Thereís Not Much Awe in the Raw at Chiuís Sushi
The friendly and competent but ultimately underwhelming Chiuís Sushi (608 S. Exeter St.,  752-9666) occupies a storefront in one of the monstrous carbuncles that serve as architecture in Inner Harbor East. A fish-filled fountain-pond welcomes you into a modestly pretty dining room, where kimono-clad servers present you with warm towels. If youíre seated facing the sushi bar, Chiuís lantern-lit serenity can grow on you, but if youíre seated facing the other way, toward the front windows, Chiuís looks more like a suburban strip joint, and it might gradually occur to you that itís kind of weird for the servers to be wearing kimonos.
The patrons with whom we shared Chiuís dining room on a recent visit appeared to be taking the place casually, a place they didnít have to dress up for. Some of them seemed to be regulars, but while I had dined at Chiuís only once before, I was greeted on my return like a favorite relative. On that first solo visit, I had a lovely and generous sashimi platter ($10.95) at Chiuís sushi bar. Offset by diagonal slices of fermented egg (tamago), slivers of tuna glistened, the salmon shivered, the clam and the squid trembled translucently. As for the go-withs, a cup of good seaweed-laced miso soup was pleasantly full-bodied, but the ginger dressing on the afterthought iceberg-lettuce salad was gritty with sugar.
For dinner, Chiuís offersóalong with ŗ la carte nigiri and maki sushi and various sashimi assortmentsóselections of appetizers, teriyaki, tempura, and what the menu refers to as nabe mono, traditional Japanese casserole entrťes. I steered my companions toward these nonsushi offerings, and I ended up sorry I had. As it turned out, thereís no compelling reason for you not to devote all of your metabolic energies to devouring sushi here. I wanted us to delve more deeply into the balance of the menu, and ended up disappointed that I didnít get to eat more raw fish and rice.
We started with cups of that good miso, those sugar-gritty salads, and a cup of potent and fresh-tasting seafood soup ($4.50), in whose unashamedly fishy broth swam choice morsels of crab, shrimp, and scallops. The shrimp-and-vegetable tempura appetizer ($7.95) was surprisingly light on batter, but it was good to see the healthful colors of broccoli, string beans, and carrots glowing through. With its thick slices of ruby-red raw tuna and tart, gluey nuta sauce, made from miso and sesame seed, a nuta appetizer ($7.95) was a simple, pleasant palate rouser.
Three of the casseroles, meanwhile, are intended for two diners to eat, but the yaki udon ($12.95), a deep cast-iron vessel filled with udon noodles, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, and scallions in broth, is constructed for one. The server brings a shaker of crushed chile peppers for you to drop into the bland but nourishing brothógood rainy day fare, we all thought, and the kind of thing that no one ever finishes. We enjoyed less our sliced tuna teriyaki, ($18.95), which made a sizzling arrival at our table but that, perhaps from overbroiling, had taken on the texture of chicken. Neither did anyone dab for extra licks of a sweet teriyaki sauce.
The sushi chefs exhibited workmanlike skill, though, with the chirashi sushi ($16.95), a variation in which slices of raw fish are layered on a bowl of seasoned rice. The assembled seafoodótuna, clam, squid, shrimp, salmonólooked and tasted fresh and, as with Chiuís sashimi platter, it received some impressive artistry at the hands of the sushi chef. Chiuís listing of extracurricular special rolls, meanwhile, is daunting, and decisions came hard. We ended up satisfied by our choicesómaki rolls constructed from such ingredients as eel, avocado, tempura-ed sweet potato, and fish roeóbut some ingredients (Iím thinking of the eel, which barely registered ) fell flat or flabby.
On our way out of Chiuís we saw other diners doing what we should have doneógorging on handsome plates of nigiri and maki rolls. And maybe weíll go back again, but the modest rewards of Chiuís food and ambiance suggest more a lunchtime 1visit than a full-on feast.