Do You Know Sushi? Can You Tell Your Kings Rolls From Your Wasabi?

Not only are sushi bars opening in virtually every neighborhood, but sushi chefs are working in supermarkets, at sporting venues and for catered soirees.

Sushi isn’t cheap, though an artful, varied and filling selection can be assembled for a fairly modest price if a diner shows restraint – not always easy, given the tempting diversity of sushi.

Sushi’s rising popularity looks to be due to several factors, including the naturalness and lightness of many of its elements, the broad range of ingredients with which it can be made, and the low-fat and high-nutritional composition of many of its components.

On top of that, sushi bars are casual, relaxing and convivial. And sushi can be accompanied by a rich assortment of fitting beverages – tea, sake, beer, wine and soft drinks.

Still, sushi is new to many people, so here’s an introduction to the city’s latest culinary fashion.

Slam dunk: Our starting five Kings rolls

Many Japanese restaurants in the Sacramento area offer diners a “Kings roll.” Whether inspired by the team or in tribute, what do they say of the Sacramento Kings?

Akebono Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar
8685 Auburn-Folsom Road, Granite Bay
Kings roll: $9.50

Almost as big and bright as Arco Arena, but quieter, Akebono is home to a cohesive, balanced and fresh Kings roll. At its core is crunchy and meaty shrimp tempura, surrounded by rice and nori, and topped with slices of salmon and snapper, a sprinkling of black tobiko and a drizzle of a sweet and spicy mayo sauce.

2310 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento
Kings roll: $10

The Kozen Kings roll, pictured on this page, is no gimmick, but a truly noble creation, down to its sparkly crown of black tobiko. Rarely are sushi rolls as colorful and compatible as this one. Hamachi – also known as yellowtail, but don’t make much of that – wraps around the outside with a rosy tint and silver sash.

New Eddoko Japanese Sushi & Noodle Restaurant
1724 Broadway, Sacramento
Kings roll: $9.50

For spice, color and generosity, the Kings roll at New Eddoko is a strong playoff contender. It’s paired with buttery avocado, crowned with fresh salmon, and seasoned with a sesame cream sauce and a potent dab of chili sauce.

Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
1530 J St., Sacramento
Kings roll: $8.50

Though Mikuni turns out the most creative sushi rolls in town, its Kings roll is surprisingly conservative, consisting of sesame chicken surrounded with rice and an orange-hued soybean wrap. It’s a starter roll, for rookies wary of raw seafood, spicy ingredients and the sturdiness of nori. The roll is a carry-over from the days when Mikuni had the sushi concession at Arco Arena.

Sushi Nobu
2939 Spafford St., Davis
Kings roll: $7.50

Tempura shrimp is at the core of Sushi Nobu’s Kings roll, surrounded by matchstick cucumber, a dab of avocado, a bit of crab and an inner wrap of nori. This pleasant combination is topped with a delicate cream sauce and a scattering of bright orange smelt roe.

Guide for beginners

Pulling up a seat at the sushi bar for the first time? Here’s what to expect:

Wasabi: Beware – that green mound off to one side of the sushi tray is a fiery condiment traditionally made with wasabi, a root related to mustard and native to Japan. (Horseradish often is substituted.) Sushi chefs apply a dab of wasabi between fish and rice; some people mix wasabi and soy sauce into a dipping sauce.

Gari: Thin slices of ginger pickled in vinegar and sugar, used to refresh the palate between bites of sushi.

Shoyu: Sauce made from fermented soybeans, wheat and salt, used for dipping sushi. Tamari is a thicker form, made almost entirely from soybeans, without wheat.

Nori: Brittle sheets of dried algae, used for wrapping or garnishing sushi.

Nigiri sushi (nigiri-zushi, edomae-zushi): The original sushi, a pressed ball or rectangle of rice topped with a slice of fis.

Edamame: Steamed or boiled, fuzzy pods containing soybeans, which customarily greet newly seated guests. Only the beans are eaten.

Maki sushi (maki-zushi, nori-maki): Rolls of rice filled with seafood, vegetables, etc., often with a wrap of nori inside or outside.

Temaki sushi: Cones of nori filled with seafood and various other ingredients.

Chirashi sushi: Assorted seafood, and possibly other ingredients, such as vegetables and mushrooms, scattered over rice, often in a box.

Miso: A salty, fermented soybean paste that is combined with dashi, or fish stock, in a cloudy, hot soup often served with sushi.

Agari, or ocha: The green tea customarily served with sushi.

Chopsticks or fingers?

It’s up to the diner, but traditionally sushi is eaten by picking up each piece with your fingers. (The damp hand cloth that is part of the place settings at many sushi bars can be used to clean up at the start and the end of a meal.)

Then what?

* Customarily, sushi chefs know just how much wasabi to slip in between the rice and the topping, but Americans are habituated to pouring soy sauce into the small plate that is part of the setting, then stirring in a little – or a lot – of additional wasabi.

* In selecting seafood, you can jump all around, deciding by personal whim.

Neophytes, however, may want to start with the lighter white fishes and work their way to heavier and richer specimens. Ask the chef for help.

* Dip the topping of the sushi into the soy sauce, not the bottom block of rice, which will absorb more of the sauce than is fitting for the delicate seafood. Also, put it in your mouth upside down, so the topping, rather than the rice is what you first taste.

* While much sushi traditionally has been made to be eaten in one bite, don’t force it; two or three bites often are needed to consume the substantial pieces favored by sushi bars in the United States.

* The thin slices of pickled ginger, or gari, off to one side of the platter are for refreshing the palate between bites of sushi.

* If other guests are waiting to eat at the sushi bar, it’s impolite to linger and socialize after you have eaten.

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Section: TASTE
Page: F1

Copyright 2005 The Sacramento Bee
Record Number: SAC_0405025758

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