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Food - Review
Friday, 16 January 2009
Dim sum fave AmerAsia spruces up its surroundings and gives birth to a sushi haven

Image
Photo by Wes Naman
By Kevin Hopper

For those who are mourning the loss of the Cornell and Lead location of the popular and long-established dim sum joint AmerAsia, there is respite. 

Yes, the Cornell spot, established in 1979, possessed a certain familiarity and neighborly cosiness that is all but lost in the new, expansive and airy former Downtown gas station that now houses owner Hyangmi Yi’s small plate offerings. New doesn’t always translate into better (though in this case it really does). However, when veteran local diners consider for a moment that Hyangmi’s new location also includes what many local foodies consider to be the best sushi restaurant in town, Sumo Sushi, that small and well-worn Cornell structure suddenly doesn’t seem so close to our hearts. 
For those who warmly regarded the subtle sweetness and inviting crunch of the bao zi they found at the Cornell AmerAsia, it can still be found at 3rd and Slate, which is far enough away from the Central Avenue corridor to avoid traffic and paid parking. Likewise, Hyangmi’s crispy scallion pancakes and savory spare ribs all survived the move Downtown. Sure, the high ceilings, exposed wood girders and overall industrial feel of the space is much less cozy than the old spot, particularly when there are only a few tables occupied, but it’s exactly that lack of coziness that makes the new AmerAsia such an enjoyable dining experience. The restaurant’s airiness, combined with tranquil sea foam green walls, lacquered blonde wood details and a large curve of windows that look out onto a huge patio, is a much more pleasing environment to enjoy those same great dim sum dishes that made the Cornell spot so endearing. After all, do those dim sum lovers love an address or do they love dim sum?

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Photo by Wes Naman
Not only can AmerAsia diners delight in the same menu that they have grown accustomed to — handcrafted daily with the freshest ingredients possible by Hyangmi herself — those same diners can order a sushi roll, nigiri or sashimi to compliment their steamed buns and beef noodles. Though most of my many visits have focused on either dim sum or sushi, the prospect of mixing the two is rather intriguing. Especially given that the rumors about Sumo are very close to the truth: it is arguably the best sushi joint in the city.

That’s a pretty bold statement considering that sushi is a type of food that makes loyalists out of even the most adventurous diners. I will eat pretty much anything that’s considered edible, but when it comes to sushi, I have in the past often found a spot I like and stayed true to my school. With Sumo Sushi, that urge is strong.

Like AmerAsia next door, Sumo exudes the same light open atmosphere and is marked by a huge semi-circle sushi bar, complete with a working electric train. Though sushi is handed over to bar diners and not delivered via rail, such a ritual is uncalled for. Rather, the often lengthy wait diners will experience at Sumo is quelled by a small bowl of miso soup and a crisp seaweed salad slathered with a bright, citrusy dressing. Additional starters include gyoza ($5.50), vegetable or shrimp tempura ($6.50), a savory pair of baked mussels ($6.50), soft-shell crab ($6.50) and a curious dish called the Heart Attack (fried jalapeños with cream cheese and spicy tuna, $8.90). 

Image
Photo by Wes Naman
Though the Sumo menu has many traditional Japanese dishes that tempt you away from the sushi, including Katsu Don (fried pork cutlet served with vegetables and egg over rice, $9.50), a number of teriyaki dishes and Yaki Soba (pan-fried noodles with scallops, chicken, shrimp and vegetables, $10.50), first-time visitors should really grab a pencil and a sushi menu and have at it. If you’re a stickler for quality seafood and perfectly cooked and seasoned rice, you’ve come to the right place. Any and all of the nigiri and sashimi offerings taste ultra-fresh (despite our high desert locale) and are noticeably prepared with utmost care. When compared to some other favorite sushi restaurants in town that don’t take the time to craft a fine piece of art that just happens to edible, Sumo stands out considerably. 

On my most recent visit, my dining companion and I ordered the proverbial Sumo Boat (a wooden boat loaded with sashimi, nigiri, a special house choice roll and miso soup and salad, $19.95/per person). The boat is a convenient way to introduce yourself to a variety of sushi and experience that oh-so-prideful craft that the Sumo sushi chefs offer their guests. 
Sumo also offers a lengthy list of rolls, including my favorite, the Hot Night Roll (shrimp tempura and spicy tuna, $10.50), the Sexy Roll (tuna, salmon and yellowtail wrapped in cucumber, $10.50) and the Hungry Roll (fried spicy tuna with salmon, cucumber and sweet eel sauce, $9.50).

The best part about the Sumo Sushi/AmerAsia combination is the fact that sushi and dim sum can be eaten in the same meal (though dim sum cannot be ordered from the sushi side). However, it’s really not something you’re likely to do. Each restaurant, though connected, retains its own unique personality. If you’re reading this and wavering on whether you should make the trip all the way from the University Area to the north side of Downtown, do yourself favor and sit down to some of the best dim sum or some of the best sushi in town ... or both. Your choice.


AmerAsia/Sumo Sushi
800 3rd NW, 505.246.1615

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