BELLINGHAM - Food speeding by on a conveyor belt might be a jarring contrast to the serene visage of the big Buddha that looms over diners at Zen Sushi & Bar, but it's a great way to deliver nigiri and maki morsels to people who want to make the next show at the nearby movie house.
The conveyor belt approach to sushi seems to be growing in popularity, and it's not hard to understand why. From the restaurateur's point of view, it eliminates the whole rigamarole of taking orders and getting those orders from the kitchen to the customer. And the customers can sit down and start eating even before the server gets to the table to ask about beverages.
For those of you who have yet to dine in this fashion, here's how it works: Each plate is color-coded by price. A small plate of vegetables will be on a green-rimmed dish that costs $1.75. Then come orange plates for $3, red for $3.50 and blue for $4.25. At the top of the range, a black plate with the most elaborate and exotic seafood concoctions are $5.25. Once you've had enough, the server figures out your tab from the plates on your table.
Those prices seem small, but it is surprisingly easy to run up a hefty bill if you have a big appetite and poor impulse control, which describes my dining habits pretty well.
This may not be the ideal format for those still getting acclimated to sushi and the raw fish it sometimes contains. If you insist on knowing exactly what is going in your mouth, the conveyor belt system might provoke some anxiety. We did find that our server seemed well-informed and was able to answer our questions about ingredients.
Every bite we tried was delicious, but we did have some special favorites: a ruby dragon roll with spicy tuna; shrimp tempura; cucumber and crab salad; a "dynamite roll" with albacore and hot chili sauce; and a volcano roll with crab, tuna and spicy eel topped with red fish roe "lava."
Best of all was the crunch roll: a tempura-batter-coated rice roll with shrimp, spicy mayo, cucumber and avocado.
Selections are likely to vary from day to day.
There is also a good selection of nigiri, which are strips of varieties of fish, shrimp or octopus atop balls of sticky rice. The fish, such as salmon or tuna, is typically raw. I love the subtle flavor of the sea that nigiri delivers, but if you haven't tried raw fish by now, I suspect you never will.
You can also get some other Japanese staples, such as gyoza dumplings and an excellent fried calamari.
ZEN SUSHI & BAR
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Address: 3001 Cinema Place, near Regal Cinemas in Barkley district
Price range: $1.75 to $5.25 for each small plate
Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.