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Originally published June 17, 2010 at 7:02 PM | Page modified June 18, 2010 at 6:15 AM

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Restaurant review

Diners are in capable hands in both the liquid and sushi bars at Ballard's Moshi Moshi Sushi

Well-made drinks and some sushi dishes to write home about are featured at Moshi Moshi Sushi in Ballard.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Grilled shishito peppers $4
Chicken yakitori $5
Whole grilled Norwegian mackerel $11
Shiitake-crusted
flat iron steak $19
Sushi/sashimi assortment $24

Moshi Moshi Sushi2.5 stars

Japanese

5324 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle

206-971-7424

www.moshiseattle.com

Reservations: Accepted.

Hours: 4:30-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3-10 p.m. Sundays; early and late happy hours daily.

Prices: $$ (sushi/sashimi $3.50-$24; hot food $2-$19)

Drinks: Full bar, sake, wine, beer.

Parking: Landmark Public Parking garage, entrance on Leary Way, $1 per hour (elevator connects to restaurant).

Sound: Loud.

Who should go: Nigiri nuts, maki mavens, sports fans and spirits seekers.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, AmEx.

Access: No obstacles to ground floor and restrooms; stairs to mezzanine.

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If you've traversed Ballard Avenue after dark, you can't miss Moshi Moshi Sushi: a faux cherry tree, its broad branches lit with hundreds of pink LED blossoms, towers two- stories high inside.

The tree divides yin from yang at the dual-personality restaurant: On one side is the sushi bar, on the other the liquor bar. Of course, you can enjoy a cocktail or sushi on either side of that monumental divide — as well as up in the mezzanine, cozy as a treehouse in the blooms' rosy glow. Where you sit depends on the ambience you desire.

Nigiri nuts and maki mavens, hang a left and park under the paper lanterns at the 10-seat sushi bar. If you've come with the kids (many do) or with a crowd, you'll want a table along the wooden-bench banquettes that hug the wall under pretty parasols.

Spirits seekers and sports fans turn right into the bar, a stroller-free zone with booth and counter seating as well as multiple TV screens that aren't visible from the sushi-bar side.

Your favorite sports team may let you down, but Moshi's manager and chief bartender Erik Carlson and his squad won't. The bar's cache includes house-made bitters and tinctures, spice-infused syrups like falernum and orgeat, as well as premium sakes and of-the-moment vermouths like Carpano and Dolin.

The lengthy cocktail list recently segued from spring into summer (well ahead of the weather). Lighter, fruitier concoctions — whips and sours, punches and fizzes — join perennials like "Liquid Swords," a smooth blend of rye and cherry brandy with a strong orange undertow that offers solace on a soggy day.

You're in capable hands at the sushi bar, too, where sushi chefs Nick-san and Hiro-san take turns presiding. Nick-san's animated eyebrows are as mesmerizing as his knife skills. His pleasing compositions of color and texture taste as bright and fresh as they look.

A bountiful sushi/sashimi assortment included bluefin and albacore tuna, Atlantic and sockeye salmon, yellowtail, snapper, escolar and octopus. Too bad run-of-the-mill tekkamaki subbed for the promised ume shiso roll, which would have been a more interesting element. Miso soup never arrived, but the fish was first rate.

Nick-san fusses over composed nigiri. I tried the lively, lemon-and-ginger-spiked toro tartare wrapped in nori and crowned with vibrant orange tongues of sea urchin. You should, too.

Among the two dozen sushi rolls, I can recommend the Sophie-san (tempura shrimp, cucumber and avocado), notable for its crunchy interior and soft-pink coverlet of spicy snow crab. Shiso, scallion and lemon rouse the scallop-topped Moshi Moshi roll, stuffed with king crab and cucumber.

Oshizushi, or pressed sushi rolls, are a highlight. No nori, just rice and fillings pressed in a rectangular mold. The terrific tuna tataki version has crunchy gobo and radish sprouts in the middle. Red-hot momji radish (grated daikon mixed with red pepper) dots the seared albacore lying on top. It's finished with a generous squirt of ponzu.

Beyond sushi there's a variety of hot foods, from grilled bites (yakimono) and fried stuff to noodle dishes and even a shiitake-crusted flat iron steak. These are the purview of Kevin Erickson (who, with his wife, Tracy, owns both Moshi Moshi and Bricco on Queen Anne).

Look for slender, green, grill- blistered shishito peppers with lemon and salt, and wonderful pan-fried gyoza stuffed with gingery pork, beef and mushrooms. Kalbi ribs and a whole Norwegian mackerel were both heavily blackened but could take the extra char.

The steak's finely minced shiitake crust was far from crusty, but a wasabi cream sauce mightily flattered the juicy, robust beef, ably supported by fresh steamed asparagus and a golden-brown potato croquette.

Skip the dull and dreary fried chicken nuggets (tori kara age). Tempura vegetables, so light and lovely on one visit, turned up soggy on another; tempura ice cream was dreadful.

For dessert, try the exotic lychee panna cotta instead. Or better yet, have another cocktail.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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