Allen Pierleoni / apierleoni@sacbee.com

The Yummy Boat at Sushimono in Fair Oaks holds chicken teriyaki, beef teriyaki, sesame chicken and more.

Counter Culture: Tasty dishes draw a crowd at Fair Oaks' Sushimono

Published: Friday, Jul. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 28TICKET
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 5, 2013 - 6:20 am

We found Sushimono Japanese Cuisine & Bar next to a sandwich shop and near a Starbucks in the Quail Pointe Shopping Center in Fair Oaks. Grabbed a table, looked around, the server was right there.

The restaurant is well-organized, modestly decorated and "cozy," to use a term favored by real-estate professionals. Two mute TVs flickered, music played over the sound system. Is that rap? The menu is reasonably priced, explaining why the dining room and outdoor patio quickly filled with sushi-hungry lunchers from neighborhood homes and businesses.

As in all sushi houses, stools border the sushi bar, giving aficionados front-row seats to the action. Behind the bar, knife blades flashed as three sushi chefs expertly sliced fresh mackerel, salmon, tuna and other briny delights, arranging them into rolls that looked like displays in an art gallery.

Admittedly, we are not expertly versed on the subjects of sushi, sashimi or nigiri, but we do know what looks and tastes good. At Sushimono, that would be most everything we sampled, though we avoided the items containing "krab," a personal quirk.

"Krab" is not crab at all. Rather, it's "kamaboko" or "cured surimi," mildly flavored white fish ground into a paste and shaped to resemble the leg meat of a crab (and shrimp as well).

It's certainly cheaper than real crab and has a longer shelf life, but we've demolished so many stone crabs, Dungeness crabs, Alaskan king crabs, blue crabs and snow crabs that eating a crab spelled with a "k" would be like cheating.

Soon, our server delivered a bowl of thinly sliced, vinegary cucumber, shockingly piquant and bracingly chilled. "It's perfectly marinated," said one lunch pal.

Next was a plate of "pepper fin," luscious slices of albacore tuna in a soy-based sauce, topped with jalapeño coins ($7.95). We added pink ginger and green wasabi to the bites, and extinguished the fire with iced water.

"I don't ordinarily like raw fish, but this has so much flavor," said the second lunch pal.

A plate of fried soft-shell crab appeared, with mild dipping sauce ($7.95). Crunchy on the outside, creamy in the center, with that distinctive taste one connoisseur described in Bon Appetit magazine as "the dark side of crab meat, with a tinge of the seashore on a stormy day." In other words, delicious.

We're big fans of ramen, so felt compelled to order the seafood version ($8.95). Toothsome noodles floated in steaming-hot spicy broth, but the seafood itself was scant – a tough octopus tentacle, a bland square of squid, three green-lipped mussels, a few bay scallops, two shrimp. No krab that we could see.

The middle of the Sushimono fold-out menu resembles a Monopoly board, but the spaces aren't Park Place or Water Works. Instead, they're the names and descriptions of sushi rolls – Mt. Fuji (shrimp, tempura krab, avocado, scallop), Crazy (deep fried tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado), Rainbow (krab, avocado, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, albacore).

One square is a big question mark, which reminded us of the Chance square in Monopoly. We like surprises so we chose that one. Our server brought over a wooden bowl filled with ballots marked with question marks. She shook the bowl, we picked a ballot at random, she opened it and read it.

Minutes later a Fantastic roll arrived at our table ($9). Inside the vinegared rice was krab (surprise!), spicy tuna and cucumber. The roll was topped with avocado, mandarin orange, luscious seared tuna, salmon, "special white sauce" and Korean hot sauce. It was … well, you know.

(Note this deal: Buy two rolls and get a free roll, 7 p.m. till closing daily.)

We were in a touristy mood, so we took a cruise on the Yummy Boat. A 2-foot-long wooden boat was placed on the table, a centerpiece so laden with food that surely it wouldn't float very far before sinking.

On board were piles of chicken teriyaki (silken and moist), beef teriyaki (the best of the crew), battered sesame chicken (tasty, but tough and dry as it cooled), mixed tempura (excellent prawns, OK veggies), gyoza (we've had better) and an overdressed salad ($29.95). Problem: The dishes cooled too quickly.

"The thing about tempura is you've got to eat it while it's hot," pointed out a lunch pal.

We can attest that mochi ice cream is the most fun dessert we've had since the cream puffs at Beard Papa's in San Francisco (www.muginohointl.com). Half-balls of pink and yellow ice cream covered in pastel-colored pounded sticky rice cake were cute, cold and quickly gone.

The second dessert, green tea cheesecake … not so much.

One lunch pal suggested we get some cold, milky-colored unfiltered sake on our next visit.

"It's served in a bowl and you ladle it with a wood spoon into bamboo cups," she said. "Cold sake is so much better than hot sake."

Yeah, especially in this weather.

It's peach shake season

For the 10th straight year, the seasonal sign has gone up at Whitey's Jolly Kone, the West Sacramento landmark drive-in: "Fresh peach milkshakes."

Chunks of tree-ripened freestone peaches from Modesto are blended with high-quality vanilla ice cream for a throat-freezing milkshake that's one of the best anywhere.

Through August, owners Steve and Paula Ericson will sell peach shakes as fast as they can make them ($4 and $4.50.) The usual hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, but the diner is closed today.

Whitey's Jolly Kone, 1300 Jefferson Blvd., West Sacramento; (916) 371-3605.


SUSHIMONO

Where: 5349 Sunrise Blvd. (at Madison Avenue), Fair Oaks. A second Sushimono will open later this month in Elk Grove, at the intersection of Elk Grove Boulevard and Bruceville Road.

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Food: Three stars

Ambience: Two stars

How much: $-$$

Information: (916) 536-9885


Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

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