While dining in at Gaithersburg’s Love Sushi, I noticed that the call in and carry out traffic was far busier than the sit down and eat at a table service. While the quality and flavors may be the same in the bag as on the porcelain, there is no way that the food packaged to go arrives at its destination with as much attention to detail and presentation as the pieces that are masterfully arranged on the plate served in-house, and that affects the ultimate enjoyment and satiation of the food. There is something to be said for dining at a table close to the kitchen where the food is prepared.
With its schmaltzy elevator music and modest but clean appointments, Love Sushi is a typical little bento box of a dining room, located in a mixed park of industrial and retail businesses. Off-street parking is adequate, even if those SUVs plowing through the lot are as harried as the drivers at the major intersection close by. Table service is gracious and accommodating as is the smiling sushi staff behind the counter.
Miso soup is by the book, that oddly murky broth which, once set down at the table, settles into a briny clear broth of diced tofu and seaweed leaves. Slurping down a small bowlful instantly takes the edge off any raging hunger. At Love Sushi it is served piping hot practically the moment it is ordered.
The house gyoza are well made and competently prepared dumplings filled with pork and potently flavored with ginger, first seared for a caramelized surface, then steamed until done. Streaks of chili mayonnaise and a bowl of light mirin are fine accessories.
The grilled beef served in the heaping bowl of beef with udon noodles is well cooked, and to describe it as tender would be an understatement. While the meat is well-cooked and comes with plenty of thick slinky rice noodles, cabbage, steamed broccoli and julienne carrots, the ingredients and broth are unseasoned to the point of being bland. Requests for salt or spice produce interesting chili sauces as well as chili and salt sprinklings from the kitchen, which bring to life the more subtle flavors lurking within the heaping portion of noodles, broth, vegetables and meat.
Always attracted to signature dishes, the Love salad needs, well, a little more love. Shredded lettuce, faux crabmeat, scallion, fish roe and its mayonnaise-based dressing are like store bought coleslaw with shredded sea legs. It needs more attention to texture, citrus, spice and salt to be lovely. An unusual house special is the plate of crabmeat and cheese wontons, little fried wonton turnovers with cream cheese and processed crab, perfectly fried and fun to eat with packets of sweet chili duck sauce and hot spicy mustard.
Other titles inspired by amorous allusions include the Crush on You special maki roll: glistening yellowtail and avocado are topped with sliced salmon, smoked eel, and sliced almonds, and drizzled with pale green wasabi mayo and droplets of eel sauce, a viscous bittersweet concoction of mirin, sugar, and soy. A special maki roll of note is the Crunchy Tuna Hidden Dragon roll. This roll is picture perfect, arranged as masterfully on the plate as any dish in a fine dining restaurant. It’s an expert layering of textures, from delicate and smooth to crunchy. Shrimp tempura is rolled in sticky rice and nori, which is then topped with spicy tuna salad and crunchy tempura crumbs, all finished with orange colored fish roe and finely sliced green onions. Oddly, the udon dish is best eaten before the sushi, since the udon is so mild in flavor and textures, and the maki rolls are a party of piquant flavors and textures. Eaten in reverse, the soup would be eclipsed by the excitement of the maki.
At the conclusion of one visit, our server insisted we try the banana tempura with ice cream and honey, and that was an unexpected pleasure of hot and cold, crunch and delicateness. On the next visit, a tiny dish of ice cold mango custard served with a tiny little spoon was the perfect refreshment after a meal on a hot day, like an impulsive parting kiss.