The Rotating Sushi Bar at Kyodai Could Have You Coming Around For More
Some folks I talked to about the new rotating sushi bar up in Towson told me that they had enjoyed visiting such places, known as kaiten, in San Diego, Toronto, or Singapore. I heard, and then read, about establishments where plates of sushi on tiny boats make their circuit in a shallow pool of water or where a tiny engine pulls a train of sushi cars around a continuous track. Those sound like fun. But for every cute and slick kaiten, there is one, like Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar (1 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson,  339-7500), where the conveyor belt is a simple, gimmick-free strip of metal.
Occupying what was formerly a chain pizza restaurant, Kyodai, even festooned now with red lanterns, is drab. Drab, yes, but the staff warmly welcomes you, offers to take your coat, and helps you to a seat at the oval bar. And then you look at the plastic-domed plates traveling toward you on the conveyor belt, and when you see something you want you take it. This is what I liked best about the rotating sushi bar experience: instant gratification.
In theory, a rotating sushi bar, by eliminating an intermediate server, helps to keep the sushi experience affordable. In reality, additional servers are still on hand to answer questions (the offerings on the belt are unidentified), clear away the plastic domes, and to take orders for special nigiri and maki and from the menu of Japanese specialties—teriyaki, tempura, udon. The price of the sushi you choose depends on the color of the plate it on which it sits. ($2.25, $3.95, or $5.50). When your meal’s over, a server totals up the stack of plates sitting on the bar in front of you. That’s a small annoyance, the discard pile of plates—the bar ledge is narrow and you start to run out of operating room.
But hold off on the sushi, for a moment, if you can, and start with a bowl of Kyodai’s lovely miso soup ($1.50), the traditional start to a sushi feast. Flecked with bits of dried sea vegetable and full of fine fermented soybean flavor, the soup will warm you up and settle your palate. What’s placed on the belt—mostly maki (rolls of rice circled with nori, aka seaweed), the occasional nigiri (fingers of fish placed atop rice), and terrific seaweed salad—is what can be counted upon to sell quickly—salmon, yellowtail, California rolls—thus insuring some degree of freshness.
Maki and nigiri on the belt are but four to an order, which encourages more experimentation but can lead to reckless overgrabbing. The slices of maki are suitably thick, the rice not gummy and evenly seasoned, the fish free of taint. And even these basic rolls are assembled with occasional flair, a vertical fillip of flesh extending from the roll. But largely, these plates travel around without much in the way of decorative embellishment, and the eye grows weary of them and fixes instead on sexier stuff—a halved avocado stuffed with silkily delicious imperialed crabmeat; the Kyodai ultimate tuna, avocado and black pepper encircling spicy tuna with scallion and panko; or its inverted version, the kamikaze roll.
You’re tempted also to order from the chef’s sushi menu or one of the daily specials advertised on the small signs that travel around with the plates. One of these dishes I enjoyed tremendously—an elegantly constructed maki roll that paired the sweet crunchiness of soft-shell crab with the cool crispness of cucumber. But small incursions into the other Japanese items on Kyodai’s menu were less successful.
Tuna teriyaki ($13.95) was grilled beyond the requested rare stage, and the teriyaki sauce was cloying. A bowl of udon ($11.95), served with lightly battered jumbo shrimp and brimming with sliced vegetables and soft noodles, not too mention a pan-fried egg, was suitably complicated, but the broth itself made little impact. Moreover, eating and enjoying these dishes was hampered by lack of space, what with all the cramped plates.
Bear in mind, I get easily overwhelmed at conventional sushi restaurants. I never have mastered ticking off selections with a miniature-golf pencil, and I’m shy about interacting with the sushi chef. So I felt relaxed and in control at the kaiten. We were in and out of Kyodai in just under an hour, gorged ourselves silly, and still managed to keep the per-person sushi charge to about $20. If you stick to the sushi, you’re likely to come around again.