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The accent’s on fresh at Sushi Express

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EVANS MILLS — I’ve been driving by a little sushi restaurant for nearly a year and didn’t realize it was there.

Sushi Express is located in White Pine Plaza, roughly opposite the Walmart Supercenter on Route 11. I spotted it about a month ago and picked up a takeout menu.

Although it’s neat and clean and there are a decent number of seats for dining in, there were no customers shortly after the noontime lunch hour on that particular day.

I returned with the WDT Reviewing Team on Black Friday, just before noon. We figured with throngs of people out shopping, Sushi Express was bound to have a busy lunch hour. I figured wrong.

Several young Asian fellows were working the counter and the adjoining sushi preparation area. One invited us to sit wherever we liked and brought us menus, the same glossy takeout menu I had picked up previously.

There’s a lot more than just sushi here: appetizers (egg rolls, crab rolls), salads (edamame, cucumber, avocado, seaweed, squid), soups (miso, seafood), sushi rolls or hand rolls (39 different ones) and “special” rolls (21 to choose from).

There’s sushi and sashimi (raw fish), sushi entrees, even hibachi entrees (although there are no hibachi grill tables in the small dining area).

And if you’re not into Japanese cuisine, there’s ... CHICKEN WINGS! Yep. Fried chicken wings. Honey chicken wings. Buffalo chicken wings. General Tso’s chicken wings.

We went traditional. Here are our menu selections and thoughts:

n Miso soup ($2.50): The soup arrived at our table in a Styrofoam container with a lid and plastic spoon. Curious presentation for customers who are dining in; however, the soup itself was prepared well. It wasn’t cluttered with scallions and/or a plethora of seaweed — just a clean, simple version, using light miso, and we guessed some dashi (Japanese soup stock), which gave the soup nice depth and flavor.

n Cucumber salad ($3.50): Not exactly what we expected. Rather than marinated cucumber, the salad consisted of julienned cucumbers placed on top of a small bed of lettuce. The cucumber was topped with a pleasant ginger dressing, which reminded us more of a typical hibachi accompaniment than a sushi-house starter. The tasty dressing was made in-house.

n Yellow Tail Nigiri sushi ($5.25 for two pieces): The cut and quality of the fish was good, and the rice had a pleasant texture. We did notice that there was no customary wasabi between the rice and the fish, which could be a good thing for those who don’t enjoy the sinus-clearing spiciness of wasabi. But it was supplied on the plate so you could add as much as you like.

n Eel sashimi ( $4.25): Three smallish pieces of eel, sweet, flaky, and still warm from the grill. This was a well-executed standard. Our server informed us that they only serve Unagi (freshwater eel), which was fine by us. We were able to taste the eel flavor since it was not overpowered by the sauce.

n Salmon sashimi ($4.95): This was just OK. Since salmon is a very common fish ordered at sushi restaurants, we were hoping that it would have been a little fresher due to faster turnover. The presentation was nice, with garnishes and good quality wasabi and ginger, and the size of the three pieces was good.

There is no difference in price for nigiri sushi (two pieces) versus sashimi (three pieces), so going for the sashimi eliminates the rice and maximizes the fish.

n Fort Drum roll ($7.50): Being a stone’s throw from the main entrance to Fort Drum, we had to do it. This roll consisted of deep-fried tuna, crab, cheese and cucumber with eel sauce and spicy mayo. The roll, cut into eight pieces, had a nice crunch — very enjoyable and nicely presented. The accompanying eel sauce and spicy mayo enhanced the overall flavor experience.

n Yum Yum roll ($9.50): Spicy tuna and cucumber with mango draped on top. Nice presentation. All the ingredients were pleasantly fresh, the cucumbers were crisp, and the mango seemed perfectly ripe. The mix of flavors was interesting, but nothing popped for us. Perhaps if the tuna had been more spicy, the sweet and spice could have been a fun combo. Overall, it was sort of bland.

Interesting to note that a regular spicy tuna roll costs $5.95, significantly less than this one.

n Hibachi steak and scallops ( $10.95): This was just OK. It looked and tasted as if it had been stir-fried instead of grilled. The steak was cubed, which is standard for hibachi, but we were surprised to find the scallops cut into small bits. Both components were overly chewy. The whole dish was slathered in a tasty but overpowering brown sauce.

It came with fried rice, which was good. The accompanying salad (served with ginger dressing in a to-go Styrofoam box) was all too similar to the cucumber salad we’d had earlier. This dish would be an adequate alternative for a non-sushi eater who might have been unwillingly dragged into the restaurant.

We tried an interesting beverage — something listed in the menu as “Japanese Sprite Flavour” ($2.50). For those who are familiar with the Japanese Ramune soda, this is it.

It comes in three flavors, mango, strawberry, and lychee, in a bottle that’s sealed with a glass marble. You have to push the marble down with a little plastic device provided with the drink. The marble is caught in the uniquely shaped bottleneck and rolls back and forth while you drink it. More fun than anything else, and something to keep little kids occupied while they’re refusing to eat raw fish.

There was no hot tea available and no gluten-free soy sauce for the gluten intolerant person at our table.

There are no alcoholic beverages. We were teased by the sake bottles behind the counter area, but learned they were just there for decoration.

While most of the entrees came on real plates, we had to ask our server for additional plates for sharing and were given the paper variety. Plastic forks and spoons were provided, but no knives, making the sushi and sashimi difficult to cut to share. We did the best we could with chopsticks and a fork.

Lunch for three cost $59.75 before tip.

Honestly, we were a little skeptical about the freshness of the raw fish, considering what is probably slow turnover of their fish inventory. But although we were the only ones in the dining room, we did see a steady stream of deliveries going out the front door. And we found no problem with the quality of the fish.

The owners of Sushi Express — who also own the Panda Wok right next door — recently opened another Sushi Express in Watertown, at 312 Arsenal St. Give Sushi Express a try and see what you think.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.



Sushi Express

26000 Route 11 (White Pine Plaza)

Evans Mills, N.Y.

629-5888



HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily



OUR PICKS: Miso soup, eel sashimi, Fort Drum roll, yellow tail nigiri sushi, Japanese Sprite flavour

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