Sushi Japon puts it all together with restraint and good taste
6801 N. I-35, 323-6663
Monday-Friday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm
The folks at Sushi Japon have successfully transformed what we believe to have once been a Shoney's into a calm and peaceful Japanese retreat on the east shoulder of I-35, just north of Highway 290 East. The atmosphere is subdued and dark, with the sushi bar on a raised platform, center stage. Service is efficient and fast: When we gave our rather complicated order to our server, she nodded, wrote nothing down, and scampered off to the kitchen, toting out the correct food shortly after. No names given, no idle chitchat, just efficient service bravo!
The two best things we've had on the menu are both appetizers. Gindala ($9.95) is black cod (sable cod to the Yankees, and a fish that you don't see swimming through Austin menus very often) marinated lightly in miso and broiled. This is the best fish we've eaten in town in the last year or so: succulent and perfectly fresh, with a miso glaze that graces instead of overpowers. Hamachi Kama ($11.95) is superb: yellowtail cheek (which most fishermen will tell you is the best part of the fish) that just melts in your mouth. These two are so good, they need to be stars of their own show, somewhere over in entrée land.
Under the salad selections we tried a couple. Seaweed Salad ($4.95) is a mound of crisp dark seaweed mixed lightly with mung bean noodles, resting on a foundation of crisp, sweet cucumber slivers. The dressing has just the right amount of sesame oil, and the combination of flavors nicely done. Combination Sunomono ($7.50) is a mix of shrimp, octopus, and surimi with cucumber in a sprightly and sweet rice vinegar marinade. It looks cute in the mega martini glass, but it's hard to consume from that altitude with chopsticks: much better when dumped unceremoniously in a bowl.
Happy hour is from 4 to 7, so we were compelled to order some ice cold Kirin Ichiban on tap to accompany our water. I have to say that this is the perfect beer for Japanese food: a light, crisp lager with a slightly malty taste and a semidry hop finish with a touch of bitterness. We loved it. Chef's rolls are $8 during happy hour, so we tried a Hot Night Roll (regular, $11.95), a long reverse roll filled with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, and avocado. The spicy sauce draped over the top was not very spicy, and creamy. I'll probably get it sauceless the next time.
For sushi, we tried several options. The Spicy Tuna Roll ($6.95) is made with minced tuna that's very fresh, and paired with avocado. Our only complaint is that it's not spicy enough for a spicy roll, and it needs something with crunch for textural contrast. The Spider Roll ($7.95) was a delight: crunchy soft shell crab, masago, and cucumber no complaints here. Unagi ($1.95, fresh water eel) is the best we've had in town: moist, rich, and succulent. Hamachi ($2.50, yellowtail) was cut thicker than normal and impeccably fresh and buttery. The rice was properly seasoned and of a firm texture. We loved it.
For lunch one day, we had the Katsu Don ($8.95, panko-crusted fried pork cutlet) which comes in a large bowl with richly seasoned rice, thick slices of fried pork draped over the top, and a side of sweet and sour pickles. A proletarian dish nicely prepared.
We capped off one meal with a couple of the ice cream offerings ($2.50 each). Plum Wine was our fave: rich and not too sweet, flecked with bits of pickled plum. The Green Tea Ice Cream was vivid green and a tad grainy, with specks of powdered green tea present. We prefer the style where the tea infusion is thoroughly strained before being added to the custard, but why quibble? We ate it all.
We will go back, eat more black cod, yellowtail, and sushi, and wash it all down with many icy draft Ichibans. We've discovered a perfect combo, and it will be revisited with glee.
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org