BAR ONE & SUSHI
850 SOUTHBRIDGE STREET, AUBURN
Like many Americans, sushi wasn’t even in our vocabulary when I was growing up. Then, as it started making inroads, I wouldn’t have touched it, raw fish? Get Out!
And then I tried it. Quickly adjusting to textures, the flavors were a revelation; ocean-fresh and clean, they were the essence of the sea. Now I look forward to any opportunity for sushi, especially sashimi. Therefore, I eagerly anticipated our meal at Bar One & Sushi.
We found Bar One easy enough, they’re just across and a bit down the road from Ronnie’s Seafood. Located in a strip mall, we entered their vestibule that’s been furnished with a Purell dispensing station so aggressively large it served to embody a year’s worth of covid anxiety.
Another step through the doorway, though, and it was a return to pre-pandemic land, a place where people packed bars and had to converse so energetically their collective volume would build to a roar. Bar One’s box-shaped dining room wasn’t really that crowded, but the parties occupying it were, let’s say, enthusiastic.
We were shown to a table opposite the beverage bar whose lower ceiling line formed an alcove. Under other circumstances this may have created a cozy feeling. Instead, its acoustic signature served to focus the decibel level to a point that seemed to impair my cognitive processes. Our waiter confirmed that this is a normal occurrence.
Bar One’s menu listed most sushi standards. Plus scores of variations and special sections featuring combinations. Plus an extensive offering of Chinese appetizers and entrées. Plus Authentic Dishes From The Orient. This is a menu with enough moving parts to set off warning signals of overreach. Maintaining quality sushi requires focus.
Since we really couldn’t comfortably discuss an entrée strategy, we agreed to keep our meal order simple and started with Bar One’s Shrimp Tempura.
Service at Bar One was prompt and friendly; our Shrimp Tempura was served within minutes. Four long shrimp, tails on, had been coated in tempura batter, dusted with panko crumbs and quick-fried till pale yellow. They came served over iceberg lettuce leaves and garnished with an orchid flower.
Bar One’s shrimp were mild in flavor and not overwhelmed by breading or over-frying. My friend augmented his with squirts from a ketchup-red squeeze bottle labeled “DUCK SAUCE”.
Our entrées included salad or soup, so I ordered a bowl of their Miso Soup. Slices of green onion floated on a mild flavored broth that contained bits of tofu. My friend’s House Salad was chopped iceberg lettuce with a slice of cucumber and grape tomato. Its ginger dressing was pale orange in color and quite mild in flavor.
So far, our Bar One food experience had been solid but uninspired. That would soon change.
Our entrees were dramatically arranged on what could have been stage models for Turandot. Sushi Deluxe came on a platform decorated with a sloping tropical leaf on which six slices of tuna roll had been lined up in a column. From this, a spiral staircase of five steps ascended, each with its own duo of sushi.
Bar One Sushi Bar’s chef arrayed his Sashimi Regular on a curved footbridge decorated with light sauce, flower and plastic bird bedecked with spirals of radish threads that look like spun sugar. Over this, stepping up and over the bridge were clusters of sashimi, a bowl of black-sesame-flecked sushi rice and a cluster of wasabi and ginger.
And with this, Bar One had clicked from mundane to inspired. But everything hinged, of course, on the fish. And that is where freshness and quality attained. Each slice of ahi tuna, salmon, yellowtail, white tuna and red snapper had fresh-cut shine and was expertly trimmed; the mild flavors were honest and true.
While I was preoccupied by my sushi experience the guests at Bar One had changed over from drinking enthusiasts to sushi diners and the volume level had descended to conversational.
This marked a satisfying end to the evening. The wasabi was sinus-clearing and the crisp citrus notes from my glass of J. Lohr Vineyards’ Sauvignon Blanc contrasted with the sashimi in an intriguing alchemy-on-the-tongue.
For sushi lovers: the chef at Bar One & Sushi is expertly skilled and stocks quality fish. My advice for those who’ve been cloistered during the pandemic: show up after the drinking-bar crowd has departed for the evening.