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Go omakase, all-you-can-eat at Sushi Ring II



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If you've never gone chef's choice at a sushi counter, be it for finances or fear of unfamiliar raw fish, I can confidently say that Sushi Ring II makes a compelling case to do so.

Firstly, the five-month-old expansion from Southgate's Sushi Ring — itself the four-year-old home of former Presley impersonator Takashi "Elvis" Kishimoto — proffers the same all-you-can-eat model ($21.95 lunch/$27.95 dinner), meaning there's no bankrupting yourself no matter how out-there your chef gets.

Secondly, you're in good hands with owner Paul Lastrella, a personality-rich, fedora-clad gentleman of Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Filipino heritage who apprenticed part-time with no compensation, over 1½ years, with Kishimoto to learn the craft. Leaving behind his past as a physician's assistant and most recently, six years of healthcare administration work for the Department of Corrections, Lastrella (who's not inclined to hip-twist or dish a hunka hunka burnin' salmon like his mentor) clearly loves talking with folks over his 19-seat central bar while delicately constructing sushi.

The Japanese word-turned-phrase omakase means "to entrust," basically a statement from customer to chef when ordering that "I'm in your hands." And Lastrella picks up his end of that pact with pride by uttering, "Challenge accepted."

We first chopstick into a small bowl of cubed cucumbers, red onion slivers and misshapen chunks of both ahi and yellowtail: an elegant, scantly seasoned-and-dressed meat salad whose cool crunch and sharp bite fade to a soft fattiness.

Next the Corndog arrives, thankfully bereft of tubular mystery meat. Instead, a superlatively fluffy tempura battering mimics the cornmeal cloak and embraces a rice-wrapped core of crab, whitefish and gooey cream cheese.

Then a row of Upside Down Shrimp: lovely prawns butterflied to cradle a rice ball and a sesame-oil-forward mash of chopped scallops and more shrimp bound by mayo, with a sesame seed and eel sauce garnish. Next comes the created- and named-on-the-spot Afterburner Over Pikes Peak: Sriracha-tossed albacore and jalepeño rolled sans seaweed and capped in yellowtail and salmon strips. Zebra-printed by spicy mayo lines and dark eel-sauce veins, they artfully slump over the rice like melting Dali clocks.

Challenge crushed already; these hands have my fealty. But then come two more beauties. A fried, then broiled, basil salmon roll sporting char flavor and texture plus jalapeño-tempering cream cheese. And for fresh contrast with a sweet edge, an avocado and ahi-topped krab, cucumber and mango roll in "secret sauce."

Because a fried cheesecake ending isn't enough, it's preceded by an exciting, first-for-me quail egg shot — the yolk floating whole in a bath of Ponzu and lime juice with a Sriracha drop, sesame seeds and green onion slivers. Swish, swallow, and marvel in the clean flavors, punctuated by the scallion's sharpness and citrus back.

Overall, Lastrella displays a pretty brilliant tempo and coursing. I'd go omakase with him any day versus ordering à la carte, where on another visit a fine but less flashy Lisa Marie Roll ($4.50) pairs with a perfectly enjoyable but again comparatively lackluster tempura vegetable udon bowl ($8.95). I say trust the chef. Go big. After all, it's all-you-can-eat, but so much more, here.


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