Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dinner at Mizu Sushi in Schenectady: Maybe the Best Capital Region Meal We've Had Yet

It was a Saturday evening, maybe 5:30 or 6.  The restaurant itself is rather small--around five or six tables and a sushi bar.  One person came in to pick up a takeout order; another called and placed an order for delivery.  Other than that, we had the restaurant to ourselves.  And that, we realized as our meal progressed, was nothing less than a damn shame.

This was Mizu Sushi on State Street in Schenectady, a place that's easy to miss even if you're like Phil Mickelson in that Enbrel commercial and don't blink.  Let me lay it out for you: Mizu is just east of the Barnes & Noble on Balltown, on the right side of the road if you're headed toward Albany, in the Mohawk Plaza.  Even in that little strip mall, it's tucked all the way in the back.

There; now that I've explained how to get there, you have no excuse not to go.  And go you should, because Mizu serves up easily the best sushi we've tried in the Albany area.  I know--there are a lot of sushi places in this region.  Well, forget them.  (At least for a little while; some are pretty good.)  If you like fresh, expertly-cut, generous portions of sashimi, go to Mizu.  If you like tasty rolls (with a weekend special), go to Mizu.

Convinced yet?  They have a commercial.  Let's watch:

I know: I'm showing you a commercial for Mizu, and I probably sound like some paid shill for the restaurant.  But I don't care--if this place ever goes out of business (or the quality drops), I am going to be a very sad monkey.  And nobody wants to deal with that.

Like I said before, it's a pretty small restaurant.  Considering the standard back-corner-of-a-strip-mall exterior, I was impressed by the attractive interior.  A handful of dark wood tables (with matching chairs) fill the space, and the walls are covered in framed paintings depicting life in Japan.  Behind the sushi bar is a television that was kept at a low volume while college basketball played on it.

One of the highlights of going to Mizu Sushi on the weekend (Friday-Sunday) is the special deal offered on rolls: buy one of the chef's special rolls, get a regular roll or hand roll free.  With that in mind, K and I decided to share two rolls--the Spicy Girl ($13.95) and the Spider Roll ($10.95, or free in this case)--and the Sushi & Sashimi Combo ($21.95).  The combo came with one salad, so we supplemented that with the Seaweed Salad ($4.25).

K ordered green tea ($1.50), which was barley-flavored and worthy of a refill.  We were also surprised by a complimentary order of two small spring rolls which were certainly appreciated while we waited for our sushi to arrive.  This wasn't a quick process, but we could see the sushi chef (was this Leo Fang, mentioned in a Mizo Facebook image as a "renowned Taiwan sushi chef" who was trained in Manhattan?) and it was clear he was taking his time to artfully cut the fish.

The chef's special roll we ordered, the Spicy Girl, isn't particularly cheap when taken on its own--while it's a lovely and delicious sushi roll, it isn't as large as many you receive elsewhere for a comparable price.  But is it ever good.  Featuring spicy tuna, white tuna, and salmon wrapped in rice and thin, pink soybean paper, it didn't look like any roll I'd ever tried before.  The spicy tuna was only enhanced by the spicy mayonnaise drizzled atop the roll, allowing for a good, hot kick.  But the fish inside wasn't completely overwhelmed.  The soybean wrapper replaced the traditional nori wrap, allowing for a change in exterior texture and slightly milder flavor.

The Spider Roll, which features tempura-battered soft-shell crab, obviously isn't a showcase for raw fish, but that's okay--there's still skill behind the frying and construction of such a roll.  And in this, Mizu also succeeded.  The crab had its proper gentle crunch, and the avocado inside the roll played nicely off of the fried soft-shell crab.

It was with the Sushi & Sashimi Combo that Mizu was most able to shine.  Containing five pieces of nigiri sushi, ten pieces of sashimi, and a smallish, six-cut tuna roll, the combo was more than enough to fill us (in combination with our rolls and salads).  The sashimi was cut larger and thicker than I'm used to seeing; the assorted pieces of salmon, tuna, and white tuna were all significant enough to require several bites per piece. 

Sashimi cuts are made differently based on the type and part of fish in order to enhance appearance, flavor, and texture.  The properly-trained sushi chef should know the way to work with the product at hand, and I get the sense that the sushi chef at Mizu knew what he was doing.  The salmon was beautiful to look at, hitting that perfect shade somewhere between pink and orange; it was so soft that it was almost impossible to keep it held between two chopsticks, and the thickness of the salmon allowed for bites that showcased the succulence of the fish

Tuna and white tuna are firmer than salmon, and they were cut a bit thicker and into about two inch wide square cubes.  These were both strong in flavor, tender, and lacking in any annoying tendons to bite into.  Yet I might have been most impressed by the red snapper, which was also cut wider and thicker than I can ever recall with that type of fish.  I assume for those reasons, along with the high quality of the fish, I was struck for the first time ever by a buttery, creamy red snapper (qualities more often found in white tuna)--always the least exciting of the fish for both K and me when we order sushi.  Often it's simply hard to bite through cleanly; at Mizu our pieces of red snapper each seemed to have only one tough vein to bite through, much less than any I can remember eating.

I would be remiss to not mention the sushi rice itself, something K has been in tune with for some time now (I believe a remnant of her attempts at making sushi at home).  At Mizu, the rice wine vinegar added some mild flavor--nothing that would detract at all from the flavor of the fish--and the texture was just right, denser and a bit chewier than what you get at many sushi restaurants.  (Good sushi rice is not easy to make or come by.) With this in mind, we'll likely try the Chirashi--wherein sashimi is placed over a bed of sushi rice--next time instead of the Sushi & Sashimi Combo.

On State St., just west of McDonald's.
There certainly will be a next time for us at Mizu Sushi.  Anytime you're left thinking about your dinner for the rest of the night--and remember, I'm making a concerted effort here to not exaggerate--you know you've hit on a special spot.

But we did also leave worried about the success of the business, considering how quiet it was on a Saturday night.  I'm glad I have a public forum now where I can proclaim my adoration for a place like this, even if I might have come across as a shameless fanboy in doing so.  It's not like I'm alone in that--here are more reviews if you aren't convinced yet (and some pictures of the sushi; maybe one day I'll be able to take some of my own).

Mizu Sushi is located at 3610 State St. in Schenectady and for Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner and Sundays for dinner.

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