Delectable, Authentic, Kaiten-Style Sushi At Umi

Few dining experiences are as convenient and entertaining as kaiten-style sushi. Pieces of raw fish, sushi rolls and small plates travel past your seat by way of conveyor belt, and you grab whatever looks most appealing.

When Umi Sushi & Tapas opened in West Hartford in 2010, the mobile sushi concept first popularized in Japan quickly gained fans in the area. The Blue Back Square restaurant is colorful, brightly lit and clubby, with an upbeat soundtrack adding to the festive vibe.

The centerpiece of the room is the belt, manned by a crew of busy employees who load it with just-prepared sushi rolls, salads, appetizers and desserts. Booths and counter seating are placed strategically around the belt for easy service. Each plate is color-coded by price; items on the belt are $1.75 to $5.75. (Servers tally the plates at the end of the meal.)

We came specifically for ramen, desperately needing to thaw out from the icy night. But it was too difficult to pass up the delectable-looking food speeding by us. A calamari salad had a nice balance of sweet and sour; thick slabs of seared tuna and salmon nigiri were simple yet fresh with clean flavor. Spicy tuna is balanced with fresh cucumber, and two special rolls with assorted spicy shellfish (shrimp and lobster) avoided a heavy hand with small touches of mayo-based sauce. Portions are small, about four pieces per sushi roll.

It's hard to find authentic ramen in the Hartford region, so we were excited to see the soup list ($6 to $10.95,) choosing the Umi version with spicy miso broth, fried chicken, poached cage-free egg, scallion and corn and the pork variety, with a pork-based broth, braised pork collar and bamboo shoots. Each highlighted layers of flavor, with rich meat essence, al dente noodles and bright spices lacing the broth. This is a far cry from the 69-cent instant ramen you ate at 3 a.m. in your dorm room.

Umi also serves several varieties of udon noodle soups, curries and izakaya-style small plates ($4.50 to $13.50) like rock shrimp, crispy fried chicken, sukiyaki and gyoza. And if you don't see something to your liking cruising around the belt, feel free to order specially made sushi, sashimi and rolls.

The bar features neon-hued cocktails ($6.50 to $20) like scorpion bowls for two in oversized martini glasses; sake-based martinis and an Asian take on a mojito, with shochu and shiso leaf standing in for rum and mint. Bubble tea is customizable, with your choice of tea flavor and boba (and add rum or vodka for an additional charge.)

Umi runs several specials throughout the week, including a weekly happy hour (3 to 6 p.m.) and late-night pricing on food and drink after 10 p.m. seven days a week. Tuesdays is 2sDay, where every plate on the belt is just $2 from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Wednesdays, an all-you-can-eat belt promotion is just $19.57 from 5 to 9 p.m.

>>Umi Sushi & Tapas, 53 Isham Road in West Hartford, is open 11:45 a.m. to midnight Sundays; 11:45 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; and 11:45 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Information: 860-206-0290, umisushitapas.com.