This isn't Scooby snacks. Sushi Sono serves precise, tasty sushi -- along with other Japanese food -- in a casual, light-filled dining room near the Columbia mall. It often makes "Ten Best" lists for HoCo and for sushi in Baltimore. It's as good as I have ever eaten except for an expense-account restaurant in Manhattan, and those days are long gone.
Sushi Sono is a fun night out. I hear this is owned by the people who started but sold Sushi King, which has been a HowChow favorite for years. They're subtly different. Sushi King shines in unique rolls, often large and often covered with delicious sauces. Sushi Sono seemed to have more people order nigiri sushi (fish on rice), and its rolls were lighter, smaller -- although equally as delicious.
We sat at the sushi bar last night, and we were struck that everyone was friendly. We talked to people on either side. We talked to the sushi chefs. The hostess seemed to know half the crowd by name, and a little girl even sent an origami crane up to the sushi chefs. We ate rolls, and we loved them all: spicy tuna, tempura shrimp, a "crispy" roll with crab stick, egg custard and tuna, and the "hurricane eye" -- a crab-meat roll with an outer coating of crispy brown rice with each piece laid flat and dabbed with a serious spicy sauce. The rolls focus mostly on the fish with just an accent like the crispy rice.
The mystery is that most of the good stuff isn't on the menu or even on the specials board. Even rolls that are in the menu don't have any explanation of what is inside. You have to ask. Or watch the chefs or your neighbors. The hostess trumpetted the "bridal veil" roll, but I couldn't catch what was inside. The sushi chef talked up a roll with crabmeat, seaweed and Japanese mayonaise, but I didn't catch the name. ("Royo?") Missing out on hidden specials might be frustrating at a snooty joint, but Sushi Sono was so friendly that it's obvious that everyone wants to share the secrets. Seeing the "dragon" roll assembled in front of me -- tempura shrimp, white seaweed wrapped, topped with lobster -- just felt like a reason to go back!
But I couldn't help trying the "sono maki." The couple to our right had one, and it looked so different that Mrs. HowChow and I ordered a final nibble. Crab stick and avocado wrapped in thin slices of cucumber, then sitting in a shallow pool of vinegar. Light and delicious. Our neighbor thought it would be the perfect start to a dinner. It worked well as the end.
(Update 8/5/2008: The mystery is over! We returned to Sushi Sono, and the waitress gave us a full-sheet page that lists all the specials and describes them. I was shocked! It just makes the place better. We tried several specials and liked them all, although I have to say that the plain tempura roll was my favorite. The warm tempura shrimp was crisp and flavorful.)
If you like sushi, you definitely should also try Sushi King in Columbia. For Asian groceries, check out the H Mart in Catonsville, which sells salmon and other fish for slicing into sushi and all the supplies you would need for a home party. Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.
If you're interested in cooking Japanese food, check out my review of Kimiko Barber's cookbooks The Japanese Kitchen and The Chopstick Diet. They're great guides to the Japanese aisle of our local Asian grocery stores.