To introduce Sushi O Sushi, I should remind you of a certain "sushi badass" whose work I first reviewed in January 2011 ("The Madness of Mr. Lee," Appetite). The quick story is that Kyung Lee, who once sliced and rolled very pretty things at Denver's Opal and then Pueblo's Sushi Garden, has now brought his 25 years' experience to a little strip mall near Fort Carson. So — yay on that.
Just as Lee offered fun items like a mango roll at Sushi Garden, he's incorporated a few locally lesser-seen if not totally unique touches to his menu here, mainly within the sushi rolls. I'll detail those below, but let's first examine some basic plates that highlight a firm attention to detail. As does the sharp, clean, red-hued space — adorned with Japanese umbrellas, shoji screens, white tablecloths and one smartly hung bamboo roll-up as an entryway wind-block — the more common fares deliver overall aesthetic pleasure.
Sautéed mushroom ($7.50) and cucumber ($5) salads are utterly stark, with just a parsley sprig garnish and, say, sesame oil or toasted seeds accentuating the inherent vegetable flavor. (I'd provide more details, but the sweet wait-staff remain largely ill-informed, perhaps because Lee's answers to ingredient queries are guardedly vague, and there's a mild language barrier.)
Lunch bowls such as the Korean-style bulgogi bowl ($9) come with a fine, MSG-free house miso soup, and in the bulgogi's case, huge steamed broccoli florets and bell pepper wedges, plus delicious oyster mushrooms with the tangy beef shreds, over rice. Lunch combos like the chicken teriyaki ($8.50) venture slightly outside the bento box with included miso soup, rice, a green salad with a damn good creamy, semi-sweet house dressing, two gyoza (ours were a little hard, like over-fried pot stickers) or a four-piece California roll, plus the moist but plain sauce-drizzled protein.
From the dinner entrée list, the Chilean sea bass (a menu-topping $25) is marinated overnight in miso base, lightly grilled and gifted faint char-marks, then plated over wilted bok choy spears in a puddle of faintly gingery miso sauce. It characteristically bears the fish's melt-in-the-mouth quality, with high oil and fat contents for unctuous delight — texturally something between a buttery scallop and a sinuous lobster hunk. It dissolves more than it's chewed, and it's wonderful.
Lastly for us in the realm of the cooked, we enjoyed two battered and fried items: a nearly two-bite-big, loaded vegetable tempura roll ($7.50), and for dessert, tempura bananas with vanilla ice cream, ample whipped cream and some type of sugary red syrup squirted all over ($7, easily feeds two).
Which brings us back to the reason most of us will venture to Sushi O Sushi. (Note: Nigiri being more illuminating to fish quality than chef creativity, I tend to focus on the more complex and dynamic rolls.) Lee's list isn't a far cry from many others with familiar offerings, like a pleasing, jalapeño-containing Pikes Peak roll ($11.50), but he manages subtle touches — tiny taste signatures — that make them his own.
Perhaps the best example of that is the use of shiso leaf — a rounded leaf with spiky edges often employed as garnish and mimicked in grocery stores with that pointy green paper — in both the Hawaiian ($10.50) and Caprese ($11.50) rolls. Shiso is in the mint family and gives off a comparably strong though different fragrance, adding a fun, floral element to each roll's composition.
An interesting side note and larger topic of discussion for food anthropologists is shiso's inherent bactericidal properties. Like those of true wasabi (not the horseradish-powder-based paste that we commonly call wasabi), they inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria. In the days prior to fish being frozen for a required amount of time to kill parasites, diners may have relied on these herbs to protect against the risks posed by raw fish. Digression over.
That Caprese roll is also rare for its use of cherry tomato slivers (a nod to the Italian salad) and its two-in-one format: half its rounds deliver spicy tuna and escolar; the other, minced California roll components with a tuna top. The Hawaiian is beautifully wrapped with thin cucumber instead of nori, with tuna, yellowtail, krab, and, for a bright, fresh, crunchy effect, daikon slivers and yamagobo (pickled burdock root — another medicinal herb, a blood purifier).
That yamagobo also appears in the Broadmoor roll ($12), a great mix of "assorted fish" with cucumber and avocado and a seared-around-the-edges tuna top with a garlic ponzu drizzle. If that description alone doesn't illustrate how Mr. Lee stands apart, you aren't reading (or eating) close enough.
I'm not saying he's reinvented sushi; he's just refined it. When you speak his restaurant's name, you may as well go ahead and accentuate and elongate that "oh" sound.