April 2012 – This is a review of a Tucson Japanese restaurant. But first … Disclaimers:
- I have never been to Japan, so I have no idea what REALLY GOOD Japanese cuisine is supposed to taste like.
- Asian food is not my favorite.
- I have an aversion to the idea of eating seaweed and raw fish. Besides, almost every restaurant has a menu that warns us, in the smallest possible type, about the dangers of consuming uncooked or under-cooked meat. Something about deadly bacteria
That said, I feel a responsibility to my readers to at least try to overcome these admitted deficiencies and offer some reasonably reliable reviews of local Asian restaurants.
It was for this purpose that I enlisted the able assistance of my acupuncturist, Dr. Clare Zhang, who has a Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine. I recently discovered that the Chinese term ‘zhang’, loosely translated, means ‘needles’. What a coincidence. If you suffer from chronic pain, go see Dr. Clare.
More importantly for my immediate purposes, Clare, who was raised in China, has agreed to educate me as to the wonders of Asian food. She suggested we begin my remedial education at Sushi Yukari on River just East of Craycroft. She says Sushi Yukari food is, for Tucson, most like real Japanese food. Who am I to argue?
Clare said I should sample the Lotus Root (top, 2nd from left)
You who follow my reviews know that I usually take others with me. The only rule is that each guest must order something different so I can get a broad and well-rounded range of opinions. In that sense, my reviews are not mine alone.
So, last Tuesday was the big night. In addition to Clare and her 10-year-old son, Daniel, I was joined by my adopted daughter, Shana, and her family visiting us from Virginia: husband John, a career military officer, and their daughters Anna (age 9) and Isabella (age 7). Ms. Karen joined us too – reluctantly.
Ms. Karen shares my aversion to raw fish, but Shana loves sushi. And John has traveled the world courtesy of the U.S. Army and knows a great deal about Asian food. So between Clare, Shana, and John, I felt confident that I would be properly guided through the culinary mysteries of the Orient.
At 6PM on a warm mid-week spring evening, Sushi Yukari was not busy and we were seated right away. The restaurant is located in a nondescript east side shopping center, never a place I would look for exceptionally good food. This particular establishment is small, clean, and ambience-wise, somewhat sterile.
Our waitress, a young Japanese woman who never introduced herself, began an evening of efficient, if impersonal, service.
The Sushi Yukari menu is beyond extensive. Something like twelve pages with color photographs of the various choices. Shana, John, and Clare were oowing and aahing at these pictures, exclaiming how wonderful everything looked. I looked at those same pictures and thought to myself how unappealing everything looked. Oh well, I was here to taste and learn. I steeled myself for the worst.
In order to avoid having to even sample a bite of sushi, Ms. Karen ordered beef curry. She observed that it was sweeter and not as spicy as the curry dishes we experienced in London. She pronounced it “OK”.
The children each ordered from the kids’ menu. I heard no complaints, except Anna didn’t care for the teriyaki chicken. I tried it and it was OK, but not exceptional. I also sampled Isabella’s tempura which was better than the teriyaki chicken but typical of children’s menus, somewhat bland.
We more adventuresome adults ordered a variety:
- I like scallops a lot, so we got the baked scallops.
- Shana ordered a seaweed salad with sesame seed dressing and generously offered to share it with me. Oh, joy!
- Clare ordered a plate of Lotus Root and said I just had to try it. I did. It tasted like water chestnuts dipped in soy sauce.
- And we ordered the BIG #2 to share. It was a bit confusing to me because the menu said that a BIG #2 includes: California roll, spicy tuna roll, red snapper, shrimp, snow crab, tuna, yellowtail, and albacore. These last three seemed redundant since they are all varieties of tuna. Perhaps it’s a Japanese thing.
- Additionally, John ordered the Scorpion Roll. I have no idea what this was, but it was tasty.
The sushi was displayed in military precision.
On their respective platters, these delicacies were presented in precise rows according to type. Actually, the presentation looked a little too militaristic. On the other hand, there was a certain symmetry to each dish.
When our waitress brought Shana’s seaweed salad, she also brought two samples of warm sake’, a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. Apparently, there are many grades of sake’ and I have no idea if our sample was Japan’s finest or something less. Our samples came in the tiniest vessels – no bigger than a thimble (thankfully). What does sake’ taste like? Warm firewater.
The BIG #2 comes with a dab of green paste. Clare said it’s called ‘wasabi’. She instructed me to take a tiny bit and mix it with some soy sauce in a very tiny dipping bowl. I don’t actually know what wasabi is, but it tastes like horseradish and has the same hair-raising effect.
‘Masterfully’ taking chopsticks in fingers, I pinched a glob of tuna-rice-wrapped in seaweed, dipped it in the wasabi, closed my eyes, and took my first bite of sushi. I was immediately relieved of my sinus congestion. WOW!
Clare opined that perchance I had put too much wasabi in my soy dip. Nevertheless, I was now in a heightened state of awareness.
Shana shoved the seaweed salad in my direction and said, “Here, try this. It’s really good.” To my surprise, it really was.
The meal proceeded well; the adults, sans Ms. Karen with her curry beef, sampled from the various offerings. The baked scallops dish was good but certainly not the best scallops I’ve ever had. The scallops came with some kind of sushi roll topped with what was described as spicy mayo. It tasted like spiced-up Thousand Island dressing. I liked it.
To my delight, I also liked the California roll, although I have nothing to compare it to. It tasted like flavored rice. Kinda sweet.
To my unsophisticated Anglo taste buds, the raw fish – snapper, tuna, etc. – all tasted pretty much the same. And once dipped in the wasabi sauce, it all pretty much tasted like horseradish and soy sauce.
I asked Clare about this. “The sauce does make everything taste similar, but that’s what most people do. Plus wasabi with soy sauce brings out some flavor to me.”
In total, the entire dinner for 5 adults and 3 children came to $21 each, including tip. Not bad, but not a bargain either. Nevertheless, at least now I know what sushi tastes like. It tastes like horseradish and soy sauce.
Afterward, I asked my guests, who were all more knowledgeable about Japanese cuisine than me, to rate Sushi Yukari. Shana and John gave it a 4-saguaro: Very Good.
I asked Dr. Clare to rate our dining experience. She gave Sushi Yukari 5-Saguaros. “Everything excellent.”
I would have rated Sushi Yukari a 3-Saguaro, but who am I to argue with someone raised on Asian food? Besides, Clare has volunteered her sister Stella, the foodie in her family, to take me to another Asian restaurant next month.
5655 E. River Rd., Suite 151, Tucson
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