Chan Bae had been preparing himself for a long time for April 7 this year, the day he and his wife, Sarah Jang, opened Sushi Express.
“He worked at four different Asian restaurants as a sushi chef for almost 12 years,” Jang said recently in the sunny dining room of Sushi Express. “He practiced making creative rolls and entrees over the years, and he made notes to use when he had his own restaurant.”
The “Express” in the name doesn’t mean fast food, though the sushi roll, appetizers and entrees came out in good order the day we dined there. The term refers to the model train that carries sushi roll options around a track.
Diners may take seats around the track and pluck off any roll that catches their eyes. A description of the rolls is on colored paper, and the color of the paper denotes the cost of the roll, typically $3 to $5. These are not full rolls, so diners can afford to try different combinations of ingredients.
The cozy, squeaky clean dining room also has a few tables and chairs. We chose a table, largely figuring we would need the space to hold the amount of food we were contemplating trying. Several to-go boxes also figured into the plans.
We started with three appetizers — edamame ($3.50), egg rolls ($4) and “dynamite” baked mussels ($6).
Edamame usually isn’t something that needs comment, but these soybeans were extra large, tender and lightly salted. Three slender egg rolls had been sliced into three pieces each, revealing the pork and cabbage inside. They were presented in a sloping white china bowl, garnished with herbs and served with a house-made soy sauce.
Everything we ordered had pretty, thoughtful presentations.
“Food should look good and taste good,” Bae would tell us later.
The baked mussels probably were the best-looking dish of the day. Five mussels were served on a half shell over a big bowl of lettuce and topped with almond chips, green onion, mozzarella cheese and a spicy mayo. They were a little chewy and fishy, but the overall flavor was pleasing.
We decided to share one of the signature sushi rolls and landed on the Tokyo roll ($13). It was a big roll filled with tempura shrimp, avocado, cream cheese, crab cake, asparagus and crab stick. A sweet eel sauce and spicy mayo made a nice flavor combination.
Entrees include a variety of donburi (Japanese rice bowls), udon noodle bowls and ramen. We both chose donburi — ten don ($10) and bulgogi ($12).
Ten don included two spears of tempura asparagus, two large tempura onion rings, three slices of tempura sweet potato and four long tempura shrimp, all served over rice dotted with white and black sesame seeds.
The tempura was delicate and cooked to a light golden color. The dish came with a sweet-tart tempura sauce that Bae makes in-house.
Jang and Bae said they came to the United States from South Korea about 16 years ago. For that reason, I ordered bulgogi ($12), a national dish of that country.
It isn’t traditionally always served over rice, but the generous serving of sliced, marinated beef blended nicely with the rice, caramelized onion, green onion and thin-sliced carrots.
Bae said tonkotsu ramen ($9) has been the biggest seller among the entrees so far. It included pork chashu (slices of pork braised in soy sauce, sake and sugar), bean sprouts, green onions, wood ear mushrooms and ajitama (half-boiled eggs cut in half) in a pork broth. I tasted it at our photo shoot, and it was delicious.
As one might guess, Sushi Express has a lengthy list of nigiri sushi, sashimi, deep-fried rolls, raw rolls and signature rolls. Specials include 10 pieces of nigiri for $19, 15 pieces of sashimi for $21 and a combo of nine pieces of sashimi and seven pieces of nigiri for $25, each served with miso soup.
Among the beverages, hot green tea was served in a silver pot, and medium-strong iced tea hit the spot on a warm afternoon.
Green tea ice cream ($3) topped with thin almond slices and a dollop of whipped cream was the perfect dessert for this dinner, both a palate cleanser and flavorful.
Jang said they originally lived in Texas before coming to Tulsa.
“Our pastor there introduced us to a pastor from Tulsa, and we decided this would be a good place to look for a job and start a business,” she said. “We’re happy we came to Tulsa.”