There’s been some buzz going on in my area about a new sushi restaurant moving in on Race Track Road near the Walgreens. Sushi Alive had a successful location in Carrollwood but decided to relocate to Westchase for a larger building. They are now open, so Laura and I decided to pop in and check things out for you by having sushi for dinner. I know, the sacrifices we make for you guys!
At first impression, the place is pretty cool. It’s trendy, with a mix of modern and traditional decorations. There are quite a few flat screens broadcasting several different sporting events. There is a large kitchen in the back which had a steady traffic of servers bringing food out and plates back in. Sushi Alive also has a large, multi-sided sushi bar in the dead center of the restaurant with their stock nicely displayed through the glass. Their chefs cut, mix, and roll everything right in front of you, so if the games on t.v. don’t grab your attention there’s still built in entertainment. But you probably won’t need it as the place is bumping! People of all ages were happily chatting, flirting, and eating their way through their visit. There was a small wait for a normal table, but we got to belly up to the sushi bar right away and were quite happy to be in the center of the action.
The menu had most of the standards so you won’t struggle to find at least a few of your favorites, such as edamame, a Tampa roll, or stir fry, but it does have some higher end items you sometimes don’t always see at sushi restaurants, like their Korean short ribs, grilled Maine lobster tail, or the chilled lychee cocktail. Seeing how busy they were, I would have thought we would have had to wait 45 minutes or so for our sushi to arrive, but it was there in under 15 minutes. The sushi chefs weren’t rushed but instead used their work space well and flowed from roll to roll with practiced ease.
Depending on what time and day you go, you can find different specials, be it on their classic lunch special (salad or miso soup with your choice of two classic sushi rolls,) teriyaki bowls, or even bento boxes (a sort of sampler box and one of my personal favorites.) We hit the sushi happy hour. The name pretty much says it all. Sushi. Happy. Hour. They have $1 individual pieces of nigiri, $2 twin piece sashimi, and $3 classic sushi rolls. It does have a minimum order of $10 but it’s so fun to mix and match that trying to order less than that is beyond my will power. It’s a hard deal to beat!
Laura and I both ordered an eel roll. It’s one of our favorite rolls and we sometimes use it to compare sushi restaurants. Sushi Alive’s eel roll was on par with other restaurants. It had enough rice coating the outside to hold things together without being a giant ball of rice (which tends to be the failing of rolls on special at some restaurants.) The eel was perfectly cooked and made up a large portion of the insides (another failing of some specials out there is the “where’s the fish” mystery.) It had that smooth silkiness that just rolls around on your tongue like a white cat on your favorite black sweater. The cucumber gave the roll a bit of texture change, adding a little bit of a crunch to keep it from being mushy. All this was heightened by the eel sauce drizzled on top.
Laura ordered krabstick, shrimp, and smoked salmon nigiri. The krabsticks were as good as any and gave a reasonable impression of crab, while the shrimp was steamed well enough to be cooked but not long enough to turn rubbery. Between the two of them, they covered her shellfish wants nicely. If you like lox, you’ll love the smoked salmon. With its raw look, feel, and taste, the smoked salmon, since it is thoroughly cooked, is a safe starting point for someone who is just testing the waters of sushi but afraid to have uncooked seafood. In fact, her entire plate was filled with entirely cooked items, so anyone who cannot have or has an aversion to raw fish can use hers as an example.
Mine, on the other hand, was filled mostly with raw or very lightly cooked seafood. I ordered the scallop, tuna, salmon, and conch nigiri alongside the octopus sashimi. The scallops were in a light mayo sauce with tiny roe (fish eggs) over a ball of rice held together by a strip of seaweed. The scallops were definitely raw, having an almost jelly-like consistency, and the roe gave that satisfying pop when you bit down on them. The tuna and salmon were likewise raw and were fresh, solid slices, not the slim shavings I’ve found elsewhere during happy hour. The conch was just as thick, sported a clean flavor, and had a pleasant bit of chew to it. My octopus had a similar texture, was surprisingly moist (almost juicy,) and tasted strongly of the briny deep.
The other thing Laura and I both ordered was tamago, or egg. You can find this at any half decent sushi place, but you’ll also find different recipes and methods of making it. A lot of places serve it as basic egg flavor. Sushi Alive, however, is one of the places that serves it exactly how we like it: with a hint of maple syrup flavor. The sweetness of the maple syrup brings out a different aspect of the tamago. If you’ve ever had a scrambled egg where some maple syrup bled over onto it from your pancakes, it’s almost like that, but better. Laura had to convince me it was worth ordering the first time I tried it and I’ve been hooked ever since (I always set aside a slice of tamago so it is the flavor I leave with.)
While Sushi Alive isn’t exactly new, they are new to the location, kitchen, and setup, having been open for less than two weeks. Also, even the servers and other staff members who weren’t new hires had to be retrained as everything from the menu to the physical layout of the restaurant is different. With any “new” restaurant, there’s a learning curve (not that Laura and I could see it as our visit with exemplary.) Keep all that in mind, don’t be too critical of any small mistakes that could occur due to growing pains, and you’ll have a great time. Laura and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, had excellent service, and will most definitely be visiting again.