I have a couple of rules when it comes to sushi: 1) don't buy sushi that is on sale and 2) don't buy sushi that has been sitting out for an undetermined amount of time. I broke both of these rules at Wasabi and lived to write about it.
We ended up at Wasabi (off Farragut Square) thanks to Groupon. For those not familiar with Groupon or the hordes of collective-buying Groupon clone websites, each day you get an email with a local deal and if enough people log on to buy it, the deal is successful and you can print out your Groupon from the website. For Wasabi, Groupon was offering a "pay $15 and get $30" worth of food special and I'm a giant sucker for a good deal.
Upon entering, we learned that Wasabi serves Kaiten-style sushi. Translation: your rolls and nigiri are going to be circling the dining room on a conveyor belt (more on this in a second). They also have a menu that features soups, salads, and a few entrees. We started with the seaweed salad. This was probably the highlight of the meal but not because other things were bad, just that this was the most interesting and flavorful. This salad was almost identical to the seaweed salad that is served with Oya's $10 to-go lunch. I really like both for their interesting texture and briny yet slightly sweet flavor.
B tried Wasabi's Miso which was a slight variation on the "you've had this miso soup a million times" family of miso, the variation coming from additional flavoring with cilantro and jalapeno. Too much cilantro in that bowl for me to get within sniffing distance, but B said he liked it.
Predictably, I ordered udon. This time it was the vegetable udon and the most notable thing about Wasabi's version was the size. I really liked that it was a smaller bowl because normally when you order udon, you get a bowl bigger than your head and it fills you up so much that you can't enjoy sushi. With Wasabi's mini-udon, you don't have to choose between udon and sushi.
The crispy squid comes from the familiar genus "looksbetteronthemenusapien." It was a good concept but fell on its face in the execution. Chewy squid and not a lot of flavor. Also, the funky dipping sauce bowl - the sauce did have tons of flavor - was cute but you couldn't fit the squid in it.
Eagle-eyed readers might be wondering what is up with the colored plates under each of the dishes. Well, Wasabi simplifies their menu by dividing everything into color-coded categories with each color corresponding to a price. Yellow plates are $2.50, orange are $3.00, red are $3.50, blue are $4.00, and purple are $5.00. You stack the used plates on your table and they add them up at the end to determine your bill total. If you're pinching your pennies you could take someone on a date here and tell them they can have anything they want as long as it comes on a yellow plate. I don't recommend that, however, if you'd like to have a second date.
After the soup and salad, we turned our attention to the conveyor belt. First off the line was the salmon and avocado roll with masago. Nothing too memorable here but the fish was surprisingly fresh-tasting. I'm sure Wasabi cycles the rolls off of the belt regularly (which makes me wonder how much food they throw away each day).
Our next victim was the spicy tuna roll with scallions and shichimi chili pepper. This was most memorable for the chili pepper. It was spicy but in a completely different way than a standard spicy tuna roll. I accidentally inhaled some of the chili pepper and cleared up my sinuses for about 2 seconds (it is allergy season in our fair city, after all).
We were feeling satisfied at this point but B added up the plates and realized we hadn't spent the $30 value of our Groupon. Back to the belt we went for the spicy salmon and cream cheese roll. At first I didn't taste any spice and only a big blob of cream cheese, but this one grew on me.
Trying to spend exactly $30 (hey restaurants! don't you just love coupon users?) we went for a purple plate option: the classic rainbow roll. I thought this was the least flavorful of the bunch.
At the end, we ended up with a $4 check and a belly full of sushi. My belly wasn't full of the best sushi I've ever had but my belly also didn't complain. Would I go back? Yes, but only if my friend Mr. Groupon is along for the ride.
Second Thoughts from B
Like the looksbetteronthemenusapien, I felt that our entire Wasabi experience was "better on paper." Let's take a few examples:
Kaiten-style sushi. On paper the conveyor belt is fast and convenient, allows a preview of all items, and enables you to eat only what you have room for. In reality, the sushi is never as fresh and plump as a regular sushi bar, and often compares to the prepackaged stuff at the supermarket.
Curly-ended soup spoons. On paper they are unique, artistic, and hang neatly on the edge of your bowl. In reality, they are hard to hold because they are so small.
Half-moon shaped dipping bowl. On paper it is a nice artistic touch like the aforementioned spoons. In reality, they are not big enough to accommodate most of the squid... er, I mean, looksbetteronthemenusapien.
As we discover more and more sushi spots in the District - and even find a few we like - I'm not too keen to return to Wasabi. But like J, if there's a Groupon involved, I might just change my tune. Afterall, it does make the place look so much better... at least on paper.