Sushi arrived on American shores more or less in 1979 when Toshi Sugiura opened Restaurant Hama in Venice Beach, CA. Today, sushi has become such an integral part of the American dining scene that even Elkridge can now boast two restaurants serving raw fish on rice.
Hokkaido is the second largest island of the Japanese archipelago; it is now also Elkridge’s second-best Japanese restaurant.
Located on Washington Boulevard in what was once the Main Street Barbershop, and sharing a strip mall with (purveyors of our family’s hidden shame, our almost weekly dance with General Tso and his marvelous chicken), Hokkaido serves a wide assortment of sushi and a tableau of other Japanese food. We ate there last Friday, and we’re glad to see another quality restaurant enter the local scene.
I don’t have much expectation for the décor of strip mall restaurants; there is only so much that can be done with rented space, for one, and any leased bay has the hint of impermanence about it. At Hokkaido, however, the new owners have worked wonders, given one of the most difficult tasks in suburbia.
Past the foyer, the newly refurbished space is stylish and modern. The floors are a deep blue of either bamboo or an excellent approximation; the walls are covered in a rough stone. The furnishings and lighting are both understated, perfect for everything from early family dining to a casual date.
Upon entering, every guest receives an exuberant greeting from the two chefs behind the tiled sushi bar. Service is quick, and we were promptly seated.
One minor quibble with the layout: our benches in the back corner booth were so far from the table that both my wife and I spent the meal uncomfortably leaning forward, bottoms perched precariously on the very edge of our seats, as though we were seconds from leaping up and out (not the case during this meal, at least).
I have two basic benchmarks any restaurant must pass to be considered for a repeat visit. Does my water glass remain filled, and (perhaps related) is the bathroom up to snuff? At Hokkaido, I never saw the bottom of my glass, and the marble-tiled bathroom was a clean little oasis of calm.
We began our meal with the fried vegetables, on the rather American premise that we should eat vegetables, but preferred them served as unhealthily as possible. The batter was crisp and the vegetables tender, but they could have used a dash of salt and pepper and the accompanying sauce was likewise a bit bland.
Since my pregnant wife can’t consume raw fish (a practice frowned upon by Americans, although not Japanese), we sought out some rolls containing cooked seafood. The spider roll, featuring soft shell crab, was good, as was the shrimp, mango and avocado roll. Tip: The chef added crunchy tempura flakes to our shrimp roll upon request.
In the raw department, I ordered the Twin roll, featuring spicy yellowtail and tuna. I was particularly pleased that when the menu specified spicy, the roll was indeed legitimately spicy. I didn’t have to resort to obscene amounts of wasabi in order to get my flame on.
However, none of the rolls was outstanding, and the menu didn’t offer anything that stood out as attention grabbing. I did notice, too late, a small board on the wall listing some specials. I wish I had been more attentive, or that a server had mentioned them.
The star of the meal was the traditional nigiri, sushi rice topped with raw fish. We tried tuna, salmon, and yellowtail, all sushi stalwarts, and all good—particularly the yellowtail.
The boy—who, like the wife, is on a raw-fish-free diet—received a kid’s portion of chicken teriyaki. We were pleased Hokkaido thought to have kid-friendly features like high chairs and children’s portions, important in family-centric Elkridge. The children’s meal came with miso soup, vegetables and rice. My wife enjoyed the soup; my son did not enjoy the vegetables, although that likely says more about his palate than Hokkaido’s food. The waitress also delivered “rigged” chopsticks that allowed my son to eschew his normal fork-and-fingers routine.
The attention to detail highlighted by the rubber-banded chopsticks was the most enjoyable part of the Hokkaido experience. The service was attentive without being stifling; the bustling waitresses and hustling chefs were cheery throughout. Everyone made us feel welcome, and that alone will bring us back.
We ended the meal as we began it, with something deep-fried—in this case, fried ice cream. It was beautifully presented and as obviously delicious as the name implies.
We enjoyed our experience at Hokkaido, and I’m willing to bet we swing by on a busy night for some take-out sushi. However, more special rolls on the menu and the same attention to the food that is paid to the décor and service is needed before Hokkaido can overtake its crosstown rivals at .
Hokkaido is at 6325 Washington Boulevard. It is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 12:30–10 p.m.