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DINING: All-you-can-eat sushi on Pendleton Pike? Just roll with it

March 12, 2016
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Love sushi but can’t stomach by-the-roll prices? All-you-can-eat Watami may be the place for you. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

If you’ve been to higher-end Japanese restaurants, you might well turn your nose up at the very idea of all-you-can-eat sushi—the same way that same nose might be turned up at the idea of supermarket sushi.

However, if you are a person who has gotten used to supermarket sushi—or if you are a newcomer to the genre and want to get a sampling of styles—or if you are a bargain hunter who loves sushi but just can’t stomach by-the-roll prices elsewhere—Watami Sushi (10625 Pendleton Pike, 855-3635) might become your favorite Japanese restaurant.

I have friends in Lawrence who swear by it, not because it’s the best sushi they’ve ever had, but because, for the lunch price of $12.99, they can get a monthly sushi fix without breaking their budget.

They’ve been encouraging me for months to give Watami a try. Recently, I opted in. And I’m glad I did.

My first pleasant discovery was that, even at that price, the dishes are made to order. That means there’s a bit of a lag between ordering and delivery to the table, but that’s much preferred to a kitchen that stockpiles in the early hours for serving later. To keep things even fresher, we ordered three or four at a time and, even after three or four (OK, maybe five) deliveries, I never got the sense that our waitress wanted us to call it quits.

There was not a dud in the bunch, although we found the flavors subdued compared to other sushi places. “Allegedly” should be written before “spicy” in describing the tuna in the Sexy Girl Roll. And the egg-centric Tomago bordered on bland. But nothing crossed the line into problematic.

Standouts included Snow Mountain, with shrimp tempura, cucumber and a crab meat topping, the Shu Mai pork dumplings, and the (perhaps copyright-dodging) Gozilla, a deep-fried—but not heavy—roll with crab meat and avocado.

I also appreciate how this format minimizes risk and encourages experimentation. Take Sushi Pizza, for example. In any other by-the-roll sushi place, we would have remained in the dark about what sort of ethnic hybrid of a dish would emerge from the kitchen had we ordered it. Here, though, there’s no concern. And the reward proved to be not-as-odd-as-they-could-have-been skinny wedges with a “crust” of layered seaweed, rice and tempura. Watami has just the one version, but I can imagine a whole menu line served this way.

Unlike other all-you-can-eat sushi places, Watami doesn’t try to avoid wastefulness by charging extra for uneaten portions. I’m hoping that’s because a supportive clientele is ordering reasonably; I didn’t see any Old Country Buffet-ish overloading on my visit.

In fact, I’d happily return here for a casual business meeting—one that I wouldn’t mind going on for hours. After all, there’s always one more roll to try—and a dish of vanilla, red bean or (my favorite) green tea ice cream to signal an official end.•

—Lou Harry

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