A few years ago, Billy Malkin decided there was a lack of high-quality sushi delivery along the Baltimore waterfront. So he convinced a friend, Eugene McDowell, to partner with him on a place of their own.
Before opening the Sushi Place in Fells Prospect last July, Malkin and McDowell were not restaurant-industry veterans. They were sushi lovers and businessmen; both own local construction companies. Their business acumen shows. With personable service and a menu stacked with creative, well-executed sushi and Asian food, the Sushi Place has earned its considerable popularity.
Scene On a recent Thursday night, the restaurant was packed by 7:30. The Sushi Place currently occupies one floor of its Fleet Street building. The black, white and red space, adorned with Asian fans and samurai swords, is on the small side, but plans are in the works to open dining areas upstairs, which will more than triple the number of seats.
Creative control is the hands of the chef, Carlos Reyes. Using fresh ingredients, Reyes' technique is strong: Rolls were tight and neatly sliced and the arrangements of cooked dishes were lovely.
Appetizer We started with Spam masubi ($3), a Hawaiian specialty that's something of a novelty on the East Coast. Thick slices of Spam (yes, the notorious canned ham) were wrapped tightly in rice and seaweed then sliced into enormous portions.
One bite of masubi proved just how much sushi flavor owes to the quality of its rice and seaweed — the concoction tasted more like a traditional sushi roll than a ham stick. Dipped in wasabi-spiked soy sauce, the fatty ham and sticky rice was an appealing treat.
Tako tempura slaw ($10) was as refreshing as the Spam was rich. Slices of octopus, dipped in tempura batter and fried, were crunchy, tender and well seasoned. Set on a bed of carrots and greens tossed with a lively sauce of garlic, yuzu and miso, the bright salad hit all the right notes.
Boneless wings ($8) covered in a sticky, sweet and spicy chili sauce, were tender and tasty — a great go-to for a friend who doesn't like sushi.
Entree The Sushi Place offers a wide variety of rolls — including both cooked and raw fish — and sashimi. We tried the obi roll ($10.50), an elegant combination of spicy tuna and asparagus topped with seared albacore and sweet pickled onions.
Tidy and well built with appealingly fresh ingredients, the roll was a welcome combination of textures and tastes. The topping — a sprinkle of tart onions atop tender albacore — made the roll.
The teriyaki chicken bento box ($12.50) was attractive and a great deal, though less exciting than the rest of our meal. We started with a heady bowl of miso soup, followed by a bowl of rice served alongside a neatly packed box including sliced teriyaki chicken, a California roll, two gyoza (steamed dumplings filled with pork and vegetables) and a pile of tempura-fried shrimp and vegetables.
The box's centerpiece, the chicken, was sweet and salty but also overcooked. Fortunately, the rest of the box was better; highlights included the neatly wrapped sushi roll, stuffed with avocado, crab and cucumber, and beautifully fried tempura shrimp and veggies.
The shrimp was sweet and tender and a piece of broccoli, steamed briefly before dipping in batter, was so lightly fried that we convinced ourselves each bite was healthy.
Service Throughout dinner, a friendly waiter, clad in a Natty Boh-meets-sushi-chef t-shirt, kept our water and iced tea glasses filled; the Sushi Place is BYOB with no corkage fee. However, Malkin says he may try for a liquor license at some point.
Bottom line When businessmen open a restaurant in the hopes of filling a local need, a million things can go wrong. But Malkin and McDowell knew what they were doing. They found a great, central spot for the Sushi Place and relinquished control of the food to an expert.
The result: top-notch sushi in the Fells Point-Canton area. Problem solved.
The Sushi Place
Back story: Billy Malkin and Eugene McDowell opened the Sushi Place in July 2012, after realizing that the Canton/Fells Point area lacked good sushi delivery options. The restaurant stays busy with in-house guests, too, serving creative and well-made sushi alongside cooked Asian dishes.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: Don't miss the tako tempura slaw appetizer. The octopus is dipped in tempura batter and lightly fried then sprinkled over a carrot and lettuce salad tossed with a bright yuzu and garlic dressing. The combination is crunchy, slightly chewy and tangy all at once.
TVs: One currently; more will be added when upper floors open
Where: 2224 Fleet St., Baltimore
Contact: 443-453-9772; sushiplacebaltimore.com
Open: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Rating: 2.5 stars
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star ]