Roll-Play

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I nstead of chewy, charred dough, a corn chip with vinegared rice. Instead of tomato sauce, spicy mayo. Instead of sausage, a slab of tuna. Instead of mozzarella, a four-ribbed fan of avocado.

It’s a piece of Tuna Pizza, a delicious hybrid of two food traditions, and while the ingredients come mostly from sushi culture, the eating method—by hand—goes the other way. You can pick up a slice at the Sushi Palace in Hamden or the one in Orange, though not at the North Haven location.

Sushi pizza isn’t the only treasure in these Palaces’ coffers. There’s much more—all you can eat, in fact.

Sushi Palace, particularly the Hamden location, has an unusually good reputation for an all-you-can-eat spot. Traditionalists generally frown on cheap sushi joints for their presumed lack of decorum, encouragement of gluttony and use of less-than-fresh fish. Typically, the better the sushi restaurant, the more you pay and the less you eat.

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But the word on the street about Sushi Palace is too positive to ignore. When you sit down, you get two slips of paper with menu items and little quantity lines next to them. Mark everything if you want, though at the top of each menu is a note emphatically asking patrons not to waste food. That’s a real danger here, as the menu is as extensive as a standard a la carte version, with five soups, six salads, 12 appetizers and so on, including 18 varieties of maki, also available as hand rolls, and 15 high-flying special rolls.

The menu isn’t just your guide, it’s also your translator. None of the waitstaff or crafters behind the sushi bar seemed to speak much English, and getting a meaningful sake recommendation proved impossible.

My dinnermate and I began with a round of warm sake anyway, and it arrived without delay in a two-piece set: a tokkuri—a slender sake pitcher, white, in the shape of a prom dress—and its date—a squat cup called a choko. Next came the Mushroom Soup. While the mushrooms could’ve been more thoroughly cooked, mixing the floating fungi in the right ratio with crouton-like crumbs at the bottom of the bowl made for a very gratifying spoonful.

Next came a procession of appetizers, each on its own small plate. The Tofu Teriyaki sported four warm pillows of gently fried tofu drizzled with a sweet, slightly viscous brown sauce. The Vegetable Gyoza dumplings, two of them, were pleasantly crisp, a little chewy on the outside, served with a salty soy dipping sauce. Later, the Steamed Broccoli arrived. Though at first the two florets looked somewhat ridiculous with an entire plating to themselves, the sauce poured over the top delivered a big tang.

Then it was time to dig into the maki and the high-rolling special rolls—again, all included. Of the maki, the Vegetable Tempura is particularly worth trying. The hand roll version is a cone of seaweed paper loaded with soft, savory-sweet eggplant, zucchini and sweet potato caked in light, crunchy batter.

Vegans and vegetarians can live happily among the maki, with Mango Avocado, Sweet Potato and Peanut Avocado options, but if your diet’s omnivorous, skip ahead to the specialty rolls at the bottom of the page. Colorful like their names (though you’ve probably seen some of these names before), there’s the Phoenix Roll, Volcano Roll, Tiger Roll and 12 others, spanning shrimp and salmon and tuna and lobster and crab and squid.

Curiosity was regrettably bounded by what room was left in our stomachs. The massive Godzilla Roll looked like a segmented piece of the great lizard’s tail. Filled with fresh salmon, mozzarella, cheese, jalapeño and crab, then deep-fried to give each piece a scaly crust, it’s a tasty path to Godzilla breath. The artfully decorated Hamden Roll is filled with smaller sea-critters, but the battle between them is epic nonetheless. Crispy shrimp tempura wrestles with soft glazed eel for your palate; ultimately, I was glad to have both.

Even as rice and fish continuously arrive from cooks in the kitchen and sushi chefs behind the bar, the individual parade floats are strongly geometrical and beautifully presented. If there are faults, lay sushi lovers likely won’t notice, and won’t care too much if they do.

After all, they can always just ask for the menu, and order something else.

Sushi Palace (Hamden)
1473 Dixwell Ave, Hamden (map)
Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun noon-10pm
(203) 230-8875
$18.95/adult and $9.95/child Mon-Thurs, or $20.95 and $10.95 Fri-Sun
www.sushipalace.us

Written by Daniel Shkolnik. Photos 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 by Daniel Shkolnik; others by Dan Mims.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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