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YO! Sushi will take you, and your tastebuds, for a ride
If you’re stepping off a train at Union Station with an empty stomach and a light wallet, you’d be wise to avoid YO! Sushi. This isn’t because the food there is overpriced—it’s actually quite reasonable, with each dish sitting in a bowl brightly color-coded by price, and no single one costing more than $6. Rather, it’s because having fresh, colorful, tasty Japanese fare riding seductively on a conveyor belt across your field of vision might be a little more than your hungry willpower can handle.
The novelty of this setup, in which spots are equipped with ginger, soy sauce, wasabi, and a personal water faucet for the eaters, who grab bowls of food that circulate around a square-shaped bar, is part of what has made the YO! Sushi chain a U.K. institution. The restaurant in Union Station’s West Hall is the first in the U.S., with plans for another in D.C.’s Chinatown.
Staying consistent with the food-on-a-conveyor-belt kitsch, the entire restaurant features retro-futuristic, distinctly Japanese décor that is delightful in its bizarreness. The neon walls match the traveling bowls, and the back wall features a busy, trippy mural depicting a clash of Japanese and D.C. culture, complete with cartoon panda heads being dropped by helicopters over the Capitol. A screen in the middle shows small animated dolls and stuffed animals explaining how the restaurant works: Snatch whatever you want from the belt, order any drinks (including sake, cocktails, and red wine by the glass or bottle), hot dishes, and desserts from the staff, and at the end they’ll tally your tab. Unusual, but wonderfully simple.
The food, both on and off the conveyor belt, is as tasty as it is convenient. The menu boasts 42 varieties of sushi, including numerous vegetarian options, all of which are made fresh by the chefs who cook behind the bar before the eaters’ eyes—a comforting sight for those who fear that the same food sits on the belt all day. Many rolls feature more than just typical sushi ingredients, with spices and vegetables complementing the fresh, melt-in-your-mouth raw fish.
Although the hot dishes, most of which cost between $4 and $5, are served in small bowls, the portions are deceptively big and filling, if occasionally disappointing; the vegetable yakisoba features a pleasing, tangy sauce, but the vegetable selection of largely red and yellow peppers adds little to the dish. Desserts vary from simple to unusual, and all of them delight—the miso chocolate mousse tastes nothing like miso, but the well-sized cube of cold, dense mousse with a cookie bottom is a perfect end to a meal, and rich without being too sweet.
Perhaps the best deal you’ll get at YO! Sushi is a $2.50 bowl of miso soup, which comes with unlimited refills. The attentive staff will take your bowl and refill it at a space-age miso soup machine: a contraption resembling a coffee vending machine, with a button and spout, adorably emblazoned with the phrase “miso hungry.” Although vending-machine soup may have its detractors, this flavorful dish, with perfectly soft cubes of tofu, will turn anyone into a believer.
For those who don’t like the conveyor-belt setup or want to dine and dash, YO! Sushi also offers pre-made carry-out choices, which, although less fresh-tasting than the dine-in food, are still worth a try. For the weary traveler, those might prove a better option, but buyer beware—you can only resist the panda heads falling from the sky for so long.