Entering Domo Sushi, the eye is immediately drawn to the conveyor belt, a narrow oval track of gleaming stainless steel bisecting the room from front to rear. At the back of the room, the sushi chef deftly transforms raw fish and vinegared rice into nigiri and maki sushi, which she arranges on small plates that are color coded according to a price list on the wall. She then sets the plates on the conveyor belt, which circulates past tables lined up along either side. Customers take whatever they like from the belt, and at the end of the meal are charged according to the number and colors of the plates they've accumulated.
At least, that's how it works in theory at this type of sushi bar, which is known in Japan as kaiten sushi, and in America is sometimes fancifully referred to as sushi-go-round. But at Domo, I have yet to see a single plate placed on the conveyor belt. Its surface remained immaculately clean and motionless the entire time, both times I dined there.
On the first occasion, the reason was self-evident. It was early on a Monday evening, and my wife and I were the only customers -- too few, needless to say, to justify setting the conveyor belt in motion and loading it with a random selection of sushi in the hopes that we'd take what was offered. So we returned on a Friday night a little after 7 p.m., expecting to catch the peak weekend crowd -- which turned out to be four people, including us.
Business has been slow, in fact, since the restaurant opened in September, according to owner/sushi chef Wen Chang. A native of Taiwan, the well-traveled Chang owned two Japanese restaurants in Vienna before moving to America. She guesses that the economy may be to blame for the sparse crowds, along with the restaurant's location in a new, little-known strip mall with no major anchor.
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Whatever the reason, it's a shame. While Domo is not the best sushi bar in the Triangle, it's certainly a solid option for northern Cary, where until now anyone craving sushi has pretty much had to drive to another ZIP code to get it.
Fans of maki sushi -- specialty rolls in particular -- may even find it worth a drive in the other direction. Domo offers an impressively varied selection of 29 rolls, from the familiar Crunch Tuna and Spider Roll to offbeat variations such as Crunchy Hana (tempura portobello, crunch bits, salad leaf, tamago and edible gourd shavings, called kanpyo) and Sweet Venice (shrimp tempura, avocado and cream cheese, topped with mayo and coconut flakes).
The Spicy Tuna roll I sampled (delivered to our table, needless to say, not by conveyor belt but by a waiter) was merely average. But the Salmon Lover (smoked salmon, asparagus, avocado and cream cheese, topped with raw salmon and wasabi mayo) and Sweet Dragon (shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber and masago, topped with alternating ribbons of eel and avocado) were both excellent.
The selection of nigiri sushi and sashimi is limited, I suspect as a result of the fact that business is too slow to justify stocking a wide variety of fish. Still, the tuna and salmon I ordered were both commendably fresh, and the mackerel was firm with just the right amount of vinegared tang to balance its intense flavor.
Domo's kitchen does a more than respectable job, too, judging by the handful of dishes I tried. Dynamite mussels lived up to their name with a Sriracha-spiked mayo sauce drizzled over half-a-dozen plump green-lipped mussels, broiled to a succulent turn. Unaju served up filets of grilled eel atop rice in an elegant lidded dish, with a colorful assortment of pickled vegetables (sunomono) supplying pungent contrast. Savory vegetable-filled spring rolls left shards of shatter-crisp wrapper all over my shirt, and an entree pairing of udon noodles and tempura shrimp and vegetables left me with the desire to come back and try the chilled soba noodle version when the weather turns really hot.
I just hope that, when I do return, the conveyor belt is in motion