One door closes, another opens. That bit of conventional wisdom certainly applies to the restaurant business. Case in point; Two Sevens Eatery & Cantina, an outpost of the Fenwick Hospitality Group at 277 Witherspoon Street in Princeton, closed its door for the last time on October 15 of last year.
Last Wednesday, almost exactly one year later, another door opened at 277 Witherspoon, the door at the southeast corner that serves as the main entrance of Elite Five Sushi & Grill, the latest offering of Tony Yu, former owner of the well regarded East Sushi on Scotch Road in Ewing.
While the space that was Two Sevens is rumored to be undergoing a transformation into an as yet unnamed restaurant, Elite Five has carved out a tranquil, sophisticated L-shaped space in the building, adjoining the Avalon Bay complex.
On a recent visit toward the end of the lunch service, my dining companion and I were greeted at the door and ushered in to an attractive space fitted out in a style best described as thoughtfully designed Asian/industrial fusion; matte black ceiling with exposed ductwork, mocha walls with black and wood accents, well-spaced tables with light wood-grain tops and comfortable dark wood and steel-framed chairs. A sushi bar with seven industrial-style stools and finished in white marble tile completes the picture.
After we were seated and presented with lunch menus, Tyrone, our server, took our order for green tea (Elite Five is BYOB, a selection of hot and cold non-alcoholic beverages is available) and left us to make our choices, returning when requested to explain a menu item and at one point graciously summoning the chef to answer a question or two.
Diners are confronted with the pleasant task of choosing from among a wide range of choices, including Don (Rice Bowl) with protein options (beef, salmon, chicken, pork, tuna), Ramen with a selection of broth and protein options, Yakitori with a choice of protein and vegetables, Elite Five’s Signature Maki, your choice of a Sushi/Sashimi Set and more.
My dining companion chose ramen with tonkotsu, a pork-based broth ($15). A tasty concoction containing grilled chicken, wood ear, enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced radish, scallions and topped with a poached egg, it was the perfect antidote to a drizzly afternoon.
I settled on the Sushi Set, ten pieces of chef’s choice sushi ($18); fresh yellowtail, salmon, shrimp… served with the usual accompaniments of wasabi, shaved ginger and soy sauce. As one might expect, presentation is part of the dining experience at Elite Five; my sushi set was served on an attractive rectangular matte black ceramic tray garnished with a lavender and white orchid blossom.
Both sushi and sashimi sets are accompanied by a choice of miso soup or salad. I was happy I chose the salad; crisp tender Boston lettuce leaves, a thin Julienne of carrot, cucumber and cherry tomato, set off by a tangy, citrusy dressing of yuzu, soy sauce and sesame oil. (Note to self: get the recipe!)
We almost passed on dessert, which was not listed on the menu, but when Tyrone said the magic words “Mango Medley” ($10) we jumped, and we were glad we did. The gluten-free delight of mango sorbet, petite squares of cassava cake, whipped cream, candied walnuts, fresh strawberry, and mint leaf garnish — all artfully composed over a drizzle of caramelized sugar — were a sweet visual and culinary coda to our meal.
The dinner service at Elite Five offers substantial additions to the lunch menu; that’s clearly when “Grill” in the restaurant’s name kicks in, particularly in the My Plates section of the menu, with serious protein offerings like an eight-ounce dry-aged rib eye ($35) and a grilled Lobster-O-Maine ($38). Prices can escalate further as well, ranging up to the top offering on the menu, the ten piece Elite Sushi Set served omikase style ($65).
Noise level is almost always a concern in restaurants these days, and although there were few patrons on our late weekday afternoon visit, the hushed atmosphere, high ceilings, well-spaced tables, and soft music playing in the background should be conducive to quiet conversation, and to the quiet enjoyment of Elite Five Sushi & Grill’s eclectic, intriguing menu.
Parking, always an adventure in Princeton these days, is available in no less than three flavors, none of them free; metered parking on Witherspoon Street, a parking deck behind the building, and Pay-by-Plate on Henry Avenue. Enjoy, motorists!
Elite Five Sushi & Grill, 277 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Lunch: Monday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner: Sunday to Thursday 3 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 3 to 10 p.m. BYOB. Takeout available. 609-252-0698 or www.elitefives.com.