Monday, January 25, 2010

Sushi Sono: One Of The Best

Hurricane Eye roll at Sushi Sono
Sushi Sono is one of the best restaurants in Howard County, and it took the out of town folks to make that point to me.

Don't get me wrong. I always enjoyed the sushi at the Columbia restaurant, but I started as a Sushi King guy. My 2009 list of best restaurants of Howard County punted a bit and put both the King and the Sono in my "other favorites" paragraph.

Not anymore. Our dinner last weekend was absolutely one of the best meals in Howard County. The fish is delicious, and Sushi Sono delivers a top-flight experience even though it eschews many of the luxuries of restaurants this expensive ($60+ for two without alcohol).

Start with the wait -- because on a busy Saturday you'll have one. Sushi Sono doesn't take reservations, although people who call ahead get some unclear preference when they arrive. "I never let people who call ahead wait too long," the manager told us. It's a unique system, and at least one couple appeared to chaff at the uncertainty. But the manager juggled us with good cheer, and several people just waited out the delay by having a drink at Clyde's.

The standing out front didn't detract because our first sushi hit the table minutes after we ordered. That meant that our overall wait was no longer than at other sushi places where the "make your roll" delay can be longer than the table wait. That also meant that we were lifting creative rolls and tasting the reason to eat at Sushi Sono -- the fish.

Our menu: "bridal veil," "grilled," "hurricane eye," shrimp hand roll, and the mysterious #12. Sushi Sono makes my Top 10 because we could eat an entirely different menu tonight, but I'm not sure that I could return without ordering the "hurricane eye." The #12 was the most dramatic roll of the night -- a thin roll with a tempura shrimp, chopped tuna, and a sauce. Eat it first. The shrimp was hot when it arrived, and the roll had an absolutely unique contrast between hot shrimp and the chilled tuna on top. The "hurricane eye" takes contrast in another direction. The roll comes sliced thin with a dot of spicy sauce in the center and the edge coated in popped brown rice. That crunch on the outside was absolutely unique and as exciting as the first time that we ate it.

Sushi Sono's fish is delicious. So you can orderly pretty freely -- and check out the recommendations in the comments on my prior post, including horse mackerel. You need to ask about specials, as I noted in a 2008 post. The #12 is an off-menu creation, and we only enjoyed it because Mrs. HowChow spotted one going to another table. Ask more than once. We saw a chopped tuna dish go past that looked the the poke that we loved in Hawaii. The waitress mistakenly told us that was the bridal veil. I liked the bridal veil, but it turned out that we had been coveting the tuna tataki -- which will be on my list for the next visit with the "snowball" creation.

(Update: Sushi Sono keeps adding new rolls and specials.  To check them out, scan all the posts about Sushi Sono.)

Again, Sushi Sono doesn't look like most great restaurants. The tables are jammed together. The plates and place settings are plain. But Sushi Sono creates an atmosphere for finer dining than many of the new "upscale" places. The crowds create energy, but not loud noise. The service is almost perfect -- always available for a question or to clear a plate. Our waitress saw me hording the hand roll and warned me to eat it early because hand rolls soften with time.

And then, there is tea. Sushi Sono pours those Japanese mugs of hot green tea. It is delicious. On a cold night, it was a highlight, and the waitresses kept pouring more. Even after they cleared our last dish, they re-filled our mugs -- basically inviting us to sit for a minute even though there were 20 people waiting at the door. Not that we lollygagged. With the fast delivery, we sat at our table less than 50 minutes. But that tea and the delicious fish made this a better date than past nights of disappointing food and dirty plates at other restaurants that promote their service and atmosphere.

That leaves nothing left but my mea culpa. I went back to Sushi Sono because the Washingtonian listed it as #40 in its Best Restaurants edition. That is one of the many folks who I have teased for ignoring Howard County, but it took the hint from downtown for me to re-arrange my Top 10. I wonder what I could learn from the Washington Postdining guide . . . . if they could find us on a map.

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.

Sushi Sono
10215 Wincopin Circle
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: Sushi Sono is right on the lake in Columbia Town Center. From Little Patuxent Parkway, you turn into a large parking lot that says "restaurant parking." Then you walk down to the lakefront. The view is actually quite nice, and Sushi Sono is catty-corner to Clyde's.


