Don’t fear the mall sushi

When I was a teenager, eating at the mall meant a slice from Sbarro or maybe a cup of potatoes from Steak and Fries, or whatever that chain was called. But sushi? At what point did sushi become mall food?

Well, at Oxmoor Mall, it absolutely is. At a kiosk called, simply, Rice, you will find a fairly robust menu of not just sushi but hibachi-style dinners. And based on a recent visit, the sushi is pretty darn good.

The menu includes starters like side salads, rice, edamame, steamed noodles and veggies and such, all starting at $2. Hibachi meals like teriyaki vegetables, chicken, steak or shrimp start at $5.99, and the list of maki sushi rolls and hand rolls starts at a reasonable $3.49, featuring the usual suspects like California rolls, yum yum rolls, Alaska rolls, salmon and tuna rolls. And to top it off, there’s a fairly impressive list of specialty rolls, starting at $9.99 for — get ready — the Oxmoor Roll.

Yes, they have a sushi roll not just in a mall, but named after a mall. And it looks pretty tasty, with cucumber, avocado and tempura shrimp inside, and spicy crab meat and panko crunch on top. Heck, Rice even has nigiri and sashimi. That’s right, mall sashimi.

Anyway, my girlfriend Cynthia and I decided to give it a try, and we found that the best deal at Rice appears to be the Pick-2 meal — that’s two rolls from a special list plus a salad for just $9.99. Crazy, right? I chose a rainbow roll and a white tuna roll, and Cynthia got a salmon roll and a crunch shrimp roll. We figure we can share and have a mall sushi feast for 20 bucks.

The salads were pretty good — the dressing isn’t that bright orange, super-sweet ginger dressing served at most sushi bars. This had a fuller flavor and tasted fresher and less, well, over-the-top sweet. And we were only two bites into our salads (which were served in Styrofoam cups) when our food was ready. It came to us on restaurant-quality boats and the presentation was lovely.

The one thing we hadn’t planned on was that Rice apparently makes its Pick-2 rolls as extra-wide rolls; my white tuna roll was six pieces and my rainbow roll came with four, but they were huge. In fact, the rainbow roll pieces were so big that there was no way they were going in as a single bite. Ditto for Cynthia’s shrimp crunch roll.

Of course, this made eating them a little tricky, but that didn’t deter from the balance, the flavor and the freshness. Now, using chopsticks on the bigger pieces was futile, so we wound up eating much of it with our fingers. But the point is, it was good enough to pick up and eat with our fingers. And we ate every bite.

Yes, the sushi we had from Rice was not the stuff displayed in plastic containers with fake grass under a sneeze guard. This was made-to-order, fresh and high quality. The salmon and white tuna were plentiful and fresh, and truth be told, one of those rolls and a salad probably would have been enough food.

Meanwhile, my rainbow roll was topped with tuna, white tuna and shrimp, and my only complaint was that it was a bit cucumber heavy. The huge rolls had to be filled with something, so they stuffed it full of cucumber with only minimal avocado. 

But overall, it was not just a great deal at $9.99, it was restaurant quality all the way. In a freaking shopping mall. In fact, I’ve had worse sushi plenty of times at sushi bars — places that should know better.

“Plus, I can’t shop for bras at a sushi bar,” Cynthia chimed in. Yeah, that too.

She also pointed out how far sushi has come. For instance, when Molly Ringwald’s character brought sushi to detention in “The Breakfast Club,” it was beyond weird.

“And now it’s in a mall,” Cynthia said. “In Kentucky.”

Move over, Sbarro. There’s a new kiosk in town. •