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B.A. Nilsson

Japanese Elegance
By B.A. Nilsson

Sushi Art Japanese Cuisine
2025 State St., Schenectady, 388-8600. Serving Tue-Thu 11-10, Fri-Sat 11-11, Sun noon-10. AE, V, MC.

Cuisine: Sushi, standard Japanese fare, tableside barbecue
Entrée price range: $9.75 (tempura) to $25 (surf and turf)
Ambience: Spacious, handsomely appointed
Clientele: Seekers of elegance

Sushi Art hides in plain sight on that no-man’s-land stretch of Route 5 just east of Schenectady but west of the Mohawk Mall. Formerly Marmarino’s Restaurant, it has a spacious, comfortably furnished dining room, a small sushi bar, a separate room for a bar of the drinking variety, and even a massive pair of banquet rooms. And that doesn’t count the area where the buffet tables sit.

In the main dining room, you’ll sit at one of the black lacquered tables. If you’re craving meat, take one of the 12 barbecue tables that line the wall. This isn’t the hibachi style, however, in which a tableside chef juggles spatulas while preparing a meal. Skillet-sized downdraft burners are disguised as part of the tabletop until a cover is removed, and then a quiet, intense flame is ignited. Your meat and vegetables are then cooked quickly over the inset brazier.

It’s the first such restaurant in the area, although the style has been catching on throughout the country. But don’t let this obscure the excellent sushi you’ll find here. Given so many choices of seating, it’ll take at least three visits to appreciate the breadth of the offerings.

Manager Clare Cheng is also responsible for the interior design, which takes advantage of the generous amount of space, and includes walls appointed with a spare, evocative outdoor look—with a miniature winterscape along the sides. Beside the sushi bar is a series of tall glassed-in displays of dried fruits and vegetables.

Behind that, silhouetted in gloom, are buffet serving tables. “We were going to add a buffet,” Cheng explained, “but now we’re not so sure. We’re waiting.” I suspect she’s too diplomatic to observe that buffet service changes the character of a restaurant. It’s a customer draw, true, but I’m hoping that Sushi Art can hold out and build a customer base on what’s now being offered.

Generous $9 lunch specials include spring rolls, salad, an entrée of teriyaki (chicken, beef or fish), tonkatsu (a fried pork preparation) or tempura (among others); the sushi bar also offers lunch specials, and you’d do well to check out the selection of noodle soups.

Dinner items are also available all day, so you can avail yourself of the barbecue offerings. Again, it’s a more-than-complete meal for a single price, ranging from $11 for chicken breast to $25 for a surf-and-turf combo.

Begin with a bowl of miso soup, that splendid restorative derived from a seaweed stock, here enhanced with tofu and scallions. A forgettable salad follows, although the dressing, spiced with ginger, plays nicely on the palate.

Your server whisks off the table’s grill cover to reveal the brass of the cooking surface, around which plays a soft blue flame. Then the meat platter arrives, itself a handsome display of raw ingredients that includes onions, peppers, corn and broccoli. Part of the art is to distribute the items so that they reach a finish at about the same time—but the beauty of doing your own cooking is that you can adjust the finish.

Not that you have to cook it yourself. A server will do it for you—in fact, we found that they’re inclined to do so unless you insist otherwise, always making sure the food is cooked to your liking.

A plate of fresh lettuce gives you wrap vehicles. It’s a technique I’ve seen in Korean restaurants: With a lettuce leaf in hand, build a filling of rice, meat, onion and pepper and enhance it with one or more of the three sauces provided. Tuck in the far end, roll and enjoy. The sauces, in addition to a small teapot of soy, are lemon, sweet-and-sour and a soy-black-bean paste.

Sticky rice decorated with black sesame seeds, and a small serving of spicy kimchi set off the flavors in different directions, giving a more-than-sufficient meal that finishes lightly with an orange slice.

Even I achieve a sufficiency of meat from time to time, however, and I was pleased to see the nice sushi and sashimi service—especially the latter, which the chef decorates with cellophane noodles and carved vegetables. An appetizer sampler ($8.75) included tuna, salmon and mackerel, seven pieces distributed across a glossy platter.

Sushi and sashimi entrées run $12.50 to $22, with a non-raw dinner as one of the options. Pieces are available individually for an average of $2 apiece, and a long list of rolls ($3.50 to $10.50) includes every possible combination of fish and vegetables.

There’s much else. Tempura is a specialty, priced from $10 to $16 as entrées with miso soup; the airy batter gives the component ingredient, be it fish or meat or vegetable, an extra and entirely wonderful crunch.

Teriyaki-seasoned meat, seafood or vegetable entrées are priced from $10 to $14.50; noodle soups are $7.50 to $13; donburi (a deep-fried technique) averages $11.

Much as the physical environment is elegant and refined, so too is the food preparation and presentation. Time slows during a good Japanese meal, so dinner here is a small vacation in itself.

TABLE SCRAPS

Ease yourself awake with food and music when the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra presents its fourth annual Classical Breakfast from 9:30 to 11:30 AM Sunday, July 20, at Schenectady’s Central Park Pavilion. Music will be provided by performers from the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra, including the Women of Note string quartet (Barbara Brothers and Elaine Gervais on violin, Meme Pittman on viola and Cathie Jo Brun on cello) with guest Thomas Gerbino on clarinet. The breakfast is sponsored by Schenectady VanCurler Music, with food donated by Sodexho Marriott, Dunkin’ Donuts, and area businesses. The continental breakfast includes pastries, bagels and muffins, fruit, and beverages. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children under 13. For reservations, call the SSO office at 372-2500. . . . Finish your day with food and music when Nicole’s Bistro at the Quackenbush House (Clinton Avenue and Broadway, Albany) presents its sixth annual Cucina Sinatra at 6 PM Wednesday (June 4), featuring the menu Ol’ Blue Eyes himself most enjoyed when he dined at Jilly’s Restaurant. You’ll toast the singer with a round of Jack Daniel’s (and hors d’oeuvres), then enjoy littleneck clams, rigatoni arrabiatta and veal scaloppine alla Milaniase among other courses, all paired with appropriate wine and spirits. Meanwhile, feast the ears on Sinatra’s favorite songs, performed by Ed Clifford. This is usually a sellout, so reserve seats—they’re $100 per person—by calling 465-1111. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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