At Aoki Japanese Grill & Sushi Bar (621 Broadway Ave E) on Capitol Hill, most of the food was darn near collegiate--as in where college kids might go when they want to step up their sushi game one notch. The service was friendly and my two dining companions, Meadowcliff Angel and Clayton Doelger (not their real names), looked especially attractive with the semi-fluorescent light bouncing off of the Noh theatre mask staring at us from across the room. We ordered a diverse range of dishes, everything from the pedestrian Beef with Udon ($6 a la carte) to the Natto roll ($3.50), which is essentially the soy-gauntlet of sushi.
The Beef Udon was a study in Sylvia Plath-ian Gastronomy. I nearly made out with both Meadowcliff and Clayton when I slurped my first udon noodle; it had the perfect starchy smooth push-pull of a correctly cooked noodle. But not a second later, upon sipping the broth, I very nearly plunged the chopsticks deep into my chest to turn out my heartlight forever, or at least to forestall the impending diabetic coma. The broth was so sweet, baby calves were lining up on Broadway to suckle my bowl. A dip of my sticks to pluck out a piece of shredded beef to restore my humor merely sunk my spirits further--someone is most definitely missing their meat curtains, because I believe they were floating around in my bowl and as dry as brittle leaves falling gently to the ground in Osaka.
The Karaage Chicken was a Japanese McNugget that assaulted our taste buds and the sensibilities of Meadowcliff Angel, who made a face I can only describe as "puckery butthole face" as she mowed through the abomination. The only thing worse than the Karaage Chicken was the Natto roll, but that says more about us whiteys than about Aoki. Natto is made by fermenting soybeans and it is enjoyed, one imagines, by folks used to eating it. To our trio of diners, however, the funktang of the natto reminded us of that time your mom told us about giving a blow job to a geriatric squirrel who had really piquant metallic spunk. We remembered how she complained about the rotten acorn aftertaste on her breath for weeks. That is what the natto made us think about.
Luckily, there were some bright spots at Aoki. Saba Yaki (grilled mackerel) ($8.25 a la carte) was, for the most part, a rousing success story.The part of the fish closest to the tail was dry, but most of it was sweet, juicy and succulent--just like your mom, circa senior prom night. A spicy scallop roll ($6), rolled inside-out with a sesame seed overcoat, was so off the hook I nearly pantsed Clayton Doelger when he made moves to take the last piece. A Yamaimo roll (mountain potato with shiso and umeboshi paste, $4.50) was a little crunchy, a little slimy, and a little bit tart; it was like a hippie, a used car salesman and a prostitute took up residence in your mouth. Yes, it was that good.
Aoki, like so many sushi bars in Seattle and beyond, insists on serving the United Nations of Endangered Fish Species on their menu. When asked where one of the fish came from, the chef replied "from the back door"--which confused me because I usually come in your mom's back door.
It's not that Aoki missed on all counts--the service was excellent and a few of the dishes were stellar, but others seemed as if they were dated and formulaic and that no one had really tasted them in recent history. As one of my dining companions said, "Even a blind squirrel gets a nut occasionally."
Rating: 5 squirrel spunknuts out of 10