First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at email@example.com.
Sharon Yi hasn’t spent much time away from Salt Sushi since she and her husband, James Yi, opened it last month.
“I raised four kids, and now they’re gone,” she said. “This is my child No. 5. Owning a restaurant has been a longtime passion. My mother always told me, ‘(If you become a restaurateur) put your heart and soul into your food.’ It’s all about bringing the community together to enjoy family time and friend time.”
Before conjoining with Salt Sushi, Sharon Yi did volunteer work at Loaves & Fishes. Her grandmother donated meals to the homeless when Yi was a girl.
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The Yis turned to an architect friend to design the restaurant space, telling her, “We want something simple but elegant.” Following her design, engineer James Yi built out the dining room and kitchen himself. As for the name, “It came from our children,” Sharon Yi said. “It says everything – salt is simple yet essential.”
Menu: Seldom have we seen a sushi restaurant menu as lengthy and diverse, masterminded by sushi chef Danny Kim, with 30 years in the biz.
Let start with 12 appetizers (including grilled yellowtail cheek collar and tuna poke) and move to a combined 21 kinds of nigiri (raw seafood on rice) and sashimi (without rice); 17 maki (seaweed-wrapped rolls); six hosomaki (bite-size maki); eight donburi (cooked seafood, pork, beef or poultry over rice in a bowl); 11 kushiyaki (grilled meats or veggies on skewers); assorted combos; six udon/ramen soups; and six bento boxes ($4.50 to $30). Diners can order any item at any time.
Price point: Though many dishes seem costly, the quality and freshness of ingredients speak loudly. For instance, the tekkadon donburi features sashimi-grade tuna, which wholesales for premium prices.
Ambiance: Salt Sushi is a class act, showing off stone and wood, polished concrete floors, a state-of-the-art black-walnut sushi bar, modernist chandeliers, a fan resembling a vintage wood propeller, and a gorgeous black walnut-slab table and matching stools. One wall evokes ocean waves, where a “school” of small metal fish swims over a banquette.
It easily outshines its more casual Gold River Town Centre competitors – Outback, Il Forno Classico, Jack’s Urban Eats, Blaze Pizza, Rubio’s, Applebee’s and Beach Hut Deli.
Drinks: Five white wines and four reds, a 15-bottle sake list, and six brews. More fun is the challenge of opening bottles of Ramane “marble soda.” If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out.
Service: Enthusiastic and conscientious, but a bit unpolished. That should improve with time.
First impressions: One of the most striking elements is the artistic presentation of the items. On the plate, the rich red of maguro (raw ahi tuna) was complemented by artfully arranged garnishes of yellow lemon, gold pickled daikon, green lettuce, white strands of shaved daikon, pale-pink ginger and a purple orchid. That colorful motif carries through to other dishes.
We got down to it: Vibrant-green edamame (immature soybeans in their pods) were spiced with a mix of chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and “Japanese spices.” Hot and addictive. Miso soup (from fermented soybean paste) is usually an afterthought, but this one had real flavor.
Plump, tender pan-fried gyoza were the tastiest version we’ve encountered lately, made more interesting with dips in a salty-tangy sauce of unusual complexity.
The ahi was meltingly tender, as was the grilled and sliced chicken teriyaki splashed with restrained, not-too-sweet sauce. At last, wasabi that’s really hot, accompanied by ample shaved ginger.
A mixed tempura of shrimp, broccoli, winter squash and potato were crispy in light, non-oily jackets; eat it while it’s hot. Though the house-made udon noodles were fat and tender, we found the broth surprisingly weak.
As a finale, mochi ice cream is the silliest dessert we’ve had since the cream puffs at Beard Papa’s in San Francisco. Half-balls of vanilla ice cream were covered in pounded sticky rice casings, very cold and very soon gone.
Try it if: You favor Japanese cuisine at its most pure, or you regularly check out new restaurants.
Forget it if: You think sushi is best saved for fishing trips.
Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe
Where: In the Gold River Town Centre, near Gold Country Boulevard off Sunrise Boulevard, bordering Ranco Cordova
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Information: 916-859-0787, www.saltsushi.com