Anonymous said...

we're longtime fans of sushi sono and even our kids love it. they been going since they were old enough to sit at a table and the folks at sushi sono always take a few extra minutes to talk to the kids (not just our kids but everyone's!). you wouldn't think it was a kid friendly restaurant but if you go early in the evening (before 6pm) it's a great family dinner out.

Work in progress said...


K8teebug said...

They do take reservations, but you have to have at least 4 people. It is my favorite place!

Amelios said...

@CupcakeRN and I celebrated the anniversary of our first date (which also occurred at Sono) this weekend by going back to where we started.

Sono is one of those restaurants that is never hit or miss. You're essentially guaranteed to have a fantastic experience. Be it the incredibly fresh food, the superbly attentive service, or the ambience, it will be superb.

On this weekend's visit, we ordered the Bridal Veil (several have told me this is their favorite roll offered anywhere in the area), Hurricane Roll (amazing as HowChow pointed out), Yasai Maki (very similar to King's Vegetarian Delight, but they each have their merits that keep them neck-to-neck), and the special Crunchy Spicy Salmon Roll (AMAZING.).

I'm sure the better half will be making a post or two chronicling this visit (and a recent visit to King) so I'll leave it to her :)

BeerGuy said...

I hate waiting so I tend to hoof it over there right at open.

Only bad experience was I came in once and ate by myself and was seated at a table directly at the front where several people were waiting and just stared at me endlessly while I ate/ordered/ate/ordered. Real uncomfortable.

The food is awesome though, as noted many times on here :)

Anonymous said...

Do they have any interesting rolls that don't have fish? I'm one of those strange people that loves sushi, but don't like fish at all. Which means I'm usually stuck with veggie, california, or shrimp tempura rolls. I'd love to find a place that offers something more interesting for those of us non-fish eaters :)

Anonymous said...

I love sushi, wish I had the money. Do they take food stamps? said...

When Nichi Bei Kai changed hands, I tried many other sushi bars (including Sono) and found them lacking. I recently decided to give NBK another try, and was happy to find that the new management had gotten back on track.

Sono definitely has a better view, but parking is a hassle, and IMHO the sushi selection has too much trendy stuff. NBK is more authentic and the prices are better. They also have a unique salad dressing that beats the pants off that gritty orange stuff most sushi bars use.

HowChow — remember how much you liked Hanamura? Try NBK. Friday and Saturday nights are your best bet in the sushi bar.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I love the blog! We have been sushi sono fans for 4 years now and really can't find anything better. I 2nd all your comments about friednly service and the positive energy. The mananger/hostess is wonderful! And the food is so good! We like all of the rolls you mentioned and we usually end with tempura ice cream. It reminds me of funnel cake with an ice cream center.

That said, we need to give sushi king a try based on your and other recommendations.

jamfreek said...

I'm the husband of the last anon...I think that something that gets lost in all of the talk about the wonderful restaurant that is Sushi Sono, is the actual Sushi/Sashimi. The portions of fish are easily the largest that I have ever had at any sushi restaurant, and the freshest. The Ootoro (Fatty Tuna) is possibly the best thing I have ever eaten. The rolls are so fabulous, and your write up makes me crave sushi at 8am!!

Anonymous said...

The hurricane eye may be the best sushi invention ever.

Aunt Sissy said...

Having been a longtime fan of Sushi Sono, I was thrilled to see the recommendation of an off-menu roll (#12) and even happier to enjoy it last Thursday! Thanks so much for the suggestion and for your great work keeping us up to date on food happenings on Ho.Co.

Charlotte Baltimore said...

The Yasai maki, which is an all-vegetarian roll wrapped in rice paper, is also really excellent. It used to be an off-the-menu special but now it's on their regular rolls menu. We order it all the time and we aren't vegetarian.

Anonymous said...

My newest favorite at sushi sono...The Scallop roll... OMG! Its amazing. There is no raw anything on this roll, but its still delicious. I like it better than my previous favorites...Bridal Veil Roll and Dragon Roll. I also second the spicy crunchy salmon roll! SO unique and good!

icolithic said...

The only Japanese place I really liked was in Bethesda ... a little Japanese grocer called Daruma. People spoke Japanese and catered to Japanese clientele... I guess I'm a bit picky, living in Japan for 6 years, but is there any place in/near Columbia that serves simple, straightforward sushi. Colorful rolls are nice, but are not what I call authentic, and all the non-fish ingredients just distort the taste for me. Besides going to the fish mart in Odenton and making my own sashimi bowls, I don't know of any alternatives.