Food & Drink A fistful of seaweed

Trade yer rotgut rye for Sapporo and belly up to the sushi bar, pardner

There's something just a little odd about Godai's decor; you almost feel as though you've walked into a bar on the set of a noodle western. The floors are rustic clay tile, the walls are covered in wide, wood boards, and a few tin stars provide sparse decoration. There's a TV monitor at one end and an incongruous sushi bar at the other. Somewhere mid-Pacific, a time-warp void is lazily spinning.

Godai's tempura appetizer with shrimp and asparagus is presented alongside sliced fruit. (Photos by Laura McKenzie)

Here, it's lucky kitty, with one ceramic paw raised, instead of Miss Kitty, Kirin and Sapporo instead of rotgut rye, and seaweed salad with delicate squid instead of tough T-bone - count your lucky stars. The seaweed may be straight from a package, but it's squeaky and crunchy and its brilliant green tendrils are lovely against the pale pink fresh squid topping. A sesame-seed-and-oil dressing suits the pair to perfection. Pass the bowl around while deciding on sushi from the abbreviated bar, which is a casual-looking affair compared to some of the compulsively arranged bars around town. A la carte options include all the usual sushi suspects: A brilliant red maguro stood out for both taste and texture, but an even redder cayenne-spiked tobiko positively leapt from its nori-wrapped rice. To his credit, the sushi chef came to ask if we really wanted it (plain flying-fish roe was unavailable), and I now know that "no" was the appropriate answer - not because of the blazing heat but because the pepper masked the delicacy of the roe altogether.

These days, most sushi places seem to prefer selling you the elaborate and fanciful rolls (rockin' rolls, in other words) with outrageous names and even more absurd ingredients; perhaps there's thus less worry about super-fresh fish and perfectly executed rice lozenges. Godai is relatively restrained in this department, counting only a seafood "enchilada" roll (go figure, it's topped with squid salad), and A& M and Texas rolls (no obvious color coordination that we could discern) among its offerings. Sticking to relative classics, we selected asparagus, spider, and unagi rolls, which I recommend. The asparagus had a winning tempura crunch and bits of shrimp; the spider's tiny, soft-shell crab was irresistible as always; and the unagi (sea urchin), though pleasant enough, lacked any real distinction. Should there be any pickled ginger left from the straight sushi, use it liberally. It's the real reason I order sushi in the first place.

Godai's tempura appetizer with shrimp and asparagus is presented alongside sliced fruit.

Faultlessly fresh sushi and sashimi is one test of a Japanese restaurant; impeccably light and crisp tempura is another, and with its tempura appetizer of shrimp with vegetable, Godai bats .500. The shrimp and asparagus were fantastic, but the very large slices of potato and sweet potato were merely bland, a situation the dipping sauce did little to remedy.

Nabeyaki Udon is also a classic. With its slurpy, fat noodles, slices of fish cake, and add-in pieces of a slightly sweet (and utterly addictive) pickled daikon - all in a simple dashi-flavored (dried bonito flakes with kelp) broth - this was a keeper, though best suited to cold weather, alas. We'd only fault the over-cooked egg (it should be poached at the last minute) and an overly subtle flavor that was greatly enhanced by a few shakes of the intriguing table spice. A mix of dried orange peel, chile, sesame, ginger, and other ingredients, it would perk up many a plate, Japanese or otherwise.

Godai Sushi Bar and Restaurant

11203 West Ave.
Lunch: 11am-2:30pm Mon-Fri
Dinner: 5-10pm Mon-Fri, 3-10pm Sat
Price range: $7-19
Credit cards
Wheelchair accessible

The gyidon (a kind of donburi, or rice bowl), falls more squarely into the realm of Japanese-style comfort food. Ours consisted of simmered beef coated in egg, and vegetables such as tiny corn cobettes ladled over rice in broth and topped with shreds of neon-fuschia pickled ginger. May not sound like much, but not much was left at the end of the evening.

One of the pinot noir or big chard bottles from the rack would work with this. Though there is champagne the likes of Roederer, Godai otherwise lacks the good Reislings and Chablis that would really sing with sushi. It's also fine to order a big cab or pinot just because you like it. Let me warn you: Unless you are unusually fond of your grandmother's hand soap and face powder (you can admit this in private), you probably don't want to order the mochi-clad green-tea and red-bean ice creams. Stick to sticky-fried bananas instead.