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ELEGANT DESIGN

for The Brooklyn Paper
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There’s a new restaurant amid the myriad small businesses and eateries on the frenetically bustling block of Prospect Park West just south of Bartel Pritchard Square. Sushi Yu, a tiny, unassuming Japanese restaurant opened about six months ago and, according to chef-owner Jimmy Liu, it’s been doing a great business ever since.

Extreme language barriers (Liu speaks almost no English; I cannot speak Japanese) kept us from communicating about the cuisine in detail, but who needs words when it comes to food?

Sushi Yu is clean and understated inside and out. The simple rectangular interior is paneled in light oak, with tables and chairs in the same wood. The five-seat sushi bar along the back wall has a display case of fish, which, with a few random Asian prints and hangings, is the only adornment.

But the simplicity crossed over from understated to unadorned in some ways: the simple addition of a candle and a flower on each table, and perhaps a cloth place mat and napkin as well, would surely enhance the ambiance. The more immediate obstacle to serenity at Sushi Yu is the music. (There’s just something about Britney Spears and sushi that don’t jive.)

We sat next to the sushi bar at the back and Sharon, our waitress, explained that Liu would prepare for us what he thought was most special on the menu. Again, there was a discord between the homely plastic plates before us and the beautiful plate on which the "chef’s special spicy salad" arrived. Not only was the plate itself beautiful - simple, ceramic in earth tones - but the presentation of the salad was artistic and elegant.

A rose-carved lemon filled with salmon roe at the top of the plate was flanked by two 3-inch-long avocado rolls. Slices of ripe avocado were rolled around a mixture of salmon, tofu and toasted sesame seeds. The velvety textures and subtle flavors were in perfect harmony, and the toasted sesame seeds gave the whole dish an unexpected and delectable crunch, a winning combination.

Next came the spicy shrimp salad - equal amounts of very thinly sliced cucumber mixed with small shrimp that had been pounded almost to the point of disintegration, but which were, as a result, extremely tender. The two were tossed together into a very moist, pink mixture, heavily accented with sesame oil and hot spices, and again, the lovely, delicate crunch of toasted sesame seeds.

The shrimp salad was served on a single leaf of bright green Boston lettuce, a beautiful composition on the pale-green glass plate. Cucumber hand rolls - two light-green cones made of thinly sliced cucumber filled with lightly steamed, warm fish and topped with pink caviar were more elegant in appearance than in flavor, though they were certainly unusual in both regards.

My favorite dish of the evening was a roll that looked like a 5-inch long sausage. Ask Liu to recreate one for you. The basic idea was several different kinds of sushi (including salmon, whitefish and cod) carefully wrapped around a combination of rice, shrimp, avocado and crunchy fried sesame seeds.

While the individual flavors of the fish were lost, the coming together of the seafood and the other flavors was magic. It was sliced in six pieces so that it was manageable with chopsticks, and it was served with wasabi, ginger and soy sauce for dipping.

The menu at Sushi Yu is extensive and offers all the standard Japanese fare - appetizers (spring rolls, dumplings, chicken, beef or pork on skewers), sushi and sashimi, maki (hand roll), teriyaki, tempura, don buri (meat, chicken or seafood over rice with or without an egg), Japanese noodles and fried rice.

There’s a vegetarian section on the menu that includes a lot of tofu and seaweed along with various vegetable combinations, and lunch specials that are variations on the dinner menu theme.

As for dessert, we ordered the tempura ice cream and the fried banana. The former came with green tea ice cream, which was brown-green in color. Wrapped in a heavy, soggy batter, it was truly unappealing and too sweet.

The fried banana, also too sweet, was overcooked, soggy and studded with maraschino cherries.

There are moments of genius in Jimmy Liu’s cooking. If you know how to order at Sushi Yu, you can dine very well. This is a great location for pre-movie dining (the Prospect Park Pavilion is on 14th Street) or for lunching after or before a walk in Prospect Park. Sushi Yu also offers free delivery, and is affordable, with lunch specials ranging from $6 to $8 and dinner entrees from $10 to $14.

 

Sushi Yu (214 Prospect Park West at 16th Street in Park Slope) is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. To place an order, call (718) 832-8688. Sushi Yu accepts MasterCard, Visa and Discover.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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