by Susan Hamilton and Christina Kelly & r & SUSHI EXPLOSION RESTAURANTS & r & What's all the buzz about sushi? Exotic yet uncomplicated, the Japanese specialty utilizes slightly sticky round-grain rice accented with raw or cooked fish, seafood or vegetables -- all rolled in nori seaweed. Slices of sushi are elegantly adorned with wasabi, pickled ginger and dipping sauces.

Capturing diners' yen for the out-of-the-ordinary, two sushi bars have recently opened downtown. has transformed the former Moon's Mongolian Grill, and now sports an oak sushi bar, a smaller sake counter and dining tables.

Ownership of the eatery has just changed hands from Young Kim, who still chefs there, to Seong and Kyong Lee. It's all in the family, as Kim is Seong's brother. Kim had a sushi bar for 28 years in Seattle and decided it was time to move inland. After a month or so as owner and chef, he's now focusing on the kitchen, rolling out the sushi and such.

Kim and his fellow chefs are busy -- with 30 sushi rolls on the menu. The cherry blossom roll features salmon, avocado and tuna. Rock 'n' roll has yellowtail, green onion, cucumber and smelt egg. There's even a Spokane River roll, with spicy tuna, cucumber and special sauce. An array of appetizers, noodles (udon and soba) and donburi (rice topped with various meats) are also offered. Lunch specials, combinations and dinner items give diners a variety of choices -- from chicken teriyaki bento to tempura. And don't forget the sake.

When Aki's Sushi Bar and Grill closed in early August, customers were left without a place to get that Oriental delicacy. With the opening of Raw Sushi and Island Grill, sushi (and more) is back. Owner Noel Macapagal reopened the eatery within a few weeks of its closing.

"I had used my experience to help manage at Aki's, and when the previous owner decided to take some time off, I knew what I had to do," Macapagal says. "I knew most everyone who worked and ate at Aki's, and I didn't want to see it close."

Macapagal says the d & eacute;cor hasn't changed because it's a reflection of him and his native Hawaii, but new local art will go up on the walls soon -- as will Macapagal's surfboard. But some things have changed.

"The menu has expanded," he explains. "I've reduced prices on our popular sushi rolls. I'm bringing in more fish -- some fresh from Hawaii."

Sushi at Raw "walks the path of Asian tradition, takes a left turn at Honolulu, a sharp right in Seattle and settles down in Spokane," as the menu proclaims. Da Bomb features tuna, salmon, avocado, cream cheese and scallions fried in tempura. The Spider has a tempura soft shell with crab, cucumber, avocado, mango and okane sauce. Entrees include grilled teriyaki chicken, steak and salmon as well as island specialties like spicy pork and curry.

Watch for more from Macapagal. Sometime soon, up where Sam's on Regal held sway for many years, he's opening another Asian eatery called Okane. -- Susan Hamilton, 430 W. Main Ave., is open Mon-Sat 11 am-10 pm, Sun 1-9 pm. Call 838-0630. Raw Sushi and Island Grill, 523 W. First Ave., is open Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm for lunch, Mon-Sat from 4:30-9 pm, and Sun 2-6 pm for dinner. Call 747-4266.

TASTE WITH THE BEST WINE & r & The second annual wine tasting symposium will be held Thursday, Oct. 13, from 7-9 pm at the Lair Student Center, Bldg. 6 at Spokane Community College. Featured speaker is Paul Gregutt, wine columnist for the Seattle Times. This is an opportunity to taste local wines and hear commentaries from Gregutt and moderator John Allen, owner of Vino! Wine Shop. The cost is $75 and includes three flights of wine, accompanied by light, wine-friendly appetizers. Ticket sales for the fund-raiser will be used to match a National Endowment for the Humanities grant benefiting the SCC Center for the Humanities. -- Christina Kelly

Thursday Night Live (TNL) @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Third Thursday of every month. Continues through Sept. 16
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