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My vision of the perfect, season-inaugurating soft-shell meal is simple: Just fry the beast whole and let me sink my teeth into it. So I guess it should be disappointing that when I finally get my crab at Tono Sushi I can barely see the thing: It’s been not only fried but also sliced, wrapped, rolled, and then sliced again. The form is a sushi roll cut into five pieces, and the end result provides a surgeon’s-level view of the tiny sea creature’s deliciously disparate elements. The first two pieces are creamy rich with the crab’s yellow mustard; the next two are almost all sweet white meat; the end piece holds a claw, which juts out from the rice so that there’s nothing surrounding it, just the golden curve of a limb waiting to be crunched into memory. Our waitress appreciates the dish as much as my friends and I do—maybe more. Once she discovers that the kitchen’s crab supply is dwindling, she doesn’t even bother confirming whether or not we wanted to try an order. She just brings one out.

At Tono Sushi, the new restaurant that’s taken over a bilevel space on Woodley Park’s dining strip, enthusiasm is almost always buttressed by quality—and vice versa. The vivacity of many staff members renders language barriers almost irrelevant; a different waitress’s riff on the horse mackerel special may be hard to understand, but the length and verve of her dissertation make it clear that she’d gladly eat the stuff if our roles were reversed.

Tono exists in the no man’s land between those Japanese restaurants that demand high prices for pristine arrangements of edible origami and those that you frequent because they’re cheap and/or close by. Tono’s dishes are varied enough that the “Sushi” moniker is even a touch misleading. On this menu, California rolls are listed a page away from Japanese potato salad mixed with tofu and quail eggs. The beauty is that as long as you order seafood, for the most part, the un-chic items are as enjoyable as the ambitious ones. If you were to tell me I had to choose between the tuna-based Mexican roll (secret to the crunch: batter bits) and the flounder served with steamed monkfish liver, daikon sprouts, and no rice, I’d order both and tell you to find someone else to boss around.

Tono Sushi is run by the same people who own the neighborhood-favorite Yosaku in Tenleytown—which explains why the new place seems to have a line on glisteningly fresh product. If you want to experience the breadth of the place in one sitting, ask for the bento box, a more-than-you-can-eat, daily-changing special that surveys the raw and the cooked and a bunch of stuff in between. A bento order includes an opening tongue-teaser like vinegary sprouts, and the box itself balances old-guard items like white tuna nigiri and vegetable tempura with dishes you can’t get everywhere. My favorite’s a twist on miso soup: The broth contains a hunk of horse mackerel, a fish our enthusiastic waitress says is “like sardine” but that I find more meaty and subtle; as the soup penetrates and warms the fish, its flesh grows saltier and firmer with each bite.

The portions of the bento boxes are a little off—one person won’t finish all of the food, but there’s not enough to fill two people up. Given the dainty portions of what comes from the sushi bar, fleshing out your meal on the fly is no problem, but I would advise keeping your head out of the main menu when you order. The restaurant offers a lot of choices, few of which are going to make your fish-phobic friends feel as if they’re being treated as equals. Both the sukiyaki and the noodle soups (I try one with shrimp tempura, another with roasted chicken) are way salty, and the chicken teriyaki seems made to belittle the tastes of the person who orders it; the chicken itself is fine, but the side items (boiled potatoes, green beans, broccoli and carrots) are so middle-American it’s almost funny.

The best food at Tono comes raw and with a whiff of sex appeal—a characteristic that’s in short supply in Woodley Park. A plate of succulent tuna rectangles set in a pool of perfectly pitched jalapeno sauce is creative and quite good, but in the neon glow of the downstairs dining room, it looks like something to die for. Not that Tono is shooting for downtown credibility; the place feels family-run, and even the gimmicks seem sensible. Take a thin swirl of raw flounder that’s served in a cocktail glass with ground white radish. At first glance, that white radish—clean, sharp, and palate-cleansing—looks just like ice.

Tono Sushi, 2605 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 332-7300.

Hot Plate:

I’m one of those people whom busy deli guys hate. It’s customary for me to respond to the question “What do you want on that?” with a pregnant pause, a rush of inner terror, and then, finally, an actual answer, one that usually includes every vegetable and condiment that comes to mind regardless of whether I actually want it. My excuse is that once I decide on meat, cheese, and bread, I believe sandwich makers should know where to proceed from there—the ones at The Italian Store do. When my number’s called, I let my order fly (prosciutto, Genoa salami, and provolone on a hard roll) and let the expert finish it off (lettuce, onion, peppers, and dressing). The people behind the counter make some of the best hoagies in town—and they don’t need to ask how.

The Italian Store, 3123 Lee Highway, Arlington, (703) 528-6266.—Brett Anderson

Eatery tips? Hot plates? Send suggestions to banderson@washcp.com. Or call (202) 332-2100 and ask for my voice mail.