Sushi joints are kind of like dive bars. They're kind of like diners. They're sort of like coffee shops. Sure, you'll probably go to any café in a caffeine pinch, and if a friend requests your presence at your second favorite dive, you likely won't protest—too much. But nothing will really compare to the kitschy décor, heavy pours, friendly service, greasy smell, free refills or whatever else keeps you coming back to your main hang.
Sitting at a sushi bar is much the same. You form a connection, however loose, with the chef. You can see the chef. You know the chef. You trust the chef.
While those strong ties are certainly endearing, it can make diners apprehensive to venture out past the favorite.
Personally, I'm a Yamato girl. I like the intimate, homey and unpretentious feel. I like the way you can catch chef Naguro Nakajima rolling his eyes ever so subtly at newbies when they grace his bar with silly (yes, there are some) questions. I like the uni. I like the amount of wasabi spread carefully between fish and rice. I like the hearty, fatty tonkotsu broth of the ramen. I know I can get my fix satisfied there time and time again. It's safe for me.
However, Yamato isn't the only option in the sushi world of Tucson and monogamy just isn't healthy when it comes to dining. Enter in a new sidepiece: Sachiko.
Sachiko serves regions of Tucson that can sometimes feel like sushi deserts—the south side and the east side—with two locations. Off Wilmot Road, you'll find the latter, which offers a spacious dining room with bar seating that isn't so done up and hip that you feel like you're in an episode of Sex in the City.
While the digs feel comfortable, the service is, unfortunately, not on point. On one visit, I placed a drink order three times (water, yeah, water please, fine, Sapporo) over the course of 15 minutes before anything came to the table (and before any food was ordered). On a different visit, the server came within two minutes of being seated and asked for my order. She walked away, seemingly peeved, when I said I'd need a couple more minutes. With a menu including a full sushi bar, yakitori, tempura, donburi, yakisoba, udon, ramen, salads, fried rice and some Korean options too, a couple minutes seemed normal to me, but hey—what do I know?
Those issues aside, Sachiko does plenty right. Delicate, bright and fresh slices of intriguingly floral red snapper, lightly sweet halibut and buttery salmon take center stage at the sushi bar. The walls are covered in specials, offering fresh catches for those looking to try something different. A good place for anyone to start is either at the Sushi Deluxe tray if you're solo ($13.95 for 6 pieces of nigiri) or the Small Sushi tray if you're with a friend ($27 for 14 pieces). Both come with California rolls for more timid orderers, but also offer a roulette-style selection of fish to try.
The straight-forward options from the bar are contrasted by dishes like the green mussels and the Hawaiian poki bowl. The mussels, for instance, come smothered in cheese and mayo, baked and then topped with roe—a decent option if you're skittish around shellfish, but not so if you want to taste the mussels themselves. While the poki salad ($11.95) offers tuna in the raw, lightly dressed in a sweet, tangy poki dressing with distinct sesame flavor, the dish is needlessly embellished with flavorless greens that add crunch, but little else.
Simplicity works well for Sachiko in some instance, like in the seaweed salad ($5.95) which is a pretty on-the-nose take on the classic side. Other times, such as with the hiyashi tofu ($4.95), letting ingredients speak didn't work to the dish's favor. Fresh tofu is a vastly underrated ingredient in this country. When prepared with care, the texture is akin to a velvety panna cotta and the flavor is luxurious and creamy. So, when a bowl of obviously straight-from-the-package tofu (you could see packaging indents in it not unlike your aunt's "homemade" cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving) came to the table, it was disappointing to say the least. The server warned when I ordered that, "most Americans don't like that," but I have a feeling very few people, regardless of where they're from, like eating raw tofu on its own straight out of the container.
The ups-and-downs of finding a new ancillary Japanese eatery for my dining roster luckily ended on a high note at Sachiko. With seven ramen options ($8.95-$11.95), including shoyu, miso, tonkotsu, Tokyo-style, curry and more, the restaurant positions itself to be a haven for broth lovers to sate their unquenchable soup lust. However, the secret weapon at Sachiko is the damn near perfect noodles that go in those broths. Chewy, wavy and substantial, the noodles encourage slurping until the soup is finished.
This, of course, is just a small sample of what Sachiko has to offer. Despite some misses, the menu overall seems one worth exploring, even if you go for lunch (tempura and sashimi bento box is the way to go here). So, if Sachiko isn't already in your roster when those nigiri cravings take over, maybe it's time to add in an alternate and (briefly) put your number one pick on the bench. After all, as long as the fish is fresh and the knife is sharp, venturing outside of your sushi joint norm can't really hurt—too much..