OK. So I've heard it vaunted here and as my old lunch sushi place Kawacho had a coup and removed Mr. Kawasaki from head chef-dom, I drove out to Echigo for "lunch special". I also ordered a few pieces a la carte.
I'm very happy that many people here enjoy this place as it provides a meal for $10. I shall not be going back.
First, I was told that there was a roll and 5 orders of sushi. I must've misheard. 5 orders usually means pairs of sushi. Here the sushi was one piece. There was an enormous mound of warm rice with a shockingly thin tane atop. The rice was so warm it was hard to lift. It was also hardly vinegared and tasted just like warm well-made Japanese rice rather than having the tang I associate with sushi rice, the kind of rice that makes chirashi-zushi a treat. This was the gerber baby rice. Warm, filling and insipid.
The tane was relatively fresh but was cut so thin as to have no texture. 1st was one piece of maguro. Not fishy, yea, but not flavorful either. Then a piece of yellowtail, farm-tasting, buttery and yet insipid as well. Then a piece of salmon, in sauce, all on enormo mounds of rice. The sushi-rice ratio, if we call let's say shibucho, the old kawacho or nozawa as 1:3, here it was 1:6. Maybe even 1:7. A piece of sauced red snapper sushi and then a piece of albacore. The textures were all the same. And I must say yet again, the taste was insipid.
After this, out came the a la carte pieces. I had ordered an-kimo/monkfish liver. I thought I had ordered it as sashimi, and I was wondering when the waitress said 10 minutes. OK, big whatever. Out it came, again on a mount of rice to be eaten as sushi - very strange. It was hot, also strange. It was served with a splash of nu-ta rather than a ponzu sauce. New to me, but OK. Vile.
Then the bonito. The places I usually go to tell me they rarely get bonito as the grades they like are in season only for a short time. The bonito came out ONE PIECE (this is an ala carte order) on again, much too much unflavorful rice. Nothing to write home about.
I also ordered a negi hama roll. Now back to the set menu, the roll that came out was a "blue crab" roll. Think summer camp tuna salad, but substitute lump crabmeat, perhaps canned perhaps freshly cooked perhaps didn't matter. In an eight-lane tube of warm rice in a soggy mat of nori (the places I go to usually keep the nori on top of the little grill oven to keep it relatively dry and crisp). I could eat the crab roll. My dining companion took two bites and could not finish it, and found the albacore piece inedible (she is used to the old Kawacho and Shige's place). The negi hama roll was very odd. Usually when I order this, the chef does a little tataki number, chopping up the yellowtail very fine with the scallions and then encasing it in a moderate size roll, either as a hand roll temaki or sliced from a normal maki of sushi.l Here there where almost 1" square chunks of mediocre yellowtail sprinkled with scallion rings encased in an Enola Gay of the Echigo warm rice in a warm damp nori sheet.
I can understand that this place has a high comfort food quotient. They are certainly generous with their rice. That is probably how they can afford a $10 lunch special. There is a sign, only traditional sushi. This is to avoid dishes like spicy anything (it says so specifically) and some of the wacky rolls popular here, (dynamite rolls, cream cheese and salmon, spider rolls [fried soft-shell crab]). I don't mind the non-traditional that much and on occasion I've enjoyed Matsuhisa although I prefer traditional places. Certainly Echigo doesn't have the non-traditional, but their presentation of traditional sushi is completely unfamiliar to me.
Even the oshibori (towels) were cold when brought to us. A complaint by my dining companion brought a look of shock, and a nice apology and two warm ones. The service is lovely, there were three charming waitresses. There was a sign saying the counter is only for omakase. I leave the omakase for those of you who enjoy Echigo. Nearby, I have enjoyed Sushi Mori all right. But wouldn't put that in a list of favorites. The place was pretty empty when we got there close to closing, and I appreciate being served so close to 2pm. And I was very much prepared to enjoy Echigo. So, if it ever gets so crowded that you can't get a table, it's not my fault.