The Eats: Japonessa, 1400 First Ave., 971-7979, Downtown. Upscale Japanese fusion and sushi.
Nice to look at, and that's about as nice as it gets.
The Deets: Japonessa is a raw bar (no, not Chaco Canyon style), sushi house, and Japanese fusion restaurant. The concept, obviously, relies heavily on the most traditional Japanese ingredient: fish. And with Japanese culture being so rooted in tradition, well, you can see where I'm going here. I've yet to encounter an imitation raw fish substitute, nor would I want to, nor would a place like Japonesa serve something like it.
But sometimes a girl just has to go where the tide is rolling, or, in other words, where your co-workers are going for lunch. There are limited options for the vegetarian here, but on the flip-side, the staff is knowledgeable about what's-made-with-what and can steer you towards the few items you can have. Plus, there's lots of cocktails and wine, and an everyday happy hour in the bar; if the situation calls for it, you can craft a meal out of $5 bubbles, edamame, and cucumber maki and call it a draw.
The Beets: In case you haven't heard, Seattle is the number one city in the nation for vegetarians. It's wonderfully true news for herbivores, but it's somewhat ironic based on our region's traditional seafood culture and evolving (often meat-based) restaurant aesthetic.
At a place like Japonessa, Seattle's two winningest cuisines--vegetarian and seafood-- fail to compliment each other. Even the tempura dipping sauce is made with fish sauce. There's the veggie, cucumber, and tofu rolls, but they're pretty boring. There's also the tempura brie with raspberry hoisin, which is really interesting, but who wants cheese when you're in the mood for Asian?
If you've got money to spare, the Laughing Buddha roll with mango, avocado, and a mango-shiso glaze is good, but at $15 and the only specialty roll on the menu, fails to dazzle. The kitchen will also make a Green Decadence roll for you, if you ask, with tempura veggies, avocados, cherry tomatoes, and sweet chili aioli (a throwback from head chef Billy Beach's former days at Umi) but they charge $16 for that one, and both rolls are $3-$6 cheaper at the sake house.
The Tweet: You're awfully pretty, Japonessa, but the Teapot is more our style.