Dinner Out @ Dancing Wasabi

We've been to Ichiban a few times recently, and each time we have gone we've walked by an overflow of people next door at Dancing Wasabi.  Because we've been so happy with Ichiban, we hesitated to go to Dancing Wasabi - why mess with a good thing?  Now that we've gone to both, comparing the two is like apples and oranges.  Ichiban is clearly our choice, but maybe you're a Dancing Wasabi person.

The Food:  The big draw at Dancing Wasabi, like at Ichiban, is the half price sushi.  We barely glanced at the non-sushi menu, so I can't say anything about it.  For sushi they have a full 8.5x11" sheet with room for both the typical rolls and space to write in what you'd like from their lengthy list of specialty rolls on a separate menu.  We chose a solid sampling of items (check the camera phone picture on the left).  Here's what we thought:

  • Salmon nigiri - It's all about comparison with sushi - and since we've had a fair amount of it recently, I am confident in saying that this fish had a disappointingly bland taste.  Its color was so pale, it could not have been wild caught.  This had been my favorite sushi bite at a few places, but the nigiri here disappointed.
  • Tuna nigiri - Similar to the salmon, the tuna was just ok.  Definitely not freshest.  We went on a Thursday, could that have been our mistake (what's the day Anthony Bourdain said not to order fish?)? 
  • Mackerel nigiri - I read recently that this is one of the best sustainable sushi options, so I wanted to give it a try.  It was definitely the fishiest flavor of the nigiri, and it's got a much more notable texture than the smooth salmon or tuna bites I've been getting used to.  I don't have much to compare this to, but it was about the same as above - definitely did not blow me away.
  • Smoked salmon nigiri - Sarah said it was good.  Typical, but good.  In my experience, it's pretty hard to screw up smoked salmon.
  • Spicy tuna roll - This is one of our go to rolls, which we try just about everywhere we go.  Their version was fairly spicy, but had a mealy texture, almost like canned tuna - not so good.
  • Crunch roll - We found this roll to be average.  It is made with spicy crab and cucumber-topped cooked shrimp with wasabi dressing and tempura flakes.  I wrote down while we were there that there was "nothing bam about it."  Also, I couldn't taste the crab.
  • Shrimp tempura roll - This is (and was) a pretty straightforward roll.  They make theirs with shrimp and crab stick, and its solid.
  • Volcano roll - Unfortunately, I don't see this on the menu online (maybe it was the Fire Scallop Roll?), and I can't recall exactly what was on it.  It comes in tin foil, and is essentially rolls smothered in a relatively spicy sauce, with slivers of scallop on top.  There is definitely a crunch from the cucumber, and I don't remember any of the other ingredients standing out.  But, this was surprisingly good - when they showed up with what appeared to be a tin foil reservoir filled with red hot cheese whiz, I wasn't so sure what to think.
  • Red double roll - This was another item that is not on the online menu (note to blogger self: always, always write down all the ingredients, even if they say the menu is online).  It was by far the best looking roll on our plate, and was a bit sweet on the outside.  This was another one of our tasty options, with a few different kinds of fish spread across the rolls.
I should say that across the board, these weren't very good looking rolls, which isn't surprising considering how many they must be churning out during the madness that is half price sushi at Dancing Wasabi.  The quality wasn't that different from Soho Sushi, which is kind of sad to say, honestly.  I'm generally all for supporting artisans, but if they aren't given the time and space to work effectively, their craft will inevitably suffer.

The rolls also weren't very fresh tasting and didn't have the snappy, crispness of the best rolls we've had recently.

The Ingredients:  Regular readers (I know you're out there somewhere, Mom) may remember that we ordered a guide to sustainable sushi recently.  We carted it along dutifully to this, our first trip with access to such great information.  Only to find (surprise, surprise) that the server didn't know where anything came from, and neither did anyone else working at the time.  So, using the book was officially a bust.  But, they were kind enough to share that they order from Yamasho and True World Foods, and suggested I call and talk to Charlie, the owner, or come see him on a Sunday when they aren't so full and aren't doing 1/2 price sushi.  This was a good learning experience - if we want to know where our sushi comes from in the future, we need to plan ahead and make some phone calls.  I'm confident this would be the case for many to most places, not just Dancing Wasabi.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Again, the big draw here is 1/2 price sushi, which you can get every day except Sunday from 5pm-2am (which is better than at Ichiban, which only has 1/2 price on Wed-Thurs from 5pm-1am and Fri-Sat from 9pm-2am).

I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't what I walked into - it is, in fact, almost the exact opposite of Ichiban next door.  It is a small, cramped space that was loud and packed - mostly with young and youngish patrons, making it feel an awful lot like a college bar.  They have a couple of big screen TVs that made it hard for me to keep my eyes off of Sportscenter, and a weird hodge podge of modern art and sports photography/memorabilia on the walls that made me wonder who their interior decorator was.

We were seated quickly after a short wait, and the guy came out and found us, which was nice.  Our server was no nonsense and nice enough too.

The Last Bite:  I can't see any reason we'd go back to Dancing Wasabi, unfortunately.  We never like to not like places, but this was a disappointment.  Plus, with just a little bit of foresight and planning so that you hit the 1/2 price days and times, you can get better food and better atmosphere for the same price just next door.  If we ever do go back, we'd likely order the Volcano and Red Double rolls again.

Dancing Wasabi on Urbanspoon


Kristin said...

We really like the specialty rolls at Dancing Wasabi, although we're not fans of the young crowds (which is why we tend to go on the early side--we live close by, so it's an easy walk). Red double roll is our fave, but the red fire/fire cracker rolls are also good, and I think they do a pretty nice job with the simple rainbow roll, too. Avoid whatever their deep-fried roll is, though: we tried it once just for the hell of it, and it was god-awful.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Kristin - those are some good comments, thanks for sharing! Good tips!

Another friend of mine said that when he went recently the server told him they are actually a Korean restaurant that does sushi, so he was intrigued to try their non-sushi offerings. With so few Korean places in town, I too am intrigued!

Seafood said...

Dancing wasabi, frozen sushi, frozen pinky tuna, wild caught salmon, are you crazy? It come from sam's club, you may not believe me, labor cost 30-35% for restaurant bissiness, food cost 30-35% ,if they use fresh seafood, food cost will be 45%, you think the owner can drive 745LI BMW, you paid what you got, no way you can spend less money and can get good food, I has been food business for 20 years, I know.

Anonymous said...

You are mistaken, I work at Wasabi, and I can tell you that we do not get our fish from Sams.