Measured in terms of quality calories per square foot, Edgehill Village is fast becoming my favorite address. In the half-decade that the former White Way laundry plant has been reimagined as a retail-residential community, it has stealthily racked up beloved simple pleasures, from the chicken soup at Taco Mamacita to the hand-tossed pizzas at Bella Napoli; from Juanita Lane's evil deliciousness at Dulce Desserts to any and all of the luscious paint-colored confections at Legato Gelato.
The latest enterprise to win my affection at the corner of Edgehill Avenue and Villa Place is Nomzilla Sushi et Cetera, a tiny green-and-orange hole in the wall between Dulce and the seductively appointed Edgehill Cafe. I know better than to judge a book by its cover, but I was inclined to like this place from the minute I saw the neon sign. I figured if someone was going to go the extra mile — or at least spring for the extra noble gas — to spell out "et cetera" with its full Latin flourish, then that person might also be inclined to put the cherry on top, so to speak, when it comes to preparing the food.
Let me rephrase that: That person might be inclined not to put the cherry on top. I say that because when it comes to sushi, a cherry on top — either literal or figurative — is not necessarily a good thing. (Regrettably, we have seen a literal cherry on top of sushi in the not-distant-enough past.)
Anyway, my flimsy logic that a person who spells et cetera in its entirety might also be a person averse to cutting corners was correct. In the case of Nomzilla, that person is Thet H. Tint, a Myanmar native whose career meandered through laboratory research and nursing before arriving at restaurant ownership. Tint's not altogether new to the sushi role. His mom, Daw Aye Mu, ran the sushi operation inside a Kroger in Mt. Juliet. (She currently trains Nomzilla employees.) But Tint does things his own way — like branding his restaurant after a monster that sounds like a satisfied Cookie Monster when he noshes: nom, nom, nom!
The Nomzilla way is to give the customer a simple three-step assignment: First, choose white or brown rice. Second, choose a seaweed or soy wrap. Third, choose three fillings.
Tint recommends one protein (crab stick, tuna, salmon, baby shrimp, grilled chicken, grilled duck or panko-breaded shrimp or pork) and two others (avocado, cucumber, blanched asparagus, julienned carrots, pineapple, cream cheese, caramelized onions or sautéed mushrooms).
You're not done yet. Pick a sauce (Korean barbecue, eel, sweet chili, wasabi aioli, Sriracha, Sriracha aioli or teriyaki). And a topping (pistachios, crispy onions, tempura, toasted coconut, strawberry, mango, avocado or fish roe).
Prices are listed for each ingredient, so you could build a budget roll of cucumber, carrots, cream cheese, sauce and topping for under four bucks. Or you could pull out all the stops, with grilled duck, asparagus and pineapple for $8.
As much as we love a well-constructed sushi roll of fresh ingredients, we also love Nomzilla's choice of roll versus bowl. The latter deconstructs the tubular maki (sans seaweed) into a mound of rice, protein and vegetables, to be eaten with chopsticks. The fact that Tint offers to drop the seaweed kimono on his ingredients should be read as a good sign, because he wouldn't risk exposing subpar ingredients to such full-frontal scrutiny. To be sure, Nomzilla's fillings, such as al dente asparagus, gem-colored fruits, tender duck and buttery fishes, are more than ready for their close-ups. In fact, our $7 rice bowl with succulent duck, delicate asparagus and crisp cucumber matchsticks with sweet bulgogi sauce was a beautiful cold entrée that would have been equally àpropos on china as in Nomzilla's plastic to-go container.
If there is one flaw in Nomzilla's logistics, it's that there is too much room for indecision. While there are a few prescribed rolls, including California, rainbow and a fruit-and-vegetable medley, the temptation to build my own left me angsting over permutations of protein and vegetable and Tint grimacing over my awkward pairings. In the end, I felt like I was trying to read his mind and he was trying to give me all the non-verbal clues he could. My order went something like this: "I'll have the duck with pineap ... panko ... onions ... asparagus? Yes, asparagus! And mang ... avoc ... coco ... cumber? Yes, cucumber, definitely cucumber!" I halfway expected him to shout "Yahtzee!" when I landed on an advisable trio.
The thing is, I don't need all that free rein. I trust you, Thet. Just tell me how you think it ought to be served. In fact, if you just point me in the right direction, you'll be able to get me in and out of the store even more efficiently than you already do. Even more than I like the way you spell, I like what you do with food, and I'm buying what you're selling.
I'm even buying that terrifying Fire-Breathing roll that requires me to sign a waiver before I consume it. Talk about going the extra mile: Tint returns to his clinical laboratory roots to prepare his signature ghost pepper sauce, donning a gas mask and locking the shop door to contain the fiery fumes of the bhut jolokia. He almost wouldn't sell this fearsome handful of tuna, mango and ghost pepper sauce to me. "It makes your mouth feel like it's on fire," he warned, then asked if I had trolled Facebook to see the brave souls (all men) who had confronted the monster.
In the end, he capitulated, and I took a Fire-Breathing Roll to my asbestos-tongued editorial colleagues. They conceded that the honey-textured glaze was damn hot, yet intriguingly sweet, with notes of mango and tamarind. They proceeded to devour the roll while making the same curious facial expressions evoked by, say, a mouthful of Altoids.
When we did finally check Facebook to see how Tint's other fire-breathers fared against the ghost pepper, we found snapshots of smiling, slightly dazed patrons. One brandished an empty bowl. One held an empty cup — recently drained of Nomzilla's excellent green tea with fruit puree, no doubt. Still another survivor cradled his infant son and commented that he was on his way across the street to cool off with a scoop of Legato Gelato. Now that's the kind of cherry on top we like.
Nomzilla serves lunch and dinner daily.