Eat, drink, and be mellow
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. ◀