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for The Brooklyn Paper
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Peering into the window of Sushi Time in Brooklyn Heights, I observed two couples eating in a dining room so brightly lit that it made department store lighting look romantic. Strands of white Christmas lights hung in the window; a fish tank burbled away in the corner; the wooden tables had a good inch of shellac.

Inviting it wasn’t.

The ambience and, once inside, the music - an ongoing taped medley of popular tunes (if the theme from "The Titanic" is a favorite of yours, you’ll be pleased) - playing on what sounded like a Japanese music box, may explain why this place isn’t packing in diners.

Then again, it’s always a good policy not to judge by appearances.

That axiom is especially true for restaurants, where the worst dives can have great food and vise versa. While Sushi Time, opened six months ago, is hardly a dive, its sterile appearance can be off-putting. I chose a spot near the window and watched as several would-be customers perused the menu, glanced in and then walked away.

That’s too bad, because once a diner settles down to a meal there, they’ll enjoy stellar versions of Japanese classics. And if you allow the manager, George Duan, to make a few suggestions from the sushi bar, you’ll travel to a world of taste that few American palettes have experienced.

In the back of the restaurant, barely visible from the front window, is the sushi bar. Behind the counter is an array of fish, delivered daily, that are so fresh they glisten. Two chefs, Andy Lin and Li Quing, perform a graceful act. Working side by side, they expertly cut the fish into velvety slices and drape them over perfectly steamed rice or create platters of sashimi (slices of raw fish) that are truly art on a plate.

Besides traditional tempura, bento boxes and teriyakis (meat or fish marinated in soy sauce, sugar and seasonings and then grilled on a skewer), Sushi Time offers an all-you-can-eat meal. For $18.99, one diner can eat as many pieces of sushi as they desire. There are a couple of caveats to this offer: an all-you-can-eat customer cannot share their sushi with a non-all-you-can-eat customer. So, if two of you planned to eat 40 pieces of sushi for $18.99, it’s not going to happen. And if you thought you’d order 20 pieces for yourself and only eat 10, you’ll be charged a la carte for each left over piece.

The sushi offer is a good deal. Each piece I sampled smelled sweet, like a perfectly fresh piece of fish should, and was firmly textured yet velvety. Tuna, mackerel and salmon each tasted rich and cleanly of their own distinct flavors. The shrimp in the shrimp sushi was very briefly blanched and almost sweet. The not-too-salty smoked salmon sushi tasted like the best lox I’ve ever had; the eel sushi was beefy tasting; and the Tobiko, or flying fish roe, burst like tiny beads of seawater in my mouth.

Hand rolls are included in the sushi offer, but after 10 pieces of sushi, I was too full to give them a try.

With your sushi you’ll receive a bowl of miso soup that has all the restorative powers a good bowl of soup should have. Miso has a nutty, grain-like taste and can sometimes be salty. The miso soup at Sushi Time is not at all salty, just richly flavored, and the tiny cubes of tofu that float in the soup are silken.

One appetizer that I recommend, as much for its complexity of flavors as for its presentation, is the miso eggplant. Small roasted Japanese eggplants are cut into fan shapes and arranged around the rim of a white plate. In the center of the plate are carrots and scallions standing up and sliced so that the tops look like curly haired children. It’s a charming presentation. The eggplant, crisp-skinned and almost custardy, has a miso sauce flavored with sesame oil and scattered with toasted sesame seeds. The combination of the delicate eggplant and the nutty miso sauce is compelling.

The usuzukuri, a tartare of finely chopped raw fluke mixed with a highly seasoned ponzu sauce is another great appetizer. Soy sauce, fish flakes, rice vinegar and sake blended in a hotly spiced sauce that was salty and briny flavored, but the clean, delicate taste of the fluke was apparent in each bite.

The sashimi plate consisted of 15 pieces of buttery fish slices arranged like flowers on the plate. Thin, white slices of fluke, with its rose-tinted edges, were curled into a rose in the center of the plate; a pale green leaf formed from wasabi (a root that has the heat of horseradish) completed the flower. Around the rose were mounds of deep orange salmon, tuna, pale gray mackerel, yellowtail (similar to pompano, named for its yellow tail fin), and that delectable smoked salmon.

One of the chef’s specialties, not on the menu, is the Tokyo uni. In cold sake, served in a tiny, beautifully etched, blue and white glass, is uni, or sea urchin roe, and one small, raw quail egg. The aroma is funky, a little like seaweed that has baked in the sun, and a mouthful of this drink is like swallowing liquid suede. I threw it down my throat in one brave gulp. My eyes bugged out and I gasped. It’s not a drink for the faint of heart, but the flavors that lingered in my mouth were delectable and impossible to describe.

Eating at Sushi Time is like jumping into the ocean. If you pause with your toes in the water, you’ll get cold and head back to your chaise. But if you take your sunglasses off and run right it in, you’ll experience a moment of cold shock, then the pleasure of the water and the clean taste of the sea in your mouth.

 

Sushi Time (78 Clark St. between Hicks and Henry streets in Brooklyn Heights) accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express. All you can eat sushi is $18.99. Entree range: $6.95 for noodle soup to $19.95 for sashimi deluxe. Entrees for two or more: $31.95-$58.95. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information, call (718) 625-9893.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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