Globe South Dining Out

Sushi restaurant gets serious

An order of Red Sox maki at Sushi Joy is constructed with rice, crab, seaweed, and flying fish roe. An order of Red Sox maki at Sushi Joy is constructed with rice, crab, seaweed, and flying fish roe.
(Richmond Talbot for The Boston Globe
October 11, 2009

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Sushi Joy
124 Colony Place, Plymouth
Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9:30 p.m.
Major credit cards and reservations accepted
Accessible to the handicapped

The beautiful Red Sox maki ($12) sparkled like the jewel in a World Series ring. It was built of rice and crab and coated with tempura batter that was fried crisp and broken into crumbs. The roll was topped with strips of green seaweed and salmon-colored flying fish roe, which provided textures to contrast with the crumbs and enhance the gem-like appearance of the dish. It was enough to make even a confirmed Yankees fan do the wave.

It was one of the daily specials at Sushi Joy, which is owned and operated by Jerry Chen. When I first met him, he was handcrafting elaborate woodwork in a former Dunkin’ Donuts on Samoset Street in Plymouth, creating the décor for what would be the first incarnation of the restaurant.

Now Sushi Joy has expanded in size and scope and moved from the clutter of car dealerships and fast-food joints to the upscale atmosphere of Colony Place, where it keeps company with Talbots, Chico, and Panera.

The new interior reflects that urbanity. Yellow and wine-red surfaces, polished wood, chairs upholstered with woven reeds, greenery, and modern lighting fixtures inform the entering diner of the seriousness of the enterprise.

Jerry is from a Chinese family that operated restaurants in Cumberland and Falmouth, Maine. He started a sushi restaurant because he saw an unfilled niche in Plymouth’s restaurant scene and judged, rightly as it turned out, that the town was ready for sushi. He may not have the famous Japanese delicacy in his blood, but his experience in the restaurant business has helped him provide some of the best around.

My knowledge of Japanese philosophy comes almost entirely from Mr. Miyagi of “The Karate Kid,’’ who said: “Better learn balance. Balance is key.’’ At Sushi Joy, the Kiss the Fire Maki ($12) has balance.

This kiss is more a delightful flirtation than a blazing passion. You get a core of spicy shrimp with white and red tuna on top. Paper-thin jalapeños provide a flicker of heat, and the wasabi gives a different burn. The pickled ginger adds a little sweetness, and the raw fish a calming layer of cool. What makes this a masterpiece is the exquisite balance of its elements. Nothing dominates; everything complements the whole in a little swirl of pleasure like the first gentle ecstasy of young love.

With my Kiss the Fire Maki, I sipped a cocktail of vodka infused with pineapple, called a Stoli Doli ($6). It was a sweet, but not cloying, confection of a drink. My wife developed her passion for Mai Tais under the garish neon glow of 1960s Chinatown, and she found the Sushi Joy version ($7) a bit too distant from the classic concoction. It had a nutty flavor she attributed to Amaretto.

The new, expanded Sushi Joy has added some Chinese specialties to the menu. I was tucking into a dish of yin yang noodles ($13), when Jerry stopped by the table and remarked that fried noodles were very Asian. They were in fact superb. They were a wok-fried nest, crunchy on the outside and soft within, and were nicely paired with the garlicky sauce.

In Chinese restaurants, a specialty often means the cook throws in something from every bowl on his prep table, and so it was in this case. There was shrimp, beef, onion, calamari, mushrooms, bok choy, and broccoli. What was that? It seemed like chicken. I found another piece and held it in my chop sticks to let the sauce drip off. I tasted it carefully. It was chicken, all right. In Chinese thought, the principle of balance is the yin and the yang, and the chef should start again with the wonderful noodles and rebuild it with fewer ingredients and more balance.

The sea bass sizzling hot pot ($16) was closer to the ideal. I complimented Jerry on the freshness and perfect doneness of the fish. The sauce was silky but didn’t intrude. The vegetables - pea pods, carrots, onion, and mushrooms - added their flavors and textures to a harmonious whole.

“This is more healthy,’’ he said. “This is how Asians eat it.’’ He told me he makes many of the sauces himself so he’ll know there will be consistency.

At this restaurant, go first for the joy of the sushi. It would take a plane ride to get a purer form, but don’t be a purist. Some of the American kinds are very good.

Then branch out. Jerry said he’s aiming for Chinatown-style food. This may not be the pinnacle of Asian cuisine, but it’s a giant leap forward when you think of the typical suburban Chinese restaurant. Instead of reaching down toward perceived American taste, it raises our standards and shows us what we’ve been missing.

When I asked about his success at his new location, Jerry said, “I am very lucky because I’ve got a lot of loyal customers.’’

I’m certainly one, and I think you may become one, too.