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Be Amazed

by B.A. Nilsson on September 15, 2011

Sushi X Lounge

Sushi X Lounge, 710 New Loudon Road, Latham, 713-4102, sushixlounge.com. Serving lunch 11:30-4 Mon-Fri, dinner 11:30-10 Mon-Thu, 11:30-11 Fri-Sat, noon-10 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Japanese

Entrée price range: $20 (Mon-Thu), $22 (Fri-Sun)

Ambiance: colorfully unique

Picture your standard Chinese buffet and you see rows of food-laden steam tables surrounded by slow-moving endomorphs heaping comestibles on their plates. How magical the concept of “all you can eat.” For some, and I shamefully include myself, it can become an Olympic dining event in which the pursuit of quantity outstrips enjoyment.

My strategy of late, when I succumb to such venues, is to heap up the sushi. Or what passes for sushi in such establishments. I reason that it’s less dietarily destructive, and it’s pleasantly filling.

So now imagine that you can get the real thing—real sushi, that is—in an all-you-can-eat setting. When it comes to Sushi X, I can assure you that your imagination hasn’t taken you far enough. Three months ago, this restaurant replaced the venerable Kobe Buffet on Latham’s Route 9, just north of Route 155. But forget any connection with its past incarnation. Owners Scott and Heidi Zou have reimagined the interior to a fare-thee-well.

The unchanged exterior still needs some improvements, but you step inside to a dark, colorful nightclub ambiance that needs only a dance floor and disco ball to set you smack into the Donna Summer era. Multicolored pendant lamps stream across the top of one dining area; a row of sushi chefs works at a backlit line, over which another row of hanging fixtures pulses through a rainbow of changes. All of which is complemented by black linens. But my descriptions can’t do it justice—I’m only preparing you to be amazed.

Although my wife professes to be a sushi hater, she was intrigued enough by the prospect to go along, and by the promise of nonsushi fare. (To be fair, it’s not that she dislikes sushi. She has an unreasoning fear of raw sushi-grade fish. I’ve tried—believe me, I’ve tried—to talk her through this. Hence the use of the word “unreasoning.”)

The Monday through Thursday dinner price is $20, which rises to $22 on weekends. After you’re seated and enticed to try a specialty drink, you get two menus. The sushi-bar page offers popular sashimi choices (red snapper, squid, tuna, salmon, egg custard and more), sushi (ditto, plus the likes of eel, seaweed and spicy tuna, crab and salmon), maki—six-piece rolls—that include the California, red clam. Boston, avocado and even yellowtail jalapeno varieties figure among the 20 listed and 16 special rolls, including “dragon” (eel, cucumber, avocado), crunchy eel (with crabmeat) and the lobster-mango-avocado “butterfly.”

On the kitchen menu are listed soups, salads and a variety of wok-based and otherwise-fried dishes. Chicken teriyaki, noodle soup, tempura (vegetable, chicken or shrimp), crispy calamari and pork katsu are among the choices.

Lunch lops six dollars off the price but also eliminates the sushi and sashimi—you still can get the various rolls—and many of the kitchen menu items. You can opt to pay the dinner price to have access to everything. If you’re looking to pay even less, an a la carte menu gives individual-serving prices on much of the above. More on this in a moment.

My wife and I settled at a table, resisted beverage blandishments, and penciled a request for seaweed salad, age tofu, shrimp tempura, crab wontons, red snapper and salmon sashimi, a peanut-avocado roll and tuna and mango sushi. We would like to have taken credit for the constant motion of the silhouetted sushi chefs across the dining area, but they hadn’t stopped since we sat down. And the place was only moderately populated with customers.

Food arrives in consolidated fashion in compact servings. Thus, the seaweed salad was in a modest-sized bowl that we attacked from both sides with chopsticks, enjoying the sesame-oil tang of what’s otherwise shreds of salty, intense, bright-green cabbage. Age tofu is a trio of deep-fried bean-curd pillows in a sweet tamarind sauce, which it needs—once you get past the heat and crunch, there’s not much flavor inside. Two crab wontons comprise the serving, with a side of plum sauce for dipping. And it was about at this point that Susan caught sight of a sign at our table, a warning repeated near all of the seats: You’d better finish everything you order or you’ll be charged the a la carte price for what’s left uneaten.

“How do I know how much I’ll be able to eat?” she worried. “I don’t want to end up paying extra! Now I’m going to have to force myself.”

“Are you full already?” I asked.

“That’s just it—I’m not sure!”

Then the shrimp tempura landed.

Adding to her woes were the sushi-menu items that might as well have been placed in front of me alone. “Can you finish all that?”

I saw here a rare opportunity. “I’m not sure,” I said, disposing of one of the crisp tempura sticks. “I think you’re going to have to help.”

So it was a sense of dollar-driven duty that led her actually to sample some of the raw fish Sushi X serves. I won’t say it was revelatory, but she made it through a piece of tuna sushi without grimacing too much, and the peanut avocado roll, with less fish evidence, was even easier.

You know how it gets when you find an advantage like this. Before she knew it, I’d ordered two more sushi bar rolls, this time to try the more abstruse-sounding items. Thus it was we had to pitch in together on the “X” roll (a deep-fried combo of tuna, salmon and yellowtail) and the Crazy Tuna roll (spicy tuna center, red and white tuna slices coloring the outside). Meaning I ate most of it while she nibbled on a small slice from each.

Since the first Sushi X opened in West Haven, Conn., in late 2009, the Zous have been busily adding outlets. “We opened this one and two others within weeks of one another,” Heidi told me, “which was probably a little bit crazy. But it’s going very well.” She also noted that she and her husband have tried to individualize the cuisine. Her husband crafts most of the sauces, for example. It’s a unique concept that’s executed well, and it attracted Cheryl Clark’s Times Union review this week. This time, however, we didn’t dine together. At least I think we didn’t, but the lighting and decor at Sushi X could inspire unusual visions.