probably the oldest sushi restaurant in Ocean City and unfortunately has gone steadily downhill over the years due to changes in chefs and ownership. The fish is neither the quality or freshness it should be and the service ranges from inattentive to surly. OC Wasabi is everything you would expect a resort town sushi bar to be. On any night you will find patrons in front of the sushi bar doing sake bombs with the sushi chefs. The restaurant is small and loud and fun. The fish is fresh, the rice is expertly cooked and the nigiri, sashimi and roll offerings are well thought out and delicious. The service when busy; and it is always busy in the summer, can be very slow so be ready to take your time. Have a few beers or some sake, order some cooked appetizers such as the tempura vegetables and shrimp or the Yakitori, skewered and broiled chicken in a teriyaki glaze and wait for the sushi chefs to get to your order. Remember, you are on vacation at the beach, relax.
Ocean City also has a couple of Chinese/Sushi Restaurants that bear mentioning for different reasons. The first is The Rice House on Rt. 611 in West OC. To put it simply the Chinese food is mediocre at best but the sushi is a pleasant surprise. The fish is fresh and the portions are generous. The service is pleasant if not overly informed and the decor is comfortable. This is definitely your best bet if you are in West Ocean City and do not want to go into town. On the opposite end of town is Blue Fish on Coastal Highway and 94th St. The structure was once a Popeye’s but don’t give the outside a second thought. The owners have transformed the interior into a modern, stylish and cozy restaurant complete with a comfy sofa waiting area, a small 4 stool bar and an eight or so chair sushi bar. The Chinese food is some of the best in the area with the Crispy chicken, fried dumplings and spring rolls being some of the highlights. The sushi is equally good. The rolls are well designed and executed and the nigiri and sashimi are fresh and expertly cut. The only downside is that the service which, as in so many Ocean City restaurants, can be problematic at best. The last time I was there the server could not show me which rolls were which on the table’s sushi boat and confused our drink orders.
Also, I would like to mention The Shark located in West Ocean City on Sunset Ave on the commercial fishing docks. They are part of a trend in eclectic dining where they are using local ingredients and purveyors and creating wonderful dishes using multi-cultural themes and influences. In non-foodie English this just means there food is fresh and exciting. This chef has experimented with “Sushi Night” during the off season and also has a roll or two on his menu as an appetizer throughout the summer. The combinations range from interesting to great so give them a shot. The only problem I have had is that the sushi rice has, at times, been pilly (hard and crunchy) which is one of the two cardinal sins of sushi (the other being the use of not fresh fish). This occurs when the rice is either not cooked properly or leftover rice is refrigerated and used the next day. Gentlemen throw away the old rice and make new rice every day; it is really not that expensive.
I have saved the best for last, Misaki on Rt.1 at the first traffic light when entering South Bethany, Delaware would be a great sushi restaurant anywhere and we are just fortunate that it is on the Eastern Shore. It is a small (50 or 60 seat including the sushi bar) restaurant located in a strip mall next to a bait and tackle shop. It does not look like much from the outside, basically just a door and a sign, but once you enter you know something good is in store. The space is tastefully decorated in warm woods and oriental artwork. The lighting is subdued but not so dark as to need a flashlight to read the menu. I would suggest starting the meal off with a saketini and anything the server tells you are the special appetizers for the night, I have never been disappointed. Next the miso soup is the best in the area, light with a nice balance of miso and scallions. The Gyoza is also worth mentioning for those dumpling fans like myself. These are some of the best I have ever had with a thin delicate shell and intensely flavored filling. The quality of the fish here is impeccable and the sushi chefs are well trained in their art. The Hamachi (yellowtail), Magro (tuna) and Unagi (eel) are a must when ordering the Nigiri sushi. The rolls are fun and interesting. The chef seems to like spicy rolls and they are all excellent. I would suggest the Dynamite, Shinsonic or the Back to the Island rolls to start and then just have fun. The service is always friendly and knowledgeable and you can get anything to go so go! go! go! Word of caution, make reservations or expect a long wait.