Watami Sushi All You Can Eat
10625 Pendleton Pike Indianapolis, IN 46236
Located off of Pendleton Pike in Lawrence, in a plaza next to Walmart and near the intersection at Sunnyside, Watami Sushi All You Can Eat is an interesting restaurant. Restaurants serving sushi abound in Central Indiana, with most having a la carte style service. Asian buffets also abound, many of which do have sushi on their tables, and many of which are of varying degrees of quality (but nearly always poor). The concept of a quality sushi buffet is not well established here. In my years living in Miami in the late 1990s, there were a number of all-you-can-eat style sushi restaurants that served food every bit as good as a traditional a la carte sushi bar. I very much missed those places, and since have had to deal with an expensive a la carte meal (I tend to enjoy a great number of sushi pieces), or stomach the poor quality of a general asian buffet. I was informed about Watami by a friend who went there for lunch periodically, and who gave it rave reviews. I became determined to try it. Did it meet my long missing need, or was it simply the same as everywhere else that tries to pass off sushi in bulk with poor success?
For the purposes of this review, I will offer that I have been there twice now. Both visits were similar, save for one caveat I feels bears mentioning at the end of this review. My first visit was during weekday lunch, as I had an free afternoon in which I finished work early. The small restaurant was pleasant to be in, although a bit spartan. The main entrance was unassuming, and off to its side was a small portal through which to see the sushi being made, while directly in front of the inner doors was cashier’ s counter. Little in the way of decor was present to distract. A number of long and spacious boots lined the nearside dining room. A larger back room was present, which was not being used during lunch. It contained more booths, as well as more traditional asian dining seating. Service was adequate, without much personality or apparent interest. Regardless, the service was accurate, and relatively prompt when considering the kitchen prep time. Don’t go there expecting to be entertained or lavished upon, but do expect the service staff to do their primary job reasonably well. Watami’s menu is relatively lengthy, and refreshingly diverse. The lunch menu is truncated from the dinner/weekend menu, however the available items at lunch are very numerous and surpass most restaurant’s offerings. I should state immediately that in addition to nigiri, sashimi, sushi rolls, and even hand rolls, Watami also features a number of appetizers, including soups, salads, dumplings, and edamame, as well as udon noodle dishes, fried rice, teppanyaki, teriyaki, tempura, seafood, and desserts (including the surprisingly refreshing green tea and bean flavored ice creams). A beer, wine, and sake menu is also available, containing the usual offerings most asian restaurants provide. Unfortunately no beers stood out for me, but as it was week day lunch I wasn’t consuming anyway. As I know next to nothing about sake, I cannot comment on quality or diversity of brews, but the menu did appear to be generous.
I learned quickly that it was important, especially when the restaurant is busy, to order as much food as I think I will eat, instead of starting small. The kitchen prepares each dish on order (as should any quality sushi restaurant), and food prep takes time. In between visits the restaurant has adopted a per-piece charge if you leave a certain amount of food on your plate in an effort to prevent waste. The amount is generous and the penalty reasonable to prevent customers from ordering a stupid amount of food and then deciding they are full. Keep this in mind when ordering food quantity, but don’t see yourself too short to have to endure a long wait towards the end of your meal.
The quality of the sushi, which is the focal point of this review, can be summarized as………quite good. It certainly had that ‘fresh’ taste one expects with good sushi, without a refrigerated firmness. From simple rolls to more complex creations, the simply adorned pieces of nigiri, and the tangy noodles and sweet teriyaki dishes, everything tasted as one would expect in a more formalized Japanese restaurant. The options for varied fish increases with the dinner menu, but was still quite nice on the lunch menu. With a price about $13 for lunch for the all-you-can-eat experience (drinks separate), the value and quality do appear equivocal. I will simply leave my food review in the following summation- the food was good across all offerings.
My second visit occurred on a weekend, when the dinner menu was being served. It was also at lunch, and we were there at around the restaurant’s opening time. Being the first customers for the day, the wait times were somewhat reduced. The menu expansion in the dinner course included more specialty rolls, more appetizers and more non-sushi Japanese food dishes. Pricing goes up to a little over $20, still quite reasonable for what you receive. It is from this visit that I will offer my only critique of Watami. The flavor of many of my sushi pieces that day had a hint of a chemical in the fore and aftertaste. It tasted almost of cleanser, and was very off putting. I had to refuse several of my orders due to this. It was not particular to one fish or style of sushi. I suspect the cleanser used on the prep table was not adequately rinsed off, and some of this chemical entered into my food. I did not become sick from this or experience any unpleasantry otherwise, but it did taint my experience somewhat. None of the other diners who followed my party appeared to have any complaint. I suspect this was unique to my early visit, and while I have not had a chance to return since then, I do not expect the experience to be repeated. I would simply offer the advice of avoiding being the first customer of the day.
Beyond what I just described, my experience at Watami Sushi All You Can Eat is quite positive, and I recommend it to those who want to enjoy larger quantities of quality sushi and other related Japanese food for a very reasonable price.