IMAGE: Itsu restaurant
Frank Franklin  /  AP
Patrons move around the Itsu restaurant in New York City on Tuesday. The new sushi restaurant didn't need to spend much for advertising and generating buzz before it opened this week.
updated 12/12/2006 8:49:27 PM ET 2006-12-13T01:49:27

Itsu, a new sushi restaurant in lower Manhattan, didn’t need to spend a fortune on advertising to generate buzz before opening this week. Polonium-210 put it on the map.

The restaurant’s arrival in the city comes a little over a month after a former KGB spy unknowingly took a lethal dose of the radioactive isotope, possibly while meeting a contact at an Itsu location in London.

The timing may seem unfortunate for Itsu, but the strange events that led to the death of Alexander Litvinenko have not deterred hundreds of curious diners from trying the new sushi bar.

Indeed, one man’s misfortune could turn out to be a boon for the first Itsu eatery in the United States. “It’s greatly increased the profile of our business,” branch owner Luke Fryer said.

It is still not clear where Litvinenko was poisoned, but health authorities have been tracking the sushi bar and a hotel the former spy and Kremlin critic visited Nov. 1. The London Itsu said that it would reopen in the new year, and that its staff had been given a clean bill of health.

The popular sushi chain in London is known for fresh, savory food with a short shelf life, one considerably shorter than Polonium-210, a rare radioactive element usually manufactured in specialized nuclear facilities.

The restaurant boasts a variety of dishes such as Beef Sirloin Tataki Salad, Five Spice Duck Roll and Omega-3 Salmon Supreme. The menu displays the number of calories and the percentage of fat for each dish. There are also juices such as Thai lemonade and a healthy detox zinger.

Steve Henschel knew Itsu had a hot reputation, but that didn’t deter him. He came Monday for a late lunch with his wife, Jocelyn Yap, and their 7-week-old son.

They live close to Itsu, which is near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The couple said the food was good, but Henschel felt something was missing.

“You might want to name a new dish,” he said. A Polonium roll for instance.

“I think you should embrace these things,” Yap said. “What else can you do?”

Fryer said he intends to get a liquor license for the downtown Itsu and open another one in midtown in March. And there could more Itsu eateries if investors like the concept. He brushed off the black humor.

“All I can say is we’re getting glowing reviews,” he said.

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