Eat, drink, and be mel­low

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review -

Noth­ing ground­break­ing goes on at Masa Sushi, a one­room sushi joint tucked into the min­i­mall of Casa Solana. There’s noth­ing wrong with that, of course. We don’t have to have our minds blown at ev­ery meal — some­times we just want to eat din­ner with­out any show, with­out any rhap­sodic gush­ing and ec­static eye-rolling. Af­ter all, the ori­gins of sushi are hum­ble. The sushi we know (ni­giri style) was in­vented in 19th-cen­tury Ja­pan as a fast food.

Fo­cus­ing only on the de­li­cious Ja­panese food you’re plan­ning to sam­ple, don’t let the ded­i­cated Cross Fit en­thu­si­asts make you feel guilty as you walk by Undis­puted Fit­ness on the way to Masa Sushi. The space isn’t fancy, and the am­bi­ence is pre­tense-free. Yel­low and green walls and red table­cloths make the place feel warm and cheer­ful. The dé­cor is eclec­tic, with pa­per lanterns hang­ing from the ceil­ing, a model ship and fake fish on the cor­ner of the bar, and color­ful chil­dren’s draw­ings posted at the end of the sushi counter. Shoji screens mounted in the all-glass store­front win­dow help make the restau­rant feel a lit­tle more pri­vate and less like a fish­bowl. Servers are at­ten­tive and friendly in a busi­nesslike way.

Prob­a­bly the best ap­proach to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the beau­ti­ful sim­plic­ity of sushi is with sashimi and ni­giri. Our 12-piece chi­rashi plate was a gor­geous, al­most glow­ing rain­bow of fish — tuna, sal­mon, snap­per, and white­fish — the colors and tex­tures mildly gelati­nous and but­tery and rem­i­nis­cent of Turk­ish de­light. The fish wasn’t ice-cold, and while that might seem off-putting in the­ory, it al­lowed the fla­vors to blos­som.

If rolls are more your speed, the menu has an ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion to choose from (as well as a few spe­cials listed on the white­board just in­side the door). The rain­bow roll cov­ers most of the bases of the sushi world. Crab (ac­tu­ally surimi, or im­i­ta­tion crab), cu­cum­ber, and av­o­cado are stuffed in­side, while lovely lay­ers of tuna, sal­mon, and white­fish are draped across the top. The moun­tain roll is a seafood smor­gas­bord, com­bin­ing tuna, sal­mon, yel­low­tail, and masago roe. Bur­dock root gives it an earthy crunch, and the mys­te­ri­ous “spicy sauce” pro­vides a creamy but pep­pery punch. It was a pow­er­ful, entrancing whole-mouth fla­vor com­bi­na­tion, and we en­joyed it so much that we al­most or­dered it twice. The spicy scal­lop roll of­fers a cool com­bi­na­tion of brini­ness and spice along with an in­trigu­ingly creamy con­sis­tency. Among all that soft­ness, cu­cum­ber and bur­dock root are wel­come. The sal­mon-skin roll killed with its rib­bons of crisp skin, smelt egg, more of that ro­bust bur­dock root, fresh sprouts, and bonito — all driz­zled with a sweet, soy-based sauce.

Veg­e­tar­i­ans will ap­pre­ci­ate the gen­er­ous list of fish-free op­tions. To its ros­ter of stan­dards like av­o­cado and cu­cum­ber, Masa adds sweet potato and as­para­gus tem­pura. The siz­able “veg­giepil­lar” roll is mild but very rich, stuffed with sweet potato, as­para­gus tem­pura, and zuc­chini and topped with per­fectly creamy and gor­geously green av­o­cado. Try the tamago — a Ja­panese omelet served ni­giri-style on a lit­tle block of rice. Once you get over any ir­ra­tional fears of eat­ing cold scram­bled eggs, you’ll revel in its sweet-and-salty fla­vor com­bi­na­tion and its com­fort­ingly spongy tex­ture.

If sushi in any form just isn’t your thing, don’t fret. Plenty of other dishes are on of­fer here, from tem­pura to noo­dles. The oc­to­pus salad has an in­trigu­ing com­bi­na­tion of fla­vors and tex­tures — chewy oc­to­pus, crunchy cel­ery, creamy av­o­cado, and veg­e­tal spinach. The cloudy se­same dress­ing was rich in a nutty way and had aro­matic un­der­tones of gin­ger, but the salad was thor­oughly drown­ing in it. When we stirred the de­li­ciously murky broth of our seafood miso soup, we found lots of lit­tle scal­lops, thread­like crab, dark green sea­weed fil­a­ments, and tofu cubes swim­ming there. Much like the chi­rashi plate, it had a closer-to-room-tem­per­a­ture qual­ity, not some­thing one gen­er­ally en­joys in a soup. We gob­bled up our gy­oza, half-moon-shaped dumplings with a salty, slightly toothy won­ton-wrap­per skin and a supremely sa­vory fill­ing of ten­der cab­bage and chicken. The slip­pery emer­ald strands of the sea­weed salad had a pleas­ant fresh crunch, but it was bland over­all. Re­mem­ber that scene in In­di­ana Jones and the Tem­ple

of Doom where the group sits down to a din­ner of snake sur­prise, bugs, eye­ball soup, and mon­key brains? Masa Sushi’s pe­cu­liarly de­li­cious Mon­key Ball ap­pe­tizer sounds like some­thing off that menu, but it’s ac­tu­ally noth­ing so ex­otic. Large mush­rooms are stuffed with spicy tuna, given a light tem­pura bat­ter, quickly fried till barely golden, cut into seg­ments, and topped with a creamy-spicy sauce and a sprin­kling of se­same seeds and green onion. That’s about as far as you can get from the raw sim­plic­ity of tra­di­tional sushi, but even the best rules were meant to be bro­ken some­times. ◀

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