Sushi restaurant moves up to the next level with new space

I enjoyed Benkay when I was there last. The food was good, but the physical space wasn’t anything to write home about. For that reason, I was inclined to visit a couple days after they opened their new Middle St. location. Hearing that it was going to be new and nice along with my strong desire to consume some sushi made it an easy decision.

As I approached the restaurant from the outside, I could already tell I would be pleased. The floor-to-ceiling windows made it easy to see inside and it was indeed quite attractive. Upon entering, a statue of a shogun greeted me followed by a waitress who sat us at a table by a window near the bar. We wiped our hands with the warm cloth and peeked at the menus which were beautifully bound and still looked unused on their third day.

Not having been a regular at the prior incarnation, it was difficult to tell if the menu was much different, but I was certainly pleased with the options, which were numerous. I was mostly craving some sushi, though I thought I might want a starter of some sort. My wife vacillated between sushi and a create-your-own-dinner option for $25 and decided to order some tea while sorting it out.

After some thought, I decided on the Seaweed Salad – crunchy mixed seaweed in a lemon sesame dressing – to start. Then I added three orders of sushi to the mix – Garlic Maki Roll – hamachi, garlic; Kappa Maki – cucumber; and Spicy Scallop Maki – scallops broiled with spicy sauce. She went with the create your own dinner once she realized it could include sushi. It automatically came with miso soup, chawanmushi (Japanese style egg custard), and rice (she chose brown). Then she added seaweed salad, shrimp dumplings, chicken teriyaki, and spicy tuna maki.

My seaweed salad and her miso soup came out first and by then, I had worked myself into a frenzy about the greenery, having a seaweed salad craving like never before. I took a bite and it was everything I had hoped for. Sure, seaweed salad is pretty basic and I can’t tell you for sure if it was my craving that made it so good, but the freshness and quality of the dressing certainly didn’t hurt. I squeezed some extra lemon on it in order to make it more acidic. I was feeling a little wild.

The salad went down the hatch quickly and the rest of our food came out soon after. I had a single plate with six rolls each of my three orders and my wife had a round platter loaded with individual bowls of each item she had ordered. I started with the garlic rolls. They were a good combo with the cooked yellowtail and a solid shot of garlic. A little wasabi and soy sauce were perfect additions.

With the first set of rolls done, I moved on to the cucumber which were quite standard, but excellent. After those, I worked on the spicy scallop rolls. Those are always a favorite and they were excellent. The sweet bits of scallop and creamy, spicy sauce were easy to love. A little dab of wasabi made them extra, runny-nose spicy.

As I was winding down with my food, Mrs. Portlandeater offered to let me try a couple bites what was left of hers. Neither of us loved the custard which we were told was absolutely not a dessert. It was too salty and a little thin for me to acknowledge as actual custard. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it as such. The chicken teryaki was unexciting, but tasty enough. I finished the rest of her seaweed, not having had enough of my own.

Once we were done, we settled up with the grand total coming to about $64 including tax and tip. The meal was very good. I was pleased with the sushi and, except for the custard, my wife liked her meal too. It should be noted that while I didn’t order any of the fish specials, there were nine available on the board by the sushi bar, so there’s most definitely no shortage of options for rolls. There’s also a sharp-looking wet bar to sit at and there was a saki flight special while we were there.

Despite the solid food and strong menu, Benkay now has a totally different aura specifically because the inside is much more upscale. It looks beautiful and feels very comfortable because of that. It’s not hard to imagine sitting at either bar and spending some time ordering lots of sushi or maybe a sampling of libations. It would be difficult not to have an enjoyable stay, especially if you want like to sprawl out in a place with some class.

Benkay 16 Middle St.
207-773-5555

Stay hungry.

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