POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 30, 2009:
I Dream of Sushi
Revamped restaurant site might turn out to be a top Asian contender in town
This 92nd East Avenue location has had its longevity challenges with other restaurants that have come and gone, but my hunch is that it might be a different story with Sushi California.
A tasteful facelift of the previous tenant and a very good product will hopefully keep this new restaurant going while those before it failed.
The new look includes a cozier atmosphere with simple changes, including a new, clean coat of paint, lantern lights along the walls, faux bamboo floor plants dividing the small dining room in half and a sushi bar. Dim lighting completes the mood, despite the flat screen TVs.
The waitstaff is friendly, and the overall experience was enjoyable and pleasant. The menu does not disappoint either.
Appetizers, salads, soup & rice, noodles, bento, entrée, special bowls, sushi combo and desserts are the featured sections. A sushi lunch hosts a good variety of sushi, including four options, ranging in price from $8.99 to $9.99.
A few friends and I dined here, and we had a very fine, relaxing experience with exceptional food. We began with a few appetizers, a Heart Attack ($4.99) and Monkey Ball ($3.99). The Heart Attack was four jalapeno pieces stuffed with spicy tuna and cream cheese. These little bites packed a punch of hot. The pepper and cream cheese were a nice blend of opposite tastes, but the tuna was more of an afterthought as it was somewhat lost in the mix.
Two Monkey Balls were two mushrooms, also stuffed with cream cheese but this time joined with chopped assorted fish and then baked. These were tasty morsels that had a soft texture and creaminess from the soft cheese. Again, the fish in these were more of an afterthought and held up poorly against the mushroom and cream cheese.
For my meal, I chose from the bento section of the menu. Bento is a common Japanese cuisine consisting of rice, fish or meat plus one or more pickled or cooked vegetables as a side dish. Often times it is a term used for "take out" meals. And, interestingly enough, it is even thought to be an art form and skill, where the food is arranged to reflect other-than-food objects, for example flowers. My bento selection did reflect care and attention to plate design, but I was not able to detect any noticeable art form.
The salmon teriyaki bento ($8.99) was served with white rice, miso soup, house salad and tempura. The salmon was thinly cut, grilled and covered with a semi-sweet glaze. It was arranged nicely on a bed of shredded cabbage. The white rice was very moist--almost like sticky rice--and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. A small, green salad (green leaf lettuce) with julienned carrots was tossed with light Asian, vinaigrette dressing. The tempura items--onion, shrimp, potato, sweet potato, crab and broccoli--were nicely stacked and arranged on the plate. Tempura is a dish consisting of items dipped in an egg and flour batter combined with cold water, sometimes with baking soda or baking powder as well, and deep-fried. These were excellent! Each hot, crispy item had its own taste and texture.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of tempura for this dish. The miso soup was light and not too rich as I'm used to, but it was hot and complemented this meal. This is a traditional Japanese soup made of a stock into which a miso paste is added--which adds a depth to the stock flavor. Miso itself is a common Japanese cuisine seasoning made by fermenting rice, barley, and/or soy beans, salt and a fungus. This loose broth-like soup does lean toward a taste of the fungus, or mold flavor.
My friend had the bulgogi entrée ($8.99), a Korean-style beef. Thinly sliced beef is marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, green onions, black pepper and then cooked on a grill. This meat, my dining companion said, had an undeniable taste of the sesame oil. This tender beef was mildly spiced. It was served with white rice, miso soup and cabbage salad.
We also had a nice sampling of sushi as well, and overall we found it to be excellent! The fish was fresh with appropriate textures; the rice was well made and did what sushi rice is to do--bind everything together. We had a few of the chef's special rolls: Monster ($8.99), which was made of coconut shrimp tempura, avocado and salmon tempura; To Heaven ($10.99) made of tuna, salmon, albacore, and red snapper wrapped with cucumber; and Tulsa ($9.99) made of salmon, cream cheese and avocado with shrimp on top. The To Heaven was all about fish, inside and out. It was visually beautiful. The Tulsa had an interesting texture with the creaminess of the ingredients. The flavors hit at different times as it was consumed. All were fantastic. We also had a crab roll ($2.99) under the sushi & sashimi menu. This was a simple, yet tasty sushi selection. The first taste was the fresh crab meat on the rice. The rice served as the "bread" of this "sandwich." The crab is placed on top and was wrapped with a thin slice of seaweed. It was also visually beautiful with clean, thin lines.
Sushi California is one of my new sushi and Asian favorites: from atmosphere to cuisine to service, it is a contender in town!
7123 S. 92nd E. Ave
Mon.-Fri. 11am-2pm, 5-10pm
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