I’m now jealous of people who work near Union Square.

It’s a low-down and dirty shame that Ennju isn’t close enough to my place of employ for me to eat there regularly.  Located on 17th Street between 5th Ave. and Union Square, it just barely (by an east-west block or two) is out of reasonable range for me to eat at regularly.  I say “regularly” because I ate there today, taking a slightly longer lunch than normal, and was quite impressed – Ennju (#34 on the Sietsema list) is a serious contender for best “fast” Japanese food in the city.

Walking into Ennju at lunchtime is like driving slowly through a strip mall parking lot – you barely have time to contemplate the sushi case, the soups, the buffet salad bar, or the bento specials before someone whisks up behind you laying on the proverbial horn.  Resist the urge to grab and go – stepping back and taking it all in is the only way to find the excellent bento boxes, combining a peanut-flavored diced chicken or salmon with egg and shaved green beans on a bed of rice.($6).

From the sushi case I picked the spicy tuna roll, which was $4.50, but plenty more complicated possibilities are available: three different kinds of dragon rolls, a “dancing” spicy tuna with salmon and avocado on the inside, and the spicy tuna on the outside, and a roll somewhat amusingly entitled “I Love Eel.”   Also in the rice+fish realm: rice balls packed with various things (I had cooked salmon in mine) and pre-wrapped for your transporting convenience.  At $1.50, not a bad deal.

Also looking quite interesting were the various platters that emerged from the rear – several kinds of teriyaki, tempura, and katsu were available, along with curry rice with or without a pork or chicken cutlet, a couple of gingered meat dishes, and something called “tofu steak.”  Hah?

I’d guess that the salad bar items vary day by day (though I have no evidence of this), but I had, in order of descending deliciousness, a cucumber-laden salad, a large piece of sweet-sauced chicken with onions, lotus root tempura, and a piece of cold vegetable pancake.  I’d probably skip the last two on a return visit, but I particularly liked the chicken.

The BEST things available at Ennju are the frozen desserts.  For $3, you can get a pretty huge cup of red bean, green tea, mango, or ginger ice cream.  My girlfriend had the red bean, which I’m happy to say was excellent.  Creamy with a slightly sweet flavor interrupted by the occasional bean, the ice cream was more delicious than we had anticipated.

I hit the real home run, though, with the Korean ice cream sandwich.  At $1.50, it’s a steal, even for this devotee of H.P. Hood’s summer treats: the slightly coffee-tasting ice cream with chocolate bits (it ends up being somewhat like cookies and cream) lies between two thin sponge cake layers.  It’s a real sandwich, on the thinnest Wonder-cake you’ve ever seen.  Too bad the summer ice cream trucks don’t sell these; I’d reconsider my hatred of their tinkling theme music.

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