Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Austin has a sushi train now! And it's tasty.

Finally, the vibe of a big city has parked its techno-food savvy ass on Austin soil.

Korea Garden on N. Lamar just remodeled and installed a sushi train. When my girlfriend and I walked in tonight we were surprised by the scene: the band Corto Maltese was just leaving as we arrived, tiny hipsters from UT filled a row at the conveyor belt, and, 75% of the patrons were gay. We ordered a hot pot of green tea and took our perch at the counter between a middle-aged, gay male couple on our left and an awesome, quirky student and her friends on our right.

Korea Garden has been around for a while and serves up Chronicle/Statesman lauded Korean food, but the sushi conveyer belt is a new addition. Called a kaiten-zushi in Japan, the metal conveyor belt slickly delivered lots of nigiri sushi, goma wakame (seaweed salad), a few eel rolls, a few california rolls, desserts, and even house salads with ranch dressing on them. Though it would seemingly be fully unexciting to eat an iceberg/ranch dressing salad off a sushi train, Korea Garden's house salad was delicious. The radish sprouts, avocado, carrot and cucumber slivers spiced it up to an enticing level.

When I lived in New York I frequented a sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt like this between Union Square and Gramercy Park (17th and Broadway?) and loved it. Prices were based on the color of the plate, a format Korea Garden will be moving to after tomorrow. For now though, for its opening week, Korea Garden is running a special: all plates $1.50 each! Get it cheap while you can.

Back to the bar around the conveyor belt, an awesome behavior was happening amongst the patrons. In true Austin fashion, as soon as diners sat down they became part of a collective conversation. You can't put Austinites in the same goddamn space as each other and facing each other without a ton of friendly banter. The sushi train I went to in New York was more like a bar; you faced the sushi chef/server. At Korea Garden, you face other patrons. And, inevitably conversations strike up over the sushi and over who wants what as the plates slowly make their way down the line.There's already a Missed Connection about the sushi train! I think it's arrived. And, I think Austin has arrived in some small way. Hear me out on this one: Clearly the young'uns, gaymos and artists have been waiting for this; a new city trinket that facilitates the same gentle friendly Austin has possessed all along.