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Monday, September 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 70.0° F  Overcast
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Nori Japan is short on nori, high on grease at University Square
New campus food court vendor fails the test
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This is food that there is no reason to eat.
This is food that there is no reason to eat.
Credit:Linda Falkenstein

I finally made my way back to the new University Square Food Court to give its Japanese option, Nori Japan, a try. The parent company of the franchise lists a long and somewhat tempting menu with salads, soups, and even kobe beef. These options bears little resemblance to the abbreviated menu at the UW-Madison campus outpost, which sticks to chicken, beef, shrimp, or veggie teriyaki on rice or noodles, and a handful of non-fish-based sushi rolls.

On an initial visit about 1 p.m., the counter staffer told me that they were out of the sushi because students descended "like a swarm of bees" at the noon hour, so I made sure to make it to the stand before noon this time. Even so, Nori Japan was, once again, already out of the California roll.

What about some other kind of sushi roll? No, no sushi available at all. I found this peculiar and pressed the issue. "Do you ever have the sushi?" I finally asked, shades of John Cleese in the Monty Python cheese-shop skit. Then the staffer called to someone who'd been giving away samples of grilled meat and asked him to make me a California roll.

In the meantime I ordered one of the teryaki dishes, the chicken and shrimp combo. This is really the same dish as found at the hibachi carts on the Library Mall ("Hibachi Hut") and the Capitol Square ("Hibachi Grill"): meats and vegetables cooked on a metal grill. I previously called the fare from Hibachi Hut "uninspired street food," although at the time I found the chicken itself to be "good" (I remember that it looked and tasted like real chicken) and the vegetables "not bad."

Having now eaten the teriyaki grill at Nori Japan, my advice to you would be to head directly over to the Hibachi Hut. At Nori Japan, the vegetables are barely there at all, mostly some bland onions, although the one piece of broccoli was the best thing about the dish. The chicken and shrimp might politely be termed "marginal." Let's leave it at that.

There was no taste to the dish other than from the grease. This is food that there is no reason to eat. What was more appalling than the heap of greasy food on my plate was the pile of double-meat chicken (double your chicken, no veggies at all) on the plate of the guy in front of me in line.

On to the California roll. It did finally make its appearance. It looked as if it was about to fall apart. There were some strands of imitation crab, which tasted of salt, a wan sliver of cucumber, and a tough strip of dried seaweed wrapper -- that's the namesake nori. No avocado. Not even anything masquerading as avocado. No sesame seeds. The best thing I can say about it was that the rice was fresh. The supermarket sushi rolls from my neighborhood market are better. And if you want some fast rolls on campus, go to Zen Sushi on Library Mall.

Searching for some positives? I can tell you that the University Square food court has a lot of nice places to sit, flat screen TVs galore, and a purveyor of bubble tea named Bubble Island is arriving soon as its fifth vendor.

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