Business As Usual At Mount Washington Sushi House
The capable Japanese restaurant Chiyo Sushi (1619 Sulgrave Ave.,  466-1000) moved last year into a Mount Washington gateway location, the cramped two-story structure formerly occupied by Hoang’s Oriental Seafood Grill. Now close your eyes and try to picture standard-issue Japanese ambiance, suburban style—the encompassing beige that borders on drab, the catalog furnishings, the kimono-clad waitstaff, the stage set lantern-lit sushi bar itself.
You can easily picture the menu, too, its leatherette binding and plastic sheeting. Ditto the arrangement of menu items into typical Japanese appetizers, tempura, teriyaki, a smattering of casseroles, and a listing of sashimi and sushi combinations and platters. And always, always, the two inserts: the paper tick-off list of à la carte rolls and the laminated page of house-special rolls.
All of this familiarity accumulates into a message: There won’t be any surprises, bad or good, here. And on a recent weeknight, when Chiyo’s dining room filled steadily and stayed that way, that was good enough for diners who appeared to know their way around the menu and to have more than cordial relationships with the staff. And if one thing ultimately distinguished our time at Chiyo, it was the extra bit of kindness and interest the staff appeared to take in our meal, offering verbal thumbs-up for our good selections and demure shrugs when we veered into awkward territory.
I wish they’d been more assertively negative about our ultimately wayward decision to build our main sushi course, for four people, not from individually ordered special rolls but out of a sushi special platter ($45.95) and the sashimi boat for two ($45.95). In retrospect, it feels like an amateurish approach. For one thing, sushi begins to dry out when it’s waiting for you to eat it. It’s also, arguably, a slight breach of sushi-bar etiquette, in that large platters commandeer the full attention of the sushi chefs at the expense of other patrons’ needs.
The sashimi boat was not a bad maneuver, actually. It arrived first, groaning generously with thick slabs of glistening yellowtail, tuna, clam, and salmon: decoratively outfitted at the prow by three sheer roe-stuffed squid strips, and at the stern with a calamari salad stuffed into a carved-out cucumber roll and a lemon-half filled with red roe and the yolk of a quail’s egg. The fish gave off sweet, unmistakably fresh aromas, and landed silkily smooth on the tongue.
The sushi special platter consisted of 40 pieces of assorted nigiri (fish on top of rice) and maki (fish and rice rolled in seaweed). We’d have been better off trying out some of the laminated menu’s special rolls. For one thing, we had plain overdone it, and here, mostly in nigiri form, was much more salmon, tuna, and yellowtail, along with specimens of shrimp, more clam, and a scattering of tuna and California rolls. I didn’t wholly liked the nigiri— they felt a little bulky, and I had trouble keeping the rice and fish together. And my tongue kept looking for just a shake more vinegar in the sushi rice.
What short inroads we made into Chiyo’s nonsushi offerings we did with appetizers: lovely, wonderful calamari salad with cool cucumber strips ($4.95); warm edamame ($3.95); deep-fried soft-shell crabs ($7.95) that offered little crunch or natural crab sweetness; a fish cake ($4.95, a special) that wasn’t fishy enough; and a special sushi creation, a tuna surfboard ($6.95)—spicy tuna mixed with Japanese mayonnaise, crested with a sliver of fresh avocado, and placed atop a board of a shelled-out cucumber. Well done, and suggesting a sushi chef capable of drama and surprise.
Chiyo doesn’t disappoint, but aside from the service nothing separates it from the pack. And if not ordering with great bravado, Chiyo, in its understandable reliance on formula, fails to stimulate the imagination, either. What would? A fresh approach to an evening of sushi—a fixed-price menu, random ordering by pachinko (actually that’s a great idea—dibs.). Ultimately how you feel about the sweet and decent Chiyo probably has much to do with how close to it you live.