Historically, there have only been a few options for Asian cuisine downtown, especially at lunchtime. And since Typhoon closed, we're down another spot. But we are lucky to have two other options in addition to the Toomie's standby: Boken, in the breezeway on Brooks Street, and Five Fusion on Wall, which only recently started serving lunch.
I visited both to discover the best of each, what separates them from one another, and maybe where their menus overlap. Being frugal (cough, cheap) I was also interested in finding out how inexpensively I could dine.
Common ground gave way to their differences: Both restaurants offered curry choices, homemade kimchee and Tonkatsu. But the flavor and preparation varied distinctly from one restaurant to the other.
I also found duck on the menu at both restaurants, and was delighted to see that it, too, was prepared very differently. Five Fusion smoked the duck and presented it as an upscale take on BBQ chicken pizza. With crispy-edged flatbread, sweet Hoisin sauce and white cheddar, the Peking Pizza ($8.95) was a knock-out, finished with small dices of duck and cucumber.
Boken offered duck leg confit, tucked into a spring roll with mango ($6) and also into Ramen ($11). Most importantly, both restaurants serve excellent sushi (and I'm not talking mayo-laced cali rolls here).
Boken offers a fabulous, but short, list of specialty rolls. Five Fusion contrasts this by offering their entire sushi menu at lunch, including 25 options for nigiri, which is served in pairs, with the meat sliced thinly over hand-presssed sushi rice. I thought the Sake ($8) and the Lotus ($11) nigiri were delicious, but at an average of five bucks a bite, I thought Five Fusion's lunch choices were a better value. The Tempura Maki Lunch ($11.95), for example included two tempura sushi rolls.
Originally, Boken focused exclusively on its small plates, which inventively fuse East to West using traditional and seasonal ingredients. But owner and Chef Justin Cook eventually gave in to frequent requests for sushi and created a unique-to-downtown menu with rolls such as the Tokyo ($10), with yellow curry lobster, and the Mount Fuji ($9), a grilled scallop roll finished with a fried apple puree. With a sexy sister like Kanpai Sushi and Sake Bar (also owned by Cook), it should come as no surprise that Boken has its own list of killer combos.
Two things not to miss: The Wok Beans at Five Fusion and the Ramen at Boken. Five Fusion's green beans were amazing; healthy and sensible but dressed up by a sweet and salty garlic soy reduction. Boken's miso-based Ramen was rich with grilled pork belly, duck leg confit, pork shoulder and a soft-poached egg, which continued cooking while it nestled into the noodles. I had to conceal my audible sounds of enjoyment.
While both serve beer, wine by the glass, and sake, it was their cocktail lists that convinced me to do a little daytime drinking.
Boken's six house-made infusions are incorporated into multiple martinis. Both the Boketini ($8), with cucumber vodka and fresh blood orange, and The Raspberry Mint Martini ($8) looked as good as they tasted.
Five Fusion tempted me with an Angry Mango, a Lavender Lemondrop, and a Marionberry Cosmo ($8 each), all of which I quality-checked and approved in the name of research, of course.
Trying to dine on a dime? Boken gives a bigger bang for the buck. With reasonably priced sushi rolls all under $10, plenty of small plates under $5 and complete meals for around $10. Five Fusion also offered complete meals between $9 and $12, but the choices for small plates were limited, and the sushi and nigiri, while excellent, seemed a bit spendy to me, with California rolls at $11 and specialty rolls priced at $15 or more. Even so, I will definitely be back for the Peking Pizza and am happy to have two more downtown lunch choices.
In the breezeway at 852 NW Brooks Street
Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Five Fusion and Sushi Bar
821 NW Wall Street
Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner 4 p.m. to close