Aoi Blue Bar, yet another pretty good sushi restaurant in town, is the first place I've seen with an innovation that probably will spread: You get an iPad (that you don't get to keep) instead of a menu to view the offerings, including vivid pictures of all the items. Nice touch.
Here's another side note to consider: As is often the case with restaurants of this kind, there is no coordination between the sushi chef and the kitchen. So dishes arrive in the order in which they are ready. That means what you thought was your entree may arrive before what you thought was an appetizer. Or not.
On with the food. The appetizers included some imaginative options. Its version of ceviche featured your choice of sushi-grade tuna, yellowtail or salmon; each was slightly pickled with cilantro and served with pieces of onion and sweet peppers. Or you can choose cucumber-wrapped sashimi with shrimp and avocado cut in slices and served on a wooden skewer (called a lollypop because of the shape). Tofu Trio austerely presented three blocks of good tofu with different toppings. The vivid and tasty tuna tartare was served in a martini glass on crisp white noodles. Aspara-gyu offered rolls cut from crisp asparagus inside good beef.
My favorite appetizer was ox tongue shio-yaki, with sea salt, wafer-thin slices of highly flavorful meat and a pleasingly mild dip tasting of soy.
Don't let the good appetizers distract you from the sushi and rolls, which were well-constructed and fairly generous in size. And they were tasty, too. As for rolls, my sampling included the dragon (think eel on a California roll), the rainbow (pretty colors of fish), the caterpillar (avocado and spicy tuna) and the all salmon (you can guess that one). I liked them all and want to go back.
Entrees did not disappoint, although I prefer a more Thai version of pad Thai (for its vivid flavors) than the offering here. Tempura udon was nice-love those fat noodles. But the prawn tempura was more satisfying, with its pile of good-sized crunchy large shrimp. Chirashi was a rainbow of chunks of lovely fish on top of sushi rice. Want to splurge? Try the omakase: small piles of large shrimp in tempura batter, as well as popcorn chicken, small shrimp in a sauce and more. It was an imposing dish.
Desserts showed some imagination as well. Aoi's cheesecake was styled to resemble nigiri sushi. The crème brûlée trio-flavored with cabernet, green tea and something I couldn't decipher-was delicious.
Aoi made a competent martini and a tasty, minty mojito. I enjoyed the house white wine, as well as the Franciscan chardonnay. There were plenty of options for sake.
The establishment, with a hip/modern décor, aspires to combine the atmosphere of a Miami club with the flavors of Tokyo. Since a club's vibe largely depends on the local denizens, the former probably isn't going to happen. But flavors depend on the chef, who does deliver.Aoi Blue Bar
878 Bethel Rd.
Atmosphere: Pleasantly modish, relaxed.
Recommended dishes: Ceviche, tuna tartare, ox tongue shio-yake with sea salt, prawn tempura, chirashi, omakase.
Price range: Appetizers $8-$18; salads $4-$10; soup $2-$4; entrees $11-$29; combos $53-$159; sushi and rolls $2.30-$15.
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11 am to 2 am; Friday till 2:30 am; Saturday noon to 2:30 am; closed Sunday.
Service: Somewhat disorganized, but friendly and pleasant.