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Blue Fin Sushi & Robata Bar

Have Round Rock sushi lovers found a replacement for the defunct Tanoshii?

Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., July 30, 2004

Blue Fin Sushi & Robata Bar

661 Louis Henna Blvd. #300, Round Rock, 512/716-1688

Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday, 11am-10:30pm; Saturday, noon-10:30pm

Round Rock sushi lovers were saddened by the closing of Tanoshii, a popular area sushi bar. But now they have reason to rejoice at the opening of Blue Fin Sushi & Robata Bar at the same location. This small, comfortable restaurant offers good-quality sushi at great prices, grilled robata specialties, and a variety of bento boxes for lunch and dinner. Lunch specials are served on weekdays from 11am to 3pm. Afterward, it is worth it to beat rush-hour traffic to get there early, since their Power Hour (Monday-Friday, 3-7pm; Saturday, noon-5pm) specials are excellent. There is a minimum order of $6 per person, but that is easily done thanks to all the enticing tidbits one can consume.

The selection of $3 and $4 izakaya dishes, described on the menu as Japanese beer-house side dishes, is excellent. We sampled the mini crispy spider, a small, delectably fried soft-shell crab, served with a ponzu dipping sauce. At the suggestion of the very friendly sushi chef, we tried the spicy sea snail salad, an item rarely seen in Austin sushi bars. The thinly sliced sea snail was very tender, dressed with a fiery red chile paste, and served on top of a bright green chuka (seaweed) salad that mitigated the heat nicely. I was pleasantly surprised, since I am not generally a snail eater. The nigiri sushi ($1.25-1.50) pieces were regular sized, unlike at other sushi restaurants that offer $1 pieces for happy hour at half the regular size. The fish and the rice were both fresh and tasty. The mackerel and yellowtail were particularly delicious, but the tuna, salmon, and sea bass were all good. To wash it all down, Blue Fin offers $1.75 drafts and $2.50 bottled beer and hot sake specials during their Power Hour. Can't beat this deal anywhere.

With one sushi chef from California and one from New York, both East Coast and West Coast styles of sushi are well-represented, and the menu features many creative items. For instance, their signature Blue Fin Beef Roll ($9.50), paper-thin slices of raw rib eye wrapped around shrimp and daikon sprouts, was amazingly light and refreshing, with an almost melt-in-your-mouth texture. The spicy ponzu dipping sauce complemented it perfectly. Among their signature maki (sushi rolls), we enjoyed the sweet and spicy Red Devil Roll (shrimp tempura wrapped in rice and nori, topped with a thin ribbon of crab surimi dotted with spicy mayonnaise) and the fiery Dancing Dragon Roll (pepper-crusted seared tuna and avocado wrapped in rice, topped with wasabi-flavored tobiko roe), both $10.95.

There are a number of grilled meat and vegetable items on the robata menu. The chef recommended the beef ($5.95) and the shiitake ($5.50) robata, both served with a thick sauce that seemed to be a combination of steak sauce and plum sauce. It might sound odd, but it worked very well with the smoky flavor of the grilled items. The Beef on the Rock ($14), while not strictly robata, was a good choice. Paper-thin slices of Angus rib eye are served with a very hot Japanese Ishiyaki stone. The idea is to put a little dab of butter on the rock and place the slices of beef on it for just a few seconds to sear them. The accompanying dipping sauce was good, but I preferred just a bit of the sea salt on which the rock was placed to enhance the natural flavor of the beef. For a considerably higher price, top-grade Kobe beef is available (6 ounces for $30, 12 ounces for $50).

After all these excellent little bites, we didn't have room to try the dinner entrées, which are similar to the lunch offerings. If the quality and taste are anywhere near the sushi and robata items, I can guarantee no one will be disappointed. For dessert, we tried the flaming ice cream tempura ($4.50), vanilla ice cream battered in tempura, deep-fried, and then flambéed with liquor. It was good, but I would like to see lighter offerings since most of the desserts were "tempura-ed."

I really like what they're doing at Blue Fin. The sushi chefs are knowledgeable and friendly, the food is expertly prepared, and the atmosphere is quiet and pleasant. This little Round Rock strip-mall restaurant is worth visiting any day.

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