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Japanese eateries reveal raw talent

Sushi joints often are indistinguishable.

Their dining rooms exhibit the same clean lines, spare embellishments and sequestered tatami rooms, and the menus list California rolls, ika (squid) and unagi (eel) nigiri with little variation.

These three deliver relief from the monotony.

SushiVille

The soft hum of the serpentine conveyor belt winding around the counter at SushiVille is pleasantly hypnotic, like the sound of wheels on the road when you're dozing in the back seat of a car. Unfortunately, Muzak also fills the air, making the generic pastel dŽcor seem even more sterile. But if you're in need of an instant, inexpensive maki (rice and seaweed rolls) fix or just a dose of novelty, this new sushi-go-round restaurant is the place.

Walk in, take a seat, blend your soy sauce and wasabi, and simply grab little plates off the slowly circling belt. The plates, which are color-coded by price ($1.25-$3.25), contain only two to three pieces of sushi, so you can sample many different rolls and nigiri in one sitting. When business is hopping, the belt is laden with choices, but only a few roll by during slow times to prevent sushi from turning stale. If you don't see what you like, waitresses are on hand to take your order.

1514 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-226-4710

Sin Ju Japanese Restaurant

Prime fresh sashimi is Sin Ju's calling card. Salmon, tuna and octopus are supple and taste like the sea, exceeding Portland's sushi standards. Tightly packed rolls stand up to liberal doses of soy sauce. And everything from the spacious tatami rooms and tasteful waterfall fountains to the generously portioned hot meals served in lacquered boxes is strikingly beautiful. Artfully arranged sushi orders arrive atop grand wooden boats and bridges, and the sushi itself is expertly constructed.

Start dinner off right with a smoky Momojito, a sake-injected mojito, and a rainbow roll, a California roll blanketed by gleaming slivers of chilled raw yellowtail, salmon and shrimp.

1022 N.W. Johnson St., 503-223-6535

Todai

With 40 sushi varieties, at least a dozen salads and hot dishes, a tower of iced crab claws, oysters, shrimp and lobster, and desserts a-go-go, Todai presents a bedazzling buffet. And at $23.95 per person (for dinner), it should. Billed as an All-You-Can-Eat Japanese Seafood Buffet, Todai offers not just oodles of precisely cut sashimi and rolls ranging from baked salmon to salmon skin, but also prime rib, udon noodles, custom crepes and deep-fried calamari. Highlights include green mussels, spicy octopus roll, cooked Chinese broccoli, rainbow roll and salmon skin nigiri.

Todai is an ideal setting for introducing kids to the wonders of sushi.

340 S.W. Morrison St., Suite 4305, 503-294-0007