If you’re tired of making any kind of effort to visit any kind of all-you-can-eat sushi place in town, your prayers have been answered, because Itamae sushi is the newest ubiquity bogarting on the phenomenon of cosmopolitanism that has been diffusing the neighbourhoods around Waterloo’s university blocks. That’s right, for all the lucky students, all-you-can-eat is a mere jaunt. 13.99 for lunch, 20.99 for dinner. You’d be foolish not to grab a filling, almost irresponsible, lunch every day. And now, when you do, you don’t have to feel like a contemptible in-debt student at an all-you-can-eat facsimile, because Itamae feels and looks a little more urbane. I’m ashamed to say, I found myself hypnotized by the chic, Orientalized space. Cool browns, blacks, greys, forgiving tiled splash-backs; thick, stocky furnishings, pearled dining tables, waiters setting orders on hand held tablets, faux sushi itamaes in blue hakis with murals of origami met with bursts of warm colours on aesthetics reminiscent of the origami motif of the space. Even its centre made the place exalted and heavenly as the gold ceiling reached up to a point representing none other than Fuji itself. The bathrooms had granite counters, and robotic paper towel dispensers; it was a fantastic feast for the eyes, an alright feast for the stomach. Unfortunately, our orders took a good amount of time getting to us, so much so that Joey lost any truck he had with the wait staff, taking his own order and walking up and handing his tab to every sushi chef, making sure he would get what he wanted. And there were the usual chronic mixups and mystery orders that constantly happen at sushi places too.
Itamae offers nothing particularly new, some different menu options, some half-assed desserts masquerading as haute because they look, like the space, really good. That was my biggest tension. I’m a devote fan of egg tarts, but what we received was a beaten egg baked in an obtusely folded wonton, too eggy and off putting. And the Itamae apple pie? Nothing more than an apple fritter, with no spin on it to imply the character or personality of the place. Just an apple fritter. A boring apple fritter. Everything is hit or miss, and that seems to be the complacent accession of all all-you-can-eat-sushi spots. It can’t all be good. But, I argue it can if it didn’t want to seem like a cash grab all the time. Some sashimi was good, the white tuna, clean and salty, the salmon and red tuna, a little stale and brassy from sitting in a fridge. Some sashimi came room temperature, some uncomfortably cool. The eel on my sushi pizza was another climatic affliction. Cold seafood on hot deep fried rice in other words. We did very much enjoy the lotus rolls, though. A series of rolls rolled with bean paper, reminiscent of a thin cabbage, rather than the usual seaweed. And the mango banana roll was somewhat amusing. Mango stuck out of it like shoots of bamboo, wrapped in usual seaweed and rice. It was an ambitious project. The fruit wasn’t as ripe as we would have liked, and the flavours juxtaposed too much to really want it again. Even if a dessert, which it wasn’t, it still fell very short. But again, the menu’s a big thing, with a lot to try, so you’re bound to accept something. We liked the bacon asparagus rolls, and the curry chicken was enlivened by lime and notes of star anise. The grilled mackerel was surprisingly good for something expected so fast.
Itamae sushi doesn’t need to try at anything. Hell, if it had any professionalism, I imagine the waitress would have stepped aside to let me through a hall of crowded people rather than elbowing past me when I approached. But when customers just want to fill themselves us with alright food, forgoing great taste and service, can you blame them? Still, why not just buy a bag of rice? Let’s hope it’s not a representation of the superficiality of cuisine, or anything for that matter, in our break neck developing city, even if substandard goods are conventionally associated with developers just interested in a quick buck. In that case then, I reckon Itamae is in the right place.