I love Sushi King and Sushi Sono. Love the big rolls and private rooms. I have been loyal for years -- mostly because my few dalliances were expensive and not as fresh.
But I stepped out to Hanamura last week and discovered complex food in a joint stripped bare of the decor, the sauces -- and the $12-18 per roll price tags -- that dominate my sushi experience in Howard County. OK, dominate our sushi experience. That metaphor has gone far enough to test how regularly the wife reads the blog, and this post should be about fish, not girlfriends.
Mrs. HowChow and I stepped out to Hanamura with my aunt and mother after I wrote about wanting to try new places and noticed the Columbia restaurant mentioned again and again. We stepped in with trepidation because sushi disappoints if the fish or the price seem off, and the sparse, small restaurant off Dobbin Road doesn't look that different from places that have let us down.
Then, the fish started to arrive. Spicy shrimp roll picked by my aunt, spicy scallop by my mother, salmon skin by Mrs. HowChow, and on and on . . . . We filled a table with sushi for four on a budget just larger than dinner for two at Sushi King. We had a wonderful meal that started with edamame (ask if they'll salt the beans) and ran through mochi ice cream for dessert. Everything was delicious, and everything was different enough that we each had favorites. The Atlantic Roll's mackerel, ginger and scallions was my "new find," but the least of the rolls for my aunt. We all left satisfied, and Hanamura gets my family's ultimate prize -- my mother says the spicy scallops matched Niwano Hana, her gold standard in Rockville.
For me, the innovation at Hanamura is serving imaginative flavors even in $6 or $8 dishes. They have $16 rolls that echo the Sushi Ks', but I saw more small dishes that looked intriguing. For $8, we took a risk on tuna tartare, and the bowl of tuna, avocado and cucumber echoed the poke that we loved in Hawaii. For $3, we tried the pickled radishes. They weren't great, but they weren't pricey. Next time, I'll try the salmon and squid in the "tiger eye" appetizer or the salmon soup that ho.co.po commented about. You aren't sacrificing quality at Hanamura. You are just getting choice and a great change of pace -- tasty fish in a budget meal or tasty fish in an opulent banquet. It just depends on what you want to try.
And a parting thought for equality: On our visit, Hanamura was an all-woman show. Women manning the tables and the sushi bar. Mrs. HowChow pointed out the sushi chef as we left -- in part because we have seen more Latinos cutting sushi than women. Way to go girlfriend!
If you want more advice about sushi in Howard County, check out the posts on Sushi King and Sushi Sono and check out all the comments there and on my post about wanting to branch out to something new. People talk up Yamahana in Waverly Woods, Niko on Rte 40 in the Normany Shopping Center, and others.
If you're interested in cooking Japanese food, check out my review of Kimiko Barber's cookbooks. They're great guides to the Japanese aisle of our local Asian grocery stores.
Thanks to everyone who pushed me to Hanamura, including Chris C., David P., ho.co.po., Hal, Lisa, and Anonymous (who loves the Kevin Roll).
8865 Stanford Blvd
Columbia, MD 21045
NEAR: Hanamura is off Dobbin Road south of Rte 175 in a shopping center with Pub Dog, Riverside Coffee and Frisco Grille. From the north, take Rte 175 and turn south on Dobbin Road at the intersection with a Chik-fil-A on the corner. The shopping center is on the left after the second light. From the south, take Snowden River Parkway and turn left on McGaw Road at the light with Apple Ford. Turn right at the light with Dobbin, then look for the shopping center on the right.