But my proverbial writer's block melted away after dining at Sushi Yukari.
We arrived at the tiny strip-mall restaurant on a Friday evening to find the place practically empty. We'd made reservations, and that seemed unnecessary. But as the meal progressed, most of the tables filled, as did the sushi bar. Obviously, this place isn't a secret. The service didn't suffer from the sudden influx of customers, though. Everything was brought to the table in a timely manner, and with a sincere smile.
Shortly after we sat down, our server brought us a bowl of warm, wonderful edamame and a bowl with two white towelettes that resembled miniature marshmallows. She poured warm water over them, and they grew.
Décor is minimal, but there is a big-screen TV that was showing a nature film that night. Other nights, the TV offers old movies, and there's karaoke on Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. (If you are so inclined, you need to make reservations.)
The menu is huge and a tad overwhelming, with some photos. Each ingredient was listed, so there was no confusion as to what you were getting.
John ordered a series of appetizers and single items: the soft shell crab ($6), a pork egg roll ($3.50) and shrimp tempura ($5). I ordered the salmon-skin salad ($5) and the eight-piece combo plate ($14.50). We both ordered lemonade ($1.80).
To start the meal, our server brought us each a steaming bowl of miso soup. I also received a small salad that was included with my sushi order.
The soup was quite satisfying, with bits of tofu, green onions and seaweed floating about. The greens in my salad, tossed with a ponzu dressing, tasted so fresh, I wondered if they'd just been picked from a garden.
John's food was brought first. The egg rolls were tiny, but so packed with a flavorful blend of pork and veggies that they were bursting at the seams. Hot mustard--the kind that brings tears to your eyes--was served alongside. The soft-shell crab, served with a ponzu side, was covered with a crisp breadcrumb coating. I loved it, although John wasn't entirely impressed. However, he was impressed by the tempura shrimp: five large shrimp in a light batter were stacked teepee-like. This is one of those dishes that I would easily order again.
My salmon-skin salad arrived momentarily. I found it a tad fishier than others I've tried, but with a toss of that ponzu dressing, it improved quite a bit.
Then came the sushi. The plate consisted of shrimp, snow crab, red snapper, salmon, tuna, yellowtail, albacore, and unagi. As expected, each piece was a small work of art: a dab of bright orange roe here, a belt of nori there, the tiniest slice of green onion possible atop a smear of rich, brown sauce elsewhere. I was impressed with the size of each piece, but what knocked me out was the rice: perfectly sticky and ever-so-slightly sweet, it enhanced the fish in every way.
For dessert, John ordered the cheesecake ($4.50), the weekly special. The honey toast caught my eye ($6). Our server told me it was a big serving--as a warning, I guess.
The cheesecake was delicious and different. It felt almost like a dense sponge cake (tofu might be involved in the prep). Thankfully, it was only slightly sweet. All in all, this was a nice ending to the meal.
My honey toast was not. It consisted of three thicker-than-Texas toast slices of Japanese white bread (as explained in the menu), topped with two generous scoops of vanilla ice cream and hot honey. Within seconds, the warm honey froze up. It was impossible to eat and bland.
Our second visit came in the middle of the week, and again, the place really filled up while we were there.
We each ordered an appetizer and a dinner plate. John ordered the tempura salmon and the Hawaiian maguro ($17): ahi tuna in garlic soy sauce. I ordered a crunchy shrimp roll ($7.50) and the Japanese ocean scallop with lemon pepper ($18).
After more of the comforting miso soup and another bowl of salad, our appetizers were at the table. The tempura again was perfect: a light, toothsome batter covered six paddles of juicy salmon. And my crispy shrimp roll was divine. Tempura shrimp, cucumber and avocado were wrapped in that wonderful rice and nori, then topped off with toasted tempura flakes and orange roe. This could have been a satisfying meal itself.
The same cannot be said of our entrées. Both the tuna--which was an odd color brown all the way through--and the scallops were overcooked and slightly tough. They were served with cubes of baked tofu, potato salad, a bowl of white rice and fruit. It was a lot of food, for sure, but the quality didn't come close to that of our previous experience.
Next visit, I'll order sushi only--and plenty of it. I'll order one of the sushi combos for two, because in the case of Sushi Yukari, eight pieces is not enough.