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DINING OUT

On a (sushi) roll

Fresh Taste of Asia 118 Washington St., Salem

978-825-1388.

Handicapped accessible

All major credit cards accepted

Hours: Sunday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

When I order sushi to go, I usually come home with two sets of chopsticks in the bag. Restaurants assume, I guess, that I've ordered enough for two. It makes me feel like a pig.

My frequent dinner partner and I can easily finish six rolls. Seven if we're in a bad mood. That's 21 pieces each.

We despise the judgmental looks we get from servers when our order just keeps on going. We fear they see us as American overeaters. Maybe we are. We like sushi.

But here, at the Fresh Taste of Asia, a new restaurant with a view of the Bewitched statue in downtown Salem, there is no judgment. There is only love and down-to-earth service from a nice woman named Merisa.

There are fancy, almost menacing-looking sushi rolls that could be served in high-end, expensive Japanese bistros, but offered for reasonable prices. There are California rolls that are no big deal for novices.

There is a regular menu of Japanese and Asian entrées for under $11.

It's a place that is too roomy and has too many options, but strangely, feels just right.

The sushi menu is huge, but my dining companion and I decided to test Fresh Taste's goods. Why? You put fresh in your name and serve fish in New England, you better live up to it, we figured.

And the restaurant did.

Our starter plate was the tuna tataki ($10). It was a delicate flower of tuna strips served with sprouting greens in a tasty, chutney-like ponzu sauce. It was a bit like a regular plate of sashimi, but the display was fantastic.

We also split a plate of edamame ($4.25). Not an important dish, but worth noting that it didn't taste as if it had been nuked in the microwave, as it can in some places. It was plump and deliciously salty.

For sushi, we did it up with no holding back. We ordered six rolls.

Worth mentioning are a few:

The Idaho maki ($5.50) was the sweetest sweet potato, deep fried with a perfect ratio of rice to potato (carb to carb -- our favorite).

The crazy maki ($8) was indeed crazy, much like a regular spicy tuna roll but with tasty Pop Rocks-like tempura flakes. The roll was huge; that's why it's $8.

The unagi maki ($6.75) was sweet and fresh, the eel not remotely fishy.

First prize went to the volcano maki ($12), which apparently had tuna and cucumber in it.

The rolls themselves were overwhelmed, in a good way, by a mountain of neon-orange seafood on top, a spicy pile of fresh fish that I ate every bite of, using my chopsticks to gather all of the bits and pieces even after the rolls were gone.

We were supposed to try the restaurant's special, a spicy lobster roll, but the supply had run out.

But the lack of lobster didn't bother me too much, because there was dessert.

Yes, even though we had polished off 30 pieces of sushi, two appetizers, and soup (I managed to squeeze in a miso -- she gave it to me free because our order was so big), we ordered ginger-flavored fried ice cream. The dish was creamy and sweet and covered in a hearty tempura shell.

And we ate it all. Stop judging.

MEREDITH GOLDSTEIN

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