Around my house, going out for sushi is the equivalent of what “pizza night” was when I was growing up: a guaranteed night of relaxed semidecadence that finds my family gathered around a table noshing through a community platter of food. Thus, hearing the words, “Go eat some sushi and we’ll pay for it,” issuing forth as an assignment is hardly the sort of thing to spark up my normal level of skepticism.
Rolling up into the scrappy strip mall that houses Gizmo Sushi with my clan, it didn’t take long for the negative vibes to start boiling up. In the old location of Momo Sushi (which was owned by a Japanese family; Gizmo is owned by Koreans, but more on that later), the back-of-a-gas-station-next-to-a-barbershop locale leaves something to be desired. Once inside, the décor – a cheaply Spartan blend of anime posters and Pier One furniture – and mess-hall openness of the dining room didn’t do much to improve matters. (Though Momo was similarly decorated, small touches of elegance did much to create a pleasant atmosphere; at Gizmo you’re left to visit the bizarrely decorated bathrooms for a touch of ambience.)
But when our waitress told us there was no beer (due to a delay in the receipt of their license), my mood turned awfully sour. I refer you to the above remark about “pizza night.” In the same way that a pie is that much better with a pitcher, you just have to have an Asahi with a boat full of rolls. Oh yeah, no boats at Gizmo either.
Strikes one, two and three (four if you count the boat) did not set off this visit to Gizmo on the right foot, and the flat sodas brought by our beleaguered waitress (she was the only one working the floor on this night, and it showed) had all my pessimist pistons running full-throttle. “The food better be good,” was the mumbled mantra, and with the (eventual) arrival of the appetizers, things started looking up.
Although the portion of edamame ($3.50) we were served was a bit piddling, the soybeans were salted and steamed perfectly, while the shumai ($4.95) – steamed dumplings filled with diced shrimp meat – were so good we ordered a second plate. But, really, what sushi place should be judged on its soybeans and shumai? It’s all about the rolls, and once they finally made it to the table, any doubts about Gizmo were soon gone.
In addition to the standards – California roll, super crunch roll – we decided to dive into what makes sushi joints special, their house rolls. With its Korean proprietorship, it was unsurprising to find something like the “seafood kimchee volcano roll” ($10.95) on the menu, but honestly, the thought of the flavor overload of a roll that includes cucumber, avocado, crabmeat, masago (smelt roe), tuna, salmon, snapper, white tuna, sesame oil, scallions, hot sauce and seafood kimchee was too much to consider. Especially with no beer. Instead, we tried the Mexican roll ($5.50) which included neither refried beans nor salsa, but was made up of shrimp tempura, wasabi-tinted mayonnaise and avocado; because, of course, mayonnaise is huge in Mexico. Regardless of its questionable lineage, the roll was excellent, like all the other rolls we were served.
Though it was easy to hold our lone server responsible for the delays in getting our food out, the “blame” probably should have laid upon the sushi chef. He was obviously meticulous in the construction of the rolls, as they all held together well and were perfectly presented. The supertasty Munch Man roll ($5.95) was crabmeat, crispy fish flakes, wasabi mayo and masago, a concoction that would fall apart under most circumstances, but held its own quite well. Likewise, the mushy baked conch/crab salad topping of the volcano roll ($8.50) should have been a messy disaster, but wasn’t.
Gizmo also features a decent enough selection of donburi (rice bowls, $8.95-$13.95) and noodle dishes ($8.95-$11.95) as well as standard fare like grilled items ($9.95-$15.95) and tempura dishes ($10.95-$14.95), but the individual servings those dishes require don’t provide communal “pizza night” vibe like rolls. And Gizmo absolutely excels at making rolls. Wait until they get their beer license, then ignore the location, ignore the dŽcor and have patience with your server, and you won’t be disappointed. “Disappointed,” of course, being a relative term.
First appeared in the Sept. 9, 2004 issue of Orlando Weekly.