A bright spot: Sushi Rock Grill
[Times photos: Cherie Diez]
Chef Hook Atsavinh holds a sushi boat for four. It includes tuna and shrimp sushi, sashimi and dragon rolls.
By CHRIS SHERMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 18, 2002
And sushi is the standout at this sleek spot in St. Petersburg's Euclid/St. Paul area.
For years, the rightful gourmet pride of this stretch of asphalt has been hot dogs, either the three for $1.55 deal at Dairy Inn or the chili'ed franks of Coney Island Grill.
Now, while budget stretchers wait in line for tater tots and milk shakes on Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street N in the Euclid/St. Paul area of St. Petersburg, others sit on sleek barstools under cool blue Italian lights at Sushi Rock Grill. There, they can drop most of a 10-spot on a Birthday Roll, carefully constructed of shrimp, eel, salmon skin and fish eggs.
From my first nibbles, Sushi Rock Grill serves sharply done eating that holds its own in more sushi-fied environs: good ingredients, cleanly prepared and with handsome style.
It passed my biggest test, the sea urchin known as uni. This is the foie gras of the deep, a lush, expensive taste that is a staple on good bars but scarce in many others. Sushi Rock's was perfectly fresh and brightly salty. And since the rest of that order was sashimi, the chef fixed the uni riceless as well, fashioning a cucumber cup with daikon feathers to hold the golden lobes.
On a lesser test, Sushi Rock mustered only one tuna, but it was the preferred toro (not maguro), and it hopes to have fattier grades to come. The bar had scored sea bass that night, but it was not firm enough for me.
Among the rice-padded sushi, eel was as sweetly glazed as barbecue. A triple threat roll of tuna, salmon and yellowtail was raw fish even a novice would like. A dragon roll, however, was so timid it wouldn't scare a Hobbit: tempura shrimp and asparagus, with salmon and avocado on top, trying to please too many with soft textures and bland flavors.
Spring rolls and orange lobster. The dinner entrees also cover traditional meals such as teriyaki, tempura and pad Thai.
The menu offers plenty for those with no fear of raw fish, from octopus and seaweed salad to an appetizer of usuzukuri, paper-thin slices of snapper.
Dinner entrees (lunch service begins this week) cover traditional meals such as teriyaki, tempura and pad Thai and a surprise treat for landlubbing carnivores, lop salad from chef's native Laos. Grilled beef, rice vinegar and an herb garden full of greens, can be as much fun as a Popeye Roll (cucumber, crab and spinach).
Along the way, some of the trimmings are familiar (the iceberg salad with sesame-lemon dressing) or forgettable (soup as penance for the taste buds), but sushi still stands out.
Sushi was a slow starter 10 years ago, but it's got a firm place on the menu all around the Tampa Bay area, especially downtown St. Petersburg, with more to come: Look for Sasa to open on Fourth Street N.
Sushi Rock Grill
1163 Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 898-7625. Dinner: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdsay through Sunday; lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Closed Monday.
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