Part of the appeal of eating at sushi joints is sitting at a counter and watching sushi chefs work their magic, making maki rolls with bamboo mats and slicing shimmering fish for sashimi.
Rotary Sushi, which debuted in May on Fairview Avenue near Five Mile Road in Boise, takes the sushi experience once step further in terms of modernization — even though the outside of the ’80s-era strip mall looks rather humdrum and uninviting.
A conveyor belt of stainless steel discs moves slices of sushi rolls, nigiri and bright salads around the sushi bar. All diners have to do is wait for something that piques their interest and pull it off the belt.
Behind the moving belt, black-clad sushi chefs stay busy loading the system with small, color-coded plates. Each color represents a different price. Diners also can order other items off a printed menu — from the chefs or from helpful servers who linger in the distance.
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What goes around comes around at Rotary Sushi, and the little plates circumnavigate the sushi bar all day. Yet the selection is vastly larger during the dinner hours when the place fills up with folks looking to unwind with an automated sushi meal.
One night, my dining partner and I sat at the counter, and a chef soon passed us an earthenware platter with ribbons of pinkish pickled ginger and dabs of wasabi.
It didn’t take long for our eyes to light up watching all the sushi pass by in front of us.
We felt like kids in a sushi store.
Soon we were pulling plates from the belt and tearing the paper wrappers off our chopsticks.
Right away, I noticed a purple-rimmed plate ($4.99) of octopus nigiri. As soon as I pulled it off the belt, a server stopped by and asked me if I wanted some tangy ponzu (a thin sauce made with vinegar, mirin rice wine and seaweed). She recommended it for the two pieces of tender, sliced octopus that looked like an alabaster flower sitting atop pads of vinegary sushi rice — held together by a thin band of nori.
Next, I grabbed a black-rimmed plate ($4.99) of unagi nigiri as it went by. Two slices of melt-in-your-mouth freshwater eel (over rice) were drenched in a sticky, dark eel sauce redolent of soy sauce, mirin and brown sugar.
Then off came a green-rimmed plate ($2.99) that held three slices of a Green Dragon Roll, a maki-style fusion roll — pinwheeled with tempura-fried shrimp, cucumber and avocado — with crisp nori on the outside.
My dining partner chose a black-rimmed plate ($4.99) of ahi nigiri — two thin slices of fresh-tasting tuna draped over pads of sticky rice. She was reluctant to share her find with me.
I really wanted a bottle of Sapporo rice lager to wash everything down, but the restaurant — at least during my visits — was still waiting on its beer and wine license. So, like a fish, I just drank water.
We also ordered the salmon skin salad ($5.99) and a spicy scallop roll ($7.95) from a friendly (and somewhat quirky) sushi chef, who quickly got to work on our plates.
Soon, he handed over the best salmon skin salad I’ve ever tasted. A shallow bowl contained strips of crispy salmon skin — kind of like pork rinds, only better, with an essence of smoked salmon — atop mixed greens and shreds of imitation crab stick tossed in a sweet and vinegary dressing that smacked of mirin rice wine. Bright dots of tobiko (flying fish roe) on top made the dish pop.
The spicy scallop roll (with rice on the outside) was a fusion of sliced, sweet scallops, chopped scallion and tiny beads of tobiko, adorned with a squiggle of Srirachi-spiked mayonnaise.
During a lunch visit, not as much stuff was coming down the belt as on our dinner visit, and the place only had a few customers. I’m sure all this will change, though, once the word gets out about the place.
We soon went to work on a red-rimmed plate ($3.99) of squid salad — cooked ribbons of calamari coated in a tangy dressing with black wood mushrooms, red chilies and sesame seeds — followed by an orange-rimmed plate ($1.99) that held a gelatinous tangle of sweet seaweed salad.
A yellow-rimmed plate ($1.99) with three rounds of rice-wrapped California roll also piqued our interest, yet once we pulled the plate off the belt, it was hard not to notice the brown spots on the mushy avocado that surrounded the sliced crab stick and julienne cucumber.
The hit of the day was the made-to-order tuna poki ($12.95), a hodgepodge of fresh-tasting, raw ahi cubes and avocado (no spots) tossed in a spicy sesame dressing with chopped scallion and sesame seeds.
Rotary Sushi certainly makes sushi easy and affordable, and it sure is fun watching all those plates go around and around.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.