Way-Better-Than-Usual Conveyor-Belt Sushi at TEN SUSHI Near Seattle Center
Have you ever been to a Genki Sushi? It's a multinational Japanese conveyor-belt chain, and it's really cheap—as in, too cheap, really. The sushi comes fast and sometimes rolled loose, and it tastes cheap, too, with one roll pretty much indistinguishable from another, and the nigiri is kind of the same way.
The Genki upstairs from the QFC on Mercer and Roy was so unpopular, it closed down, giving Shinichiro Takahashi the chance to run his own conveyor-belt place his own way. He's from Aizu Wakamatsu, a small town in the Fukushima region, and he spent 15 years doing conveyor-belt sushi in Japan before moving to the US. He's worked for Genki, and he seems to have learned a lot about what not to do.
At Ten Sushi, Takahashi's restaurant where that ill-fated Genki used to be, he uses quality rice and vinegar, all-natural wasabi, local and organic veggies, organic Washington eggs for his tamago, and real crab. He makes his own light organic soy sauce mix, so as not to overwhelm the fish—a nicety you wouldn't expect at a kaiten place. Even more unexpectedly, the nigiri going past is labeled by country of origin. The sign for some ebi from Argentina also tells you, "Please let us know if you would like the shrimp head deep-fried!" (Yes!) Takahashi looks stern, working with concentration inside his rotating ring of sushi, but if you smile and wave, he will, too. Liberate a bowl of his homemade kombu crisps from the conveyor belt; the kelp is mirin-marinated, deep-fried, super-crunchy, and lightly sweet.
The six different-colored plates at Ten Sushi represent six price levels, from $2.45 to $9.85 per plate, with intimidatingly large, goofily named specialty rolls at the high end ("My Hamachi Will Go On," "Baby One More Bite"). That's more expensive than Genki, but the place is much nicer, too—upscale almost to the point of swanky, with artful details like a bunch of gilded fish heads looking at you when you come in (it looks much better than it sounds). And for a few dollars more, the sushi is worlds apart. (Go at happy hour for cheap beer and sake!) (500 Mercer St, tensushiseattle.com) BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT