WU brings new taste to campus with Stanley’s Sushi and Tea House

| Senior Scene Editor

I never visited the old Stanley’s. Something about the place scared me. I think it was the aggressive cafeteria vibes: the green plastic chairs, the rectangular plastic table tops and the beige tiled floor. I felt like I was back in high school.

I wasn’t the only one either. For the last few years, the Lopata Hall dining space has been one of Dining Services’ lowest-performing locations. That’s why Andrew Watling, the associate director of Dining Operations, says they decided to spice it up with sushi, the only location on campus with it.

“Students want sushi,” Watling says. “It’s that simple.”

Watling says the process has taken longer than a year. They brought in real sushi chefs from FujiSan, a sushi-making franchise, to ensure the food reached student expectations.

“Sushi is one of those products where there is a lot of expertise and training that goes into making it well,” Watling says. “A lot of people can make bad sushi, but not a lot of people can make really good sushi. If you want to have really good quality sushi available on campus, these guys are experts on it, so we felt this was the best way to get students the best product.”

Although the green plastic chairs haven’t disappeared, the food has reenergized the space. No more hot dogs, soups and pastries. Now it’s all about sushi, poke bowls and boba tea.

Even during the pandemic, the new Stanley’s Sushi and Tea House, which opened this fall, is bringing in students from all over the Washington University campus. With limited on-campus housing, visitation numbers have plummeted at every campus eatery—that is, except for Stanley’s. They’ve even had to add more staff members at the location. And that’s thanks to the sushi.

It still feels daunting on this Friday morning at 10:30 a.m., a day where few students have class. The pitch-black offices peer over the food court. The rumbling hum of a refrigerator fills the silence. I ignore it by diving into the menu, where I find myself surprised by the variety of options. It feels like a real restaurant menu. I try to decipher the best combination. Crab and shrimp? “Sushi” and “premium sushi”? Maybe a shrimp poke bowl or calamari salad?

I decide on a classic and crunchy combo—a California roll and shrimp tempura roll, each for $6.50. “Sushi can fairly easily get a little expensive,” Watling says. “So we really wanted to make sure there were options available that hit at a really budget-friendly price point.”

As the cashier pulls out the large tempura rolls from the glass refrigerator, I’m impressed by the vibrant colors. The rolls are painted with brown and yellow sauces, while the outside is drizzled with an orange pebble-looking crunch. Although I admire the design, I feel a little intimated, wondering if there’s too much going on for my morning stomach.

I play it safe and start with the California rolls. The crab meat dominates the interior of the roll, but I can still taste the mushy avocado. Neither, however, produces a particularly strong taste. Instead, I find myself impressed by the tightly packed, yet squishy rice. I know this isn’t good—if I’m focusing on the rice, a pretty hard part of the sushi to mess up, that must say something about the rest of the meal. As I often do with a California roll, I use a slab of wasabi to give it the punch it needs. I notice this is the first time I’ve ever stopped to appreciate a California roll. Normally it’s an easy and satisfying meal to eat on the run, but maybe not to sit down and enjoy.

I realize it’s time for a little more flavor. When I bite into the tempura roll, I notice the crunch first, and not the spice. The tempura crunch, both in the middle and on the sides, complements and contrasts the familiar California roll taste of imitation crab and avocado.

After opening up this fall, Stanley’s Sushi and Tea House has attracted students with sushi meals like this shrimp tempura roll. The $6.50 dish features tempura shrimp, imitation crab, cucumber, avocado, tempura crunch and sesame seeds.

That’s when the spice kicks in, but it’s only a dash. The mayonnaise and soy-looking sauces quickly disappear into the roll and I dive into another one, hoping to find more. I keep waiting for the spice to reappear, but it fades with every bite and every roll.

I’m the kind of person who enjoys eating spicy food until it’s spicy. And this is probably the right amount of spice for me. Just enough for me to taste, but not enough to overwhelm. I feel encouraged to order something with even more heat next time.

On the way out, I buy a mango green boba tea to wash down the sushi. I ask the cashier how business has been. I can’t hear her through the mask, but I see her point around the line-forming stanchions and back towards the chairs—that’s how long the lines have been during the week.

As I walk outside, my first sip of the tea is filled with mango syrup and boba balls. I let the drink sit for a few minutes, hoping the ice will melt into the syrup. When I return a few minutes later, it has diluted just as I hoped, giving it a refreshing and not overly fruity taste.

I take a seat in a shady alleyway tucked beside Lopata and behind Cupples II Hall. I’m happy to be outside, happy to hear birds instead of a humming refrigerator. And for someone who has spent the last few weeks eating the same veggie burger meals for lunch, I’m happy to have my stomach filled with something new.

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