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Jei Sushi’s missteps undercut its highlights 

click to enlarge Salmon (left) and freshwater eel (center) make for fine nigiri, but the octopus nigiri lands overly tough. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Salmon (left) and freshwater eel (center) make for fine nigiri, but the octopus nigiri lands overly tough.
Restaurateur/chef Paul Lastrella has a following in town, which started years ago when he was an apprentice at Sushi Ring, before he opened Sushi Ring II. He’s left those behind, but the hype has marched north to his new digs, Jei Sushi, opened in late 2016. Named for Lastrella’s son, Jei cleaves to the formula that built Lastrella’s reputation.

Part of the appeal at his eateries past and present: an all-you-can-eat menu for $22 at lunch on weekdays and $28 for dinner and weekend lunch. Sushi on that menu’s joined by appetizers like gyoza, calamari, baked mussels and more. Further, Lastrella’s staffed Jei with capable family and former colleagues from Sushi Ring.

Hitting the all-you-can-eat dinner menu — some different offerings from the lunch menu and not the most intuitive thing besides — we start with fried gyoza, which come with a functional sauce and a tender filling of ground meat — sometimes pork, sometimes chicken, depending on what the distributor’s sent — but no real pop. We get a smattering of nigiri, sampling sound freshwater eel and salmon, plus some chewy octopus.

Moving on to rolls, we hit early indications of a theme. The basil sauce on the basil salmon roll sings clear and true to the herb, paired beautifully with zero-spice jalapeños; cream cheese and salmon play bit parts. Similarly, the Soarin’ Roll bears delightful flavors of dark chilies in its spicy minced-scallop filling.

We find similar triumphs in the lunch After Burner, a de-seeded, de-veined jalapeño stuffed with cream cheese and spicy tuna. It’s not too hot, and the smoky flavor plays nice with everything going on, plus the toothsomeness of the pepper makes it all the more interesting. The Jei Roll’s offered as a hand roll, but we pay the buck extra to get it as a maki roll (what most Americans think of as a sushi roll). Lemon juice brightens a tempura shrimp/spicy tuna/eel sauce combo nicely, and we dig it all the more with a little wasabi.
Location Details Jei Sushi
5490 Powers Center Point
Powers
Colorado Springs, CO
424-7018
Sushi/Japanese
But for every victory, there’s something mediocre. The Helen Hunt Falls (tempura shrimp, seared tuna with black pepper, avocado, eel sauce) and Fly-by (shrimp, minced scallops, crab) rolls are fine, but the deep-fried 54 Ninety (albacore tuna, crab, cream cheese, eel sauce and spicy mayo) balances out to minimal flavor overall. And besides lacking any spice, the poke bowl has so much sesame oil we can’t taste the fish.

We adore the rich, complex broth in the tempura udon lunch, and the pieces of kombu, a kind of kelp, only add to that. But the noodles are chewy and tough, and the tempura’s heavy and oily. The eggplant’s gummy, and the whole broccoli floret’s packed with undercooked batter. Lastrella says the fryer hits 480 degrees, so it should be safe despite the egg used in the batter, but we’re still concerned.

All that said, there’s a path to righteousness and getting one’s dollar’s worth here. The dinner rolls run $10 to $13, but lunch and hand rolls peak at $8, so, à la carte’s tempting for lunch, especially for weekend lunches when Jei charges dinner prices for all-you-can-eat.

If you know what’s good, if you want quantity over quality, if you don’t mind sticking to a few good ones, if, if, if ... every endorsement I could give Jei Sushi gets “if”ed to death, and that’s a damn shame.

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