EVANS MILLS Theres yet another Ruyi Sushi Japanese restaurant, this time just north of Watertown past the Super Walmart on Route 11.
Their first restaurant, 1025 Ruyi Sushi Japanese Steak House, opened on Arsenal Street two years ago this month. Less than a year later, the sophisticated Ruyi Asian Fusion began operating downtown just off Public Square.
Now its 1025 Ruyi Sushi Guan, in an inconspicuous strip mall opposite Davidson Auto. You have to know what youre looking for or youll drive right past it.
In fact, standing right in front of the building, you still might miss it. Its nestled between two other business, and except for the flags guiding you to Ruyi, you could easily walk through the wrong door and end up buying car insurance.
It doesnt look like much from the outside, but once we stepped inside, it was obvious that the owners have made a substantial investment in the pleasant and inviting décor almost like being transported to some place far from the surrounding tattoo parlors and Army surplus stores.
Kind of like the feeling you get after waiting two hours to go on the Harry Potter ride at Universal Orlando and then finally getting inside.
Its not over-the-top-glitzy like the other two Ruyis. A semicircular bar is the first thing inside the door. It was 5:30 p.m. and maybe we were a bit early, but the bar top was scattered with out-of-place menus and table tents, those printed stand-up displays that promote menu items. We noticed a counter against the wall behind the bar littered with note pads and other odds and ends.
Nonetheless, our bartender was friendly and informative, and made our drink order quickly and with a smile. No hibachi tables at this location. No show, she told us, but said they can make the hibachi food in the kitchen and bring it to your table.
Wonder of that big squirt bottle of sake could stop by our table, too?
I asked what Guan in the name of the restaurant meant. Small restaurant, she told us. And, compared to the other two Ruyis, it was indeed smaller and noticeably plainer.
The lighting is subdued throughout, adding to the ambience. As we walked past the sushi bar, we perused the small slabs of refrigerated raw fish waiting to be sliced by the sharp knives of the sushi chefs awaiting orders. The partitioned-off seating area offered cozy horseshoe-shaped booths that could easily accommodate six customers, and there were tables for two and four.
As with the other Ruyi restaurants, there are more than 100 items on the menu. We sampled a cross-section of them, a kind of Asian smorgasbord. We avoided the large entrees and stuck to the smaller, lighter offerings.
■ Shrimp Tom Yum Soup ($6.99): A broth of chicken stock and lime juice along with small shrimp, a scallop or two, mushrooms, little bundles of soft vermicelli noodles and chili oil. Very good.A bit of heat, but not overly hot. A little short on shrimp, we thought.
■ Mango Vermicelli Salad ($6): This was outstanding. Long, thin julienned slices of fresh mango and jicama were tossed with interesting crunchy Vietnamese vermicelli noodles and Thai sweet chili dressing that complemented perfectly. Light and refreshing, and a large portion. Wish we could get the recipe for the dressing.
■ Beef Tataki ($8.99): Also outstanding. Marinated beef, seared on the outside, rare on the inside, was shaved paper-thin and carefully arranged in a circle around a mound of greens. An amazing thin, tangy chefs sauce that tasted like a combination of beef broth, red wine vinegar and a light oil covered the meat and settled onto the plate. This one really wowed us. And wed like the recipe for the secret sauce, too, please.
■ Sushi a la carte comes two pieces per order. We got yellowtail ($5.75) and tuna ($5.25). Both the yellowtail and tuna were fresh as could be, and substantial slices of each draped over perfect sticky sushi rice. Ive had lots of sushi at Japanese restaurants around the country, and this was as good as any.
There are 24 rolls to choose from and an additional 15 Ruyi special rolls. Rolls are fish and/or vegetables wrapped in sushi rice and nori (paper-thin sheets of dried seaweed). The cylindrical roll that results is usually cut into six pieces, each displayed on its side.
■ Philadelphia Roll ($5.50): We took a chance on this one and were pleasantly surprised. Its smoked salmon, cream cheese and masago. The smoked salmon might have been understated, but it sure did taste like a cream cheese and lox bagel without the bagel.
As for the masagowe had to Google it. Its capellin roeextremely small, orange-colored fish eggs, smaller than flying fish roe (tobiko) more commonly associated with sushi.
■ Our expectations for barbecue squid ($8.99) and inari roll ($3.99) were not high. But once again, I think the looks we gave each other across the table were indicative of a thumbs-up.
The squid was much larger than we anticipated. Fat rings, almost like the rubber bands your mailman uses to bundle mail. But they didnt taste like rubber bands. They were firm without being rubbery, a testament to being fresh and cooked just right. A pleasant chewiness.
The barbecue sauce was a mild teriyaki sauce. The entire production was laid out on a long plate, the squid placed over a long banana leaf, then sauced.
Dont tell my vegetarian friends, but inari, which is really marinated, deep-fried tofu, wasnt half bad. Well, by itself it probably would have tasted like deep-fried sheetrock, but squished together with avocado and cucumber and wrapped with rice and nori, it was a pretty tasty vegetarian roll.
■ Striped Bass Sushi ($4.50 for two pieces): We enjoyed the first round of sushi so much, we decided to go one more. Maybe because we never had striped bass sushi style before, or maybe our palates were overworked at this point, or maybe the fish was just a little old (it was a little mushy), but its probably something we wouldnt order again.
Finally, two more rolls, rolls from the Ruyi Special category.
■ Dragon Roll ($9.50): This is the only thing we were served that could be described as fishy. Its eel, cucumber, radish sprouts and avocado. There was very little, if any, rice or nori, so the consistency was different from the other rolls.
Couldnt find any cucumber that might have given it some crunch. We asked our server to point out the radish sprouts. She gave it a look and said, They in there somewhere.
■ Face Book Roll ($12.99): White tuna, avocado and caviar wrapped with tuna and yellowtail with a crunch. Too many ingredients, because everything just kind of got lost. Nothing was identifiable. No evidence of caviar, even flying fish roe that we were expecting. Absolutely no crunch that this really needed. Overpriced unless the Facebook people got their cut. Which I doubt.
nBanana Tempura ($4.99):Our choice for dessert fried banana with whipped cream and chocolate topping. After all the beautiful presentations throughout the evening, this looked like something a little kid put together.
Wedges of tempura-battered banana were arranged in a star shape, covered with cream from an aerosol can, drizzled haphazardly with chocolate from a squeeze bottle. Underneath it all, unannounced, were those dry and airy Vietnamese vermicelli noodles.
All in all, not a bad evening out for $96.89, before tip and before cocktails.
Some of the menu descriptions do not exactly match what appears on your plate. We found this to be true at the other Ruyi locations as well. Presentations were very impressive, the banana tempura being the only exception.
Someone in the Ruyi organization seems to have made staff training a priority, and it shows. We had two young servers, and both did a great job. The young man in particular had the menu down pat. The hostess (who ran past us on the way in, seemingly late) never seemed to recover from her sprint from the parking lot. But on another night, shed probably be on top of her game.
While Ruyi Guan didnt seem to have the edge that we experienced in their other restaurants, its still a far cry better than most any other Asian restaurant/buffet youll find in the north country, and a welcome addition to this side of town.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1025 Ruyi Sushi Guan
26121 Route 11
Evans Mills, N.Y.
The newest Ruyi Japanese restaurant offers a pleasant and inviting décor. The menu features more than 100 items made with fresh ingredients,
HOURS: Dinner 3 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday
3 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday though Saturday
OUR FAVORITES: Mango vermicelli salad, Philadelphia roll, yellowtail sushi, tuna sushi, beef tataki, barbecue squid
RATING: 3˝ forks