The first time I tried to get into Ace Wasabi’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Sushi, I couldn’t see above the throng of blondes standing near the door.
I tried to squeeze in between the black leather, but I’d already known how futile it would be trying to get a seat in this 2-year-old Chestnut Street area restaurant, especially one that screamed trendy fun.
A few months later, a friend and I ventured back on a Tuesday night. Parking still proved to be a four-wheeled nightmare, but the restaurant actually had a choice of seating, the front room sake bar with counter-style tables and high stools, the sushi bar or the unexpectedly cozy room in the rear.
The brick-walled back room had an underground feel that reminded me of New York, although with the California touch of red-sponged tables and splashes of color.
We had arrived too late to join in the bingo. No matter; a quick dinner was in order to make the 7 p.m. movie showing nearby. The T-shirt and shorts-clad waitress made sure to get us our food promptly.
She checked to see how long an order of grilled hamachi kama (yellowtail collar) would take (about 15 minutes) and even gave us a running commentary on how the order was proceeding.
The whole setup of friendly wait staff, casual dress and bingo bestowed the feeling of an upscale neighborhood eatery, a modern evolutionary offshoot from orange vinyl booths, tuna casserole and gum-cracking waitresses.
The neighborhood feel expands exponentially, however, with the much touted restaurant feature, the Sushicam.
With a little advanced planning, patrons can tell friends to surf the Web site, www.acewasabis.com, and wave at the live Web camera and the world.
Owner Ken Lone also photographs eaters with his digital camera and uploads the images into the Web site. The Sushicam adds yet another surreal complication to social dynamics before you even have a chance to digest.
Obviously, it’s environment, environment, environment, but Lone has made sure the food’s mighty palatable as well.
Before you even indulge in the affordable fresh fish, you can partake in funky sake. Ice cold nigori sake with a taste of raspberry and blackberry makes for a tropical sake shot ($3). Sake slush blends fruit, alcohol and the mysterious “secret stuff” ($4.25).
The boundaries of tradition have freely warped in this East-mates-with-West spot, especially with the sushi specialty rolls, which cost between $2.50 to $9.50.
Executive chef Kiyoshi Haya-kawa oversees these mind-boggling and palate-tingling creations. The Flying Kamikaze roll ($9.50) wraps up spicy tuna, asparagus and albacore tuna with a ponzu and scallion topping.
How they conjured up tempura shrimp, eel and cucumber for the Steiner roll ($4.50) can make for interesting suppositions. Another local icon venerated in the form of sushi is the 49er Roll ($4.25); I’ve had different variations and Ace Wasabi’s has yet another one, with yellowtail and tobiko scattered with scallions.
The nigiri sushi runs from $2 for the inari or stuffed tofu to $4.50 for amaebi (sweet shrimp) or uni (sea urchin).
That hamachi kama ($8.50), by the way, was massive and a great deal; two people easily can split it.
The restaurant doesn’t have entrees per se; besides sushi, the menu features specialty salads like soba noodle salad ($5.25) or wakame or Japanese seaweed ($3.50 small, $6.25 large) and small plates such as ginger teriyaki pork tenderloin ($6.95) and ahi and hamachi potstickers with chili soy vinegar dipping sauce ($5.95). This means large groups sharing would have an excellent nibbling buffet, but unfortunately the relatively small 85-seat layout wouldn’t be manageable for parties much larger than six.
Lone has signed the lease for a second restaurant; Tokyo GoGo will be a “retro fun sushi place” that will open at the end of February on 16th Street between Guerrero and Valencia streets so fans will have a second joint to go to.
In the meantime, while Ace Wasabi’s is a place for youthful revelry-rousing, a quick, sedate meal (not including parking) can be managed.
The recommendation would be to linger over the fresh flavors and get a free show watching the sushi chef and the prowling singles at work if you can get in past all those blondes.