Escolar togarashi, Miku Sushi

Bad sushi isn’t like bad pizza. When it’s bad there’s no way to justify it—it’s bad for you, bad for fish, bad for the world. Sushi should be a rare treat, reasoned Jiro Ono, lest we eat it out of existence. That opinion is pretty unpopular in these parts judging by the crowds filling two new sushi bars in Lincoln Square, Miku Sushi and Sushi Tokoro. I intended to hit Miku Sushi first; it’s housed in the space once occupied by Chrissy Camba’s short-lived Laughing Bird and, before that, Tank Sushi, which happened to employ Miku’s current owners. It was an amateur move to expect to get a table of four on a Saturday night with no reservation so, quoted a 40-minute wait, we headed across Western to the other game in town.

All you can eat, Tokoro Sushi

Nearly every seat was full at Tokoro too, likely because of the standing $21.95 all-you-can-eat special. Is this ever a good idea? Harried servers were running around the brightly lit room delivering grilled squid and deep-fried sesame balls from the rear kitchen, but no one seemed to have any fish on the table. That’s because the pair of sushi chefs on duty were trying to clear the weeds created by a party of eight that had seemingly ordered an aquarium’s worth of fish. Finally their order began to arrive on a giant, cedar model ship loaded with garish, hastily rolled maki, followed by several supplementary platters. After that things started moving from the sushi bar a bit more swiftly, but you could see the complete lack of love going into the effort: lopsided, half-smashed rolls; dull slabs of mackerel and yellowtail nigiri; gobs of fishlike slurry and avocado gracelessly molded to makimono incorporating freakishly inappropriate ingredients like apple, mango, and the dreaded cream cheese. You look around at your fellow diners indiscriminately shoving this stuff in their faceholes and Tokoro seems like the Golden Corral of sushi restaurants.

Xmas Maki, MIku Sushi

At first glance, Miku doesn’t seem like it’s taking sushi any more seriously. Its ridiculous rolls incorporate things like fried banana and lobster, honey, fried tofu, and, yes, cream cheese. For the sake of science I had to order the X’mas Maki, an elaborate arrangement of spicy tuna and snow crab, cucumber, avocado, masago, and sweet soy, garnished with a bright red amaranth flower. Texturally this monstrosity simply reduces to mush in the mouth, the rice disappearing amid all the glop. Situated next to the simple, perfectly rolled hamachi maki, it looks like a circus clown macking on a ballerina. That at least underscores the fact that at Miku you can get some carefully prepared sushi. An escolar nigiri, lightly dusted with togarashi and briefly torched, is a pretty subtle and unusual method of gussying up raw fish that doesn’t mess with its integrity. (Miku also gets extra credit for having the honesty to refer to the fish by its proper name rather than the meaningless and deceptive “super white tuna.”)

Counterintuitively, Miku has a much broader menu; they’ve got ramen (of course), robata skewers, and an array of small and large plates featuring everything from snails to foie gras to gyoza to alligator if, say, you’re hungry for something a little more sustainable than volcano rolls by the pound.

Miku Sushi

Miku Sushi, 4514 N. Lincoln, 773-654-1277

Sushi Tokoro

Sushi Tokoro, 4750 N. Western, 773-654-3858,