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Dining Out

Fresh, and on a roll

Fish Market’s innovative creations take a new-school approach to sushi

The flaming maki - filled with greens, sweet omelet, and cucumber tossed with a gingery sauce - is wrapped in rice and rolled in fried, shredded sweet potato. The flaming maki - filled with greens, sweet omelet, and cucumber tossed with a gingery sauce - is wrapped in rice and rolled in fried, shredded sweet potato. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Devra First
Globe Staff / February 17, 2010

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A clean well-lighted place. It’s the phrase that comes to mind entering Fish Market, an Allston sushi bar that opened in April. It’s bright, spotless, the walls lined with horizontal strips of light wood over white paint. There’s not much adornment beyond the mod-botanical curtain panel hanging at the back of the room and a TV that seems to play whatever happens to be on. Fish Market does a lot with a little - a few well-placed plants and light fixtures plus cushy spring-green chairs add up to a look that is modern, crisp, and cute.

I do mean a little. Fish Market rivals Oishii in Chestnut Hill for being the smallest sushi bar in the Boston area. It clocks in at a grand 19 seats. The similarity is more than superficial. Fish Market is run by Oishii alums Kin Chan and Jacky Poon, boyhood friends who grew up together in Quincy. (Chan’s family runs Winsor Dim Sum Cafe in Chinatown.) Both 27, they’ve known each other since they were 11 and have been working together almost as long.

They stand behind the tiny sushi bar, smart in their white coats, slicing fluke and sea bass, delicately applying roe, rolling maki. The Oishii influence is clear in their food, down to the occasional light searing of fish. They make beautiful traditional sushi, the knife work careful and precise. Equally, they embrace the new-school approach of elaborate, multi-ingredient rolls. This is something that, as a diner, you generally either appreciate or you don’t. As a rule, I am not happy if someone puts mayonnaise, sweet potatoes, jalapenos, and four or five different kinds of fish into my maki. It’s slapstick. But many of Fish Market’s creations are genuinely innovative. They taste or look surprising, in a real way. The flavors are clear, not muddied, as often happens with maki-gone-wild. The chefs appear to be playing with tastes and textures to enhance and illuminate the ingredients, not just for the sake of doing so.

Take the avocado ball, something Chan later tells me he is particularly proud of. It is bright green and perfectly spherical, like some sort of alien egg. Break through its skin, made up of thin, overlapping slices of avocado, and you find a salad of tuna, white tuna, and wasabi roe, bound together with gently lemony mayonnaise. It’s a visual punch line, but the bright flavors are anything but gimmicky.

Also more than a novelty act is the truffling tuna, bright red slices of fish draped on a white plate, topped with black roe, chives, and a sauce made from butter infused with the flavor of truffles. Ditto the rich baked spicy scallop maki, an avocado roll topped with scallop and spicy mayonnaise, then cooked - sushi meets seafood Newburg. And the flaming maki: Something that looks so crazy has no right to be so good. It’s a roll of salad greens, sweet omelet, cucumber, and other vegetables, tossed with a gingery sauce, wrapped in rice, and rolled in fried, shredded sweet potato. Fish Market is the rare sushi bar that offers real excitement for vegetarians.

Many of the plates here feature a pink berry, perched on top like a pom-pom. It’s a bayberry, imported from Japan; like pickled ginger, it’s meant to cleanse your palate. The fish is impeccably fresh, and the chefs often have unusual selections. A recent visit yields live uni from Maine, still quivering in its spiked shell. Its clean, pure taste is a revelation. Sweet Maine shrimp appear as well, set simply on pats of rice, then topped with their own frothy, grayish roe (and a bit of shell in one case). Alongside, there are their heads, which have been deep-fried for gnawing. It’s a portrait of Maine shrimp in two textures, and it captures their essence.

Scallops, too, come from Maine, and they are silken, sweet, and luxurious. Get them as sashimi - nothing should adulterate this pleasure. Chan says he tries to use many New England ingredients, even though many claim the best seafood comes from Japan. The faster they can get it to the restaurant, the fresher it is, he says. The all-important sushi rice doesn’t quite live up to what’s topping it. It should be a perfect, vinegary pillow, but on one occasion it’s slightly tough and dry.

The cooked dishes here are not as strong as the sashimi and sushi. They feel rote; the sense of experimentation is gone. Offerings such as chicken yaki udon and Kobe beef shumai - both bland - show up because they’re expected to. That said, nabeyaki udon, the traditional Japanese soup with fat noodles, shrimp tempura, and egg, is very satisfying. It’s brought to you by friendly, chatty, helpful servers.

For dessert, you’ll find ice cream encased in mochi - good but similar to the stuff you can buy boxed at Trader Joe’s - and the usual red bean and green tea ice creams. There’s sesame, too, not quite as common. You can get your ice cream fried, as well, if that’s your bag. What you can’t get is a drink, beyond green tea, soda, or juice. Fish Market doesn’t have a liquor license.

Fish Market is the Ikea of sushi bars. It offers a well-designed product for less; a person can get happily full here for under $30. Says Chan, “My dream is to serve really good and fresh sushi at a very reasonable price so everyone can try it. Some restaurants have fancy decor and very professional service, but the price is not for everyone.’’

Here, you won’t miss the frills.

Devra First can be reached at dfirst@globe.com.

FISH MARKET

170 Brighton Ave., Allston. 617-783-1268. www.fishmarketsushibar.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible, but space is tight.

Prices Appetizers $2-$18. Entrees and sushi combos $9-$23. A la carte sushi $1.50-$6 per piece, sashimi $3-$12 for two pieces. Rolls $3.75-$15.

Dessert $1.50-$4.

Hours Tue-Fri 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Sat 1-10 p.m. Sun 1-9:30 p.m.

Noise level Conversation easy.

May we suggest

Avocado ball, truffling tuna, flaming maki, scallop sashimi, Maine shrimp sushi, whatever is on special that day.

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