Sometimes it freaks me out when Chinese restaurants serve sushi. Japanese food is light and neat, leaving nothing to chance. Prepared with short, meticulous strokes, sushi is the epitome of this culinary ethos. Meanwhile, Chinese food is created with broad, heavy, greasy strokes, unafraid of the chaos of a stir-fry. The two foods don’t belong together, and it often seems like they only end up on menus that are cynically aimed at ignorant Americans who think all Asian food is the same. These are the kind of Chinese restaurants that serve dishes you hardly ever find in China, like General Tso’s chicken.
It was only after my second delightful evening lounging around the bar at Sumo Sushi that I even noticed the adjoining AmerAsia. It shares little more with the sushi side than a doorway, the bathrooms and the owner, Hyangmi Yi. She runs the dim sum side, while her brother Woo Young runs the sushi kitchen.
The dim sum restaurant occupies what was once the garage of a filling station, with big windows that allow great views of Downtown. The dim sum cart gets rolling across the concrete floor for lunch daily, as well dinner on Friday. The sushi restaurant is softer and more intimate, with a model train silently running laps around the sushi bar beneath the feet of a statue of a squatting sumo.
Visits to the sushi side begin with a cup of very hot, clear miso soup that’s like a simple, single note of perfect pitch. It’s followed by some very tight sushi, literally and figuratively, held together by a variety of wrappers.
Three of the rolls come wrapped in cucumber instead of the usual nori seaweed. The interiors of these cucumber-clad rolls are rice free, and the rolls have a refreshing quality.
A “green salmon” roll is the simplest of the three, with little more than salmon, asparagus and seaweed salad wrapped in cucumber. It’s tasty, but the seaweed makes it hard to taste the salmon and asparagus.
The “sexy” roll is closer to perfect. A dazzling mix of salmon, hamachi, albacore, red tuna and real crab, it’s wrapped in cucumber and served with a citrus ponzu sauce. On my visit, that plate was the first to empty.
A simple California roll buried under a mountain of tuna, fresh tomato, roe and a ballsy red sauce, then dusted in panko flakes, it’s like no sushi I’ve ever seen
My next favorite roll is the Sumo roll. Soft-shell crab tempura, more real crab, avocado and cucumber are topped by freshwater eel and served with a sweet sauce. It’s original and deserves to be the restaurant’s namesake.
The Hawaiian roll is another gem. A simple California roll buried under a mountain of tuna, fresh tomato, roe and a ballsy red sauce, then dusted in panko flakes, it’s like no sushi I’ve ever seen. And the red toppings take the California roll to places it’s never been.
A “Japanese ceviche” is striking, with bright slices of raw fish arranged with cilantro leaves and drizzled with an amber garlic-sesame dressing. At $12.50, it’s not the most bang for your buck, but it’s interesting and fun.
All of the sushi I tried reflected crisp technique, quite a few bold flavor combinations that really worked and whimsical, edible garnishes. It’s worth trusting the chefs on the interesting-sounding rolls, while the standard ones—the scallop roll, the spicy yellowtail, the green chile—were less memorable.
What sushi is to Japanese cuisine, dumplings are to dim sum. While the sushi rolls are filled with raw ingredients, the dumplings are wrapped in dough, and then fried or steamed. You can fill up on the dim sum for about a third of what you’d pay in the other room. And the danger is present to overeat on dim sum, given the frequency of the cart’s passing and the ease of simply pointing to something that looks good.
An open-faced dumpling filled with meat, ginger and water chestnuts had great flavor and satisfying crunch. Like all of its cart-mates, it was a good match for the Szechuan chile sauce on the table. Yi, who is from Korea, learned the sauce from a dim sum master named Micky, with whom she apprenticed for years. Though nothing on the menu is Korean, if you ask nicely, Yi might bring you a taste of daikon radish kimchi. A bowl of fried tofu covered with wood ear and shiitake mushroom shavings in broth was the lightest option, and perhaps the most interesting. A fried scallion pancake offered a high ratio of crispy surface area to volume, if that’s what you’re into, but it didn’t taste like much except fried. Many other little plates made the rounds, bearing dumplings, noodles, chunks of rib meat and dessert dim sum.
Choosing whether to dine at AmerAsia or Sumo Sushi depends on a few things. First and foremost: Who’s paying? And do you want to wait through the ordering process or sit down and start eating? Aesthetically, the styles of food could not be more different, and hats off to the management for keeping them apart.
The sushi bears the meticulous artistry and precision handiwork that make Japanese cuisine one of the finest in the world. The Chinese side is more laid back, chaotic and boisterous—a place to have a good time while filling your belly with tasty morsels, and not worry too much about what’s inside them. Side by side, AmerAsia’s dim sum and Sumo’s sushi have managed to find stability in a dining experience that doesn’t compromise either style.
Tofu and mushroom dim sum