The thing about sushi is that it’s hard to mess up. Well, actually, it’s very easy to mess up, but if you’ve been serving it in a restaurant and nobody’s gotten ill from poor quality fish, you’re doing OK. The quality of sushi is entirely dependent on the quality of its component parts, and part of its charm is this simple ability to let clean flavors shine through.

So when Kabuki purported to have the “Best Sushi in Town,” I had to see why.

Kabuki is a chain restaurant with nine, soon to be 10, locations. I chose the one in Old Town Pasadena, both for its convenience and the sleek charm of the area. Though parking was something of a challenge, Kabuki occupies a prime spot on the street, boasting a breezy patio that looks out on the passersby, the perfect place for a classy and casual meal.

Before I even got a glimpse of Kabuki’s menu, I was sold. The interior of the restaurant has a certain new age charm, decorated in warm hues and non-geometric shapes, while maintaining the spacious feeling achieved by traditional Japanese restaurants. The sushi bar made an open, elegant curve through the left side of the room, a definite change from the boxy structures and straight lines one has come to expect.

My guest and I were seated quickly and attended to graciously, but the waiters were much faster than us as we ogled the menu, entirely unable to make up our minds. Kabuki boasts a sushi, hand roll and specialty roll menu of rather epic proportions.

The basic sushi menu, with pieces served up in twos, ranges from those rolls you’ve come to expect (salmon, yellowtail and tuna) to something for the more adventurous in the form of the volcano sushi, baked tuna or scallops in a spicy sauce.

The tuna and salmon were exquisite. As a standalone, the fish was cut with expertise so that it melted in one’s mouth rather than making you chew until your jaw comes unhinged. Both tasted fresh and clean, with none of the fishy flavor that comes from lower quality fish.

The sushi is excellent for mixing and matching to your heart’s content, but the real star of Kabuki is the roll. Kabuki not only offers traditional rolls, but specialty rolls reinterpreted for a more risk-taking audience. So, not only can you delight in a salmon roll, which I did, but you can stretch the bounds of sanity a bit and grab a Philadelphia roll – sashimi salmon rolled with cream cheese, which I didn’t.

The basic rolls provide a wonderful sushi experience. The fish quality is superb, the rolls tight and the rice not overly vinegary. But at a restaurant like this, it’s really the specialty rolls that you go to eat.

Kabuki offers a variety of specialty rolls that give a new angle to an old favorite. Myself a lover of spicy tuna anything, I took a shot at the spicy tuna crunch roll. The roll was rich with the fatty tuna and given great texture by tempura crumbs, but it was the sauce, a tangy/spicy concoction, that really made the roll special.

Another roll to tempt one out of sushi complacency was the rainbow roll. Imagine a California roll, now add a colorful array of fish and avocado slices hugging the exterior and you’ll see why the rainbow roll has won my stomach’s heart.

The beauty of Kabuki, beyond the quality, is the price of their food. A six piece roll from the regular menu can be had for $4, which is quite something compared to the $5.65 I pay for sub par sushi at school.

In fact, our whole evening for two, which included a sashimi appetizer, two types of sushi and three types of rolls, came to a grand total of $45. That’s certainly an acceptable date night, if not an every day kind of thing.

Sacrilege though it may be, there are non-sushi lovers out there, and Kabuki caters to them as well in the form of grilled items and noodle specialties.

Kabuki is a well-rounded restaurant with a fun atmosphere and great prices and, at least in my mind, has earned its spot as the best sushi in town.

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