Tucson was never the first place that came to mind when I thought of great sushi. In fact, when I moved to the desert, I figured it was one pleasure I would have to abandon. Not only was I wrong, but I have been pleasantly surprised by my sushi options. Tucson has everything from the "all-you-can-eat" to the "I-can-eat-a-lot-more-than-that" sushi bars. I had yet to be knocked off my socks by any of these places until a couple of recent visits to Sushi on Oracle.
This six-month-old restaurant is the most recent addition to the Orange Grove Village Shopping Center on the northwest corner of Oracle and Orange Grove. With multiple Japanese restaurants just south and east of Sushi on Oracle, you know this restaurant must be on the top of its game to survive. And that is exactly what they are.
This tiny establishment holds only 10 tables and 12 seats at the sushi bar. There is just enough room to walk between tables, and the small sushi bar leaves just enough space for the one-man show, and owner, Yoshinobu Shiratori. Once inside, you are anxiously greeted by Yoshi (that is what his friends call him) or one of the gracious servers. If there are any open seats at the bar when you visit, do yourself a favor and sit in front of the action. During my first visit, Yoshi informed me that I was sitting at the chef's table. Apparently this meant that he would pick what to make for me.
"You just say stop," he said laughingly.
Of course anyone can order anything they want from anywhere in the restaurant, but part of the fun of the chef's table is the surprise. You need only have a love of raw fish and an open mind. They had a typical sushi menu, and a variety of appetizers, salads and combinations to choose from. As always, I wanted to sample the dish named after the place, The Sushi on Oracle Salad ($13). It is not my usual choice at a sushi bar. I made it clear to Yoshi that I wasn't picky. Not to worry, he assured me, "I make beautiful salad for you!"
I watched him make other dishes before my salad. I was impressed with the time and patience he had with each order. Even with a line of tickets he made sure each plate was perfect. My salad was presented as a mound of mixed greens piled high and dressed in the house vinaigrette--a soy sauce and vinegar mixture with Yoshi's secret ingredients. It was topped with everything I imagined: tuna, halibut, snapper, shrimp, crab and octopus. This was a fine example of one of his exquisite presentations. The person dining next to me took one look and ordered the same thing.
On a separate visit for dinner, I had a chance to sample a wider variety of dishes. The dinner menu is almost identical to lunch, except for the larger portions, slightly increased prices and more combination dishes. We had quite a few questions deciphering the menu. Luckily, our server was quite knowledgeable and had no problem translating for us.
Our dinners began with bowls of hot miso soup and edamame (cold cooked soybeans in the pod). We ordered the rainbow roll and the Las Vegas roll, as well as the dynamite for appetizers. Both rolls are common at sushi bars. The rainbow roll is rolled with crab and avocado in sticky white rice, and topped with tuna, salmon, whitefish and shrimp. The Las Vegas Roll looked just as spectacular. It was rolled with salmon and cream cheese, then tempura fried and drizzled with sweet eel sauce. The dynamite was the last to arrive, but certainly a favorite. It was a deliciously rich mix of whitefish and a spicy mayonnaise baked in foil, served with lemon wedges. There was definitely enough for a whole table to split.
Our main courses arrived slowly, but beautifully. The tempura udon was a giant brothy bowl of white flour noodles and krab (imitation crab). The broth had a light garlic and ginger flavor to it. It was served with an even more enormous plate of tempura shrimp and vegetables meant to be dunked in the soup. The tempura and salmon teriyaki, one of their 11 combinations served for dinner, was a generous portion of salmon with a sweet teriyaki glaze. The fish was served with a mixed salad and those gigantic tempura vegetables and shrimp. The salmon was a little dry, but made up for it in flavor. The ginger pork arrived last. It was bite-size pieces of pork with a sweet ginger sauce that really emphasized the flavor of the meat. The pork, too, was served with a green salad tossed in Yoshi's secret dressing. If you were to look at our table at that point, one may think we had 12 people joining us. The folks at Sushi on Oracle are not messing around. These were some serious portion sizes.
When we ordered an eel roll and mochi ice cream for dessert, our server exclaimed, "You are still hungry?" Well, we weren't ... really. Sometimes you just need closure to a wonderful meal. Much to my surprise the eel that my guest ordered as dessert was a delicious sweet treat on rice. The mochi ice cream was like nothing I had ever tasted. We ordered the red bean ice cream. The mochi part of the dessert was the gummy rice wrapper around the ice cream dusted with powdered sugar. There were four tiny pieces served on toothpicks in a fish bowl on ice. Sounds weird, yes, but if you have never tried this before, I strongly suggest it.
And so finally, after two hours of dining, our meal had to come to an end. We said good-bye to Yoshi, and rolled ourselves out the door. On the way home we all agreed that Sushi on Oracle was our new favorite spot for sushi, not to mention one of the best dining experiences I've had in a while. I know all of you sushi-heads in town already have your favorite restaurants. I highly recommend making room for this one. But get in there quickly, once the word gets out you'll have trouble finding a seat.