The sushi chefs at Yoko’s Japanese Cuisine artistically roll arrangements of eel, spicy tuna, and thick-sliced salmon for diners to prod with discerning chopsticks. The menu reads like a voracious mariner's Christmas list with its plethora of ocean-fresh goodies, such as traditional california rolls ($3.75), tied together with delicate ribbons of seaweed. King Kong specialty rolls ($7.95) swat away hunger as if it were a pesky airplane, daring tongues to scale a towering combination of hamachi, salmon, and crab to reach a pinnacle of spicy squid. The deep-fried Dangerous roll ($7.95) lives life on the plate’s edge with a bold assortment of fish, avocado, and scallions, and the spicy scallop salad creeps down the slopes of the crab- and unagi-packed Volcano roll ($7.95). Diners need not scan the ocean’s vast horizon to find vegetarian or cooked options, as herbivore-friendly shiitake mushroom rolls ($2.95) and grilled chicken-teriyaki entrees ($8.95) placate taste buds of all persuasions in the restaurant’s low-key dining room.
With more than 40 different specialty rolls in their repertoire, you'd almost expect to see all of the ingredients jotted down on the sushi chefs' palms. For the volcano roll alone, they have to wrap spicy tuna and asparagus inside a sheath of salmon and avocado before crowning it with snow crab, crunchy tempura flakes, and scallions. If anyone is up to the task of building these impressive amalgamations from memory, though, it's the sushi masters at Zen Bistro—they boast a combined 20 years of experience, and make it a point of pride to present each of their dishes as a piece of art. This commitment to distinctive menu items and attractive presentation is what helped transform this once small corner sushi joint in Sacramento to a full-grown restaurant in downtown Millbrae. Here, Zen Bistro surrounds its guests with an elegant atmosphere to match its unique creations, boasting seats along a sushi bar, blue ambient lighting, and framed autographs of the yellowtail fish starring in the popular Fong & Fong roll.
There are certain accepted rules to constructing maki rolls: They must be round. They generally contain tuna and a handful of vegetables. Chefs at Go Sushi Japanese Restaurant try to throw those precepts out the window and let their imaginations run wild. They build the Arch roll—a deep-fried concoction of spicy tuna and cream cheese—into an actual arch, and they top the Firecracker roll with an explosion of crabmeat and tobiko the color of orange flames. The chefs even have fun naming their creations, such as the Lion King roll, the Black Widow roll, and the George roll, named for the president who famously chopped down his father's cherry tree to make souvenir chopsticks for the Marquis de Lafayette. Underneath the lighted orbs and Japanese lanterns that dangle from the dining-room ceiling, servers also deliver chicken or beef covered in teriyaki sauce or submerged in bowls of noodle soup.
Live Sushi blends tradition with innovation in the rice-wrapped fish arts at all three of its welcoming restaurants, including the newest Live Sushi outpost in the Mission. The neighborhood sushi bar at this popular location offers the same lunch, dinner, and drink menus as the other two locations, as well as an experienced waitstaff and sushi chefs, who demonstrate their skills at a sushi bar outfitted with seats for dining spectators. Here, the chefs carefully assemble nigiri and complex rolls such as the deep-fried california roll topped with bonito and the Romeo and Juliet roll that tells a love story in three acts of hamachi, shrimp tempura, and spicy unagi sauce. A live scallop entree showcases the mollusk’s culinary range by serving it nigiri style and tempura-fried, and horse mackerel comes lightly seared and dressed in a special sauce. Live Sushi’s drink menu lists 25 premium sakes, including junmai, ginjo, daigingo, and honjonzo varieties, to accompany the seafaring fare.
Asian food is a familiar part of California's culinary scene, but Nombe Restaurant’s Japanese-style tapas and brunch still manage to surprise. At dinner, parties can share small plates of deep-fried brussels sprouts with oranges and fish sauce, or they can indulge in a seven-course Kaiseki meal. The brunch menu hits sweeter notes; beignets with chocolate-orange sauce, and nori and wasabi hollandaise color a Japanese-style benedict.
Nombe actually translates to “someone who likes to drink heartily,” so of course the restaurant features a thoughtful selection of libations. In addition to 90 kinds of sake and 8 Japanese beers, patrons can sip on blood-orange mimosas and bloody marys spiced with shichimi togarashi. Onsite sake classes help diners avoid an embarrassing mix-up between rice wine and rice vinegar, and traditional Japanese sushi-making/team-building classes give them a turn inside the kitchen.
Behind a sleek sushi bar, the chefs at Maru Maru wrap seaweed around fresh fish before slicing rolls into creative make sushi. Pieces of sashimi and nigiri bolster dishes such as Japanese teriyaki and vegetable tempura. Bright wall sconces illuminate rows of seating in the tile-floored restaurant, where groups of diners share their deepest regrets over platters of sushi.
The cooks at Tenka Japanese Restaurant grill squid, deep-fry oysters, and assemble raw orders of sushi with the steady hands of a brain surgeon building a house of cards. Sushi rolls can grow around simple cores of tuna and cucumber or more piquant fillings like spicy mayonnaise, asparagus, or shrimp tempura. For even more robust flavor, the cooks skewer beef after first marinating it in soy sauce and sake, or deep-fry pork cutlets and add them to curry rice.