I have a little test that I use to evaluate the skill of a sushi chef whenever I visit a new place. It isn’t a pass/fail test to determine the overall quality of a restaurant, but it tells me the level of expertise of the chef. It involves the nigirizishi, the little pads of rice over which a slice of raw fish is placed. To properly eat this delicacy, one picks it up (I use my fingers, but most people use chopsticks)and flips it over so that it is the fish that is dipped into the tiny dish of soy sauce. It’s the flip that gives the tell: if the slice of fish stays attached to the pad of rice, you’re in a restaurant with a chef who knows what he or she is doing.
Bonsai Sushi’s chef passed the test beautifully. The buttery slices of white fish adhered nicely to the vinegared sushi rice. What’s more, the fish itself was closer to room temperature, which allowed the flavor and texture of the fish to blossom. Fish that is over chilled has no character.
Another thing that fascinates me about sushi restaurants is their list of speciality rolls, and what ingredients they choose for their “local” or proprietary roll. For example, here the Dr. Phillips roll has shrimp tempura, avocado and mango wrapped up with seaweed paper inside and rice outside, topped with delicate crunchies of tempura. (Just screams Dr. Phillips, doesn’t it?) The flavors were nice, especially the sweetness of the mango with the counterpoint of eel sauce. My only complaint on this one was that the rice on the outside wasn’t packed tightly enough and so fell apart when dipped into the soy sauce. (One unusual note: the table soy is the lower-sodium version by default; you must request regular.)
Bonsai is a small restaurant and a mom and pop operation, albeit a young mom and pop. When I visited, the family was preparing to shut down for a week to take a vacation together. That sort of homeyness comes across in the welcome that guests receive when they enter.
Where: 5174 Doctor Phillips Boulevard, Orlando
When: Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday
How much: $$
Where to call: 407-292-0333
Sorry, no Web site.