MOCHIZUKI (655 Bay, at Elm, 416-348-8884) Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a mug of green tea. Average main $4. Open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday noon to 11 pm, Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, but not sushi bar. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
In the course of a one-hour visit to Mochizuki, the upscale Japanese joint on Elm Street's restaurant row, we become very good friends with the house's sesame-dressed wakame salad ($3).
Why, here it comes again, trundling past on the conveyor belt on its umpteenth lap around the room's 24-seat kaiten-zushi bar. Sadly, besides the two of us seated at it, there are no other takers. Most of the noontime crowd here today seems more interested in ordering à la carte bento combos from tables scattered about the somewhat formal room. Is it any wonder fresh plates hit the belt so seldom?
A first course of calamari sunomo - tender strips of lightly marinated squid mixed with crunchy diced celery, sweet red pepper and toasted seaweed - makes an auspicious beginning. But after a second of diced octopus with the texture of rubbery pencil erasers in overly sweet teriyaki sauce (both $3), the highlights are few and far between.
Anticipation runs high as we watch a pair of chefs behind the bar roll up a series of impressive maki. Inevitably, though, they're not bound for the belt and end up elsewhere. Instead, the same three dishes go around in circles. Every five minutes or so, another joins them - sugary broiled eel ($4) or mild hamachi over rice nigiri-style ($3) - but there's little to rival Sushi Train's non-stop culinary cavalcade.
Like the Train, Mochizuki's best work is its non-traditional grub. Nori-wrapped futomaki come generously stuffed with deep-fried soft-shell crab, celery, avocado, leaf lettuce and flying fish roe ($3), while inside-out uramaki get rolled with prefab crab topped with lemony salmon sashimi (a steal at two bucks for two).
But a pair of inari bean-curd packets stuffed with plain rice and a tiny wedge of Sarah Lee-style cheesy sponge cake (both $2) are mediocrity incarnate. Miso soup ($2.50) is equally blond and bland.
The one thing Mochizuki has over Sushi Train is that all its plates are covered with sneeze-proof see-through plastic lids. And, sure, you get twice the food for your money at New Generation or Simon Sushi (see listings, page 45) - four times at the Danforth's all-you-can-eat Katsu - but where else can you get seconds without having to ask?
And thirds, and fourths.