Fish tales

The Rawbar cultivates the art of sushi

FISH CHIPPERS Chef Ryan Rogers and head Chef Mike Tanaka get rolling for the lunch crowd at the Raw Bar.

FISH CHIPPERS Chef Ryan Rogers and head Chef Mike Tanaka get rolling for the lunch crowd at the Raw Bar.

Photo By Tom Angel

Belly up to The Rawbar: It’s located at the corner of 4th and Broadway, downtown Chico. Phone: 897-0626; fax: 897-0871.

If you have some leisure time during the lunch hour, go to the Rawbar and sit at the beautiful, marble-topped counter. After several previous visits, during which we sat at tables, we opted one day to sit at the counter. Behind it stood numerous colorful containers of sashimi, nigiri, rice and fresh vegetables.

We were treated to a visual display of sushi art in the making, a mesmerizing experience. Two white-clad sushi chefs demonstrated their considerable talents, working quietly and meditatively, knives flashing as they expertly cut the glistening, pink flesh. With nimble, trained fingers, they adroitly coaxed seaweed, fish, rice and other ingredients into perfect California rolls.

As we watched, the chefs gladly answered our questions. “It’s a great profession,” Ryan Rogers told us, “because it’s so straightforward. It’s all before you. There are no gimmicks.”

Rogers explained how sometimes, when a 200-pound tuna arrives in the kitchen, it’s his job to cut it up. “Once you know the skeleton of the fish, it’s pretty self-explanatory,” he said, emphasizing the importance of using the whole fish.

Although he’s been working as a sushi chef for about three years, Rogers said, “You can always get better—there’s always something new to learn.” Apparently The Rawbar’s owner, Jeff Anderson, offers a class through Butte College continuing education for those who would like to learn more about making sushi.

My luncheon companion noted that the sushi-making was akin to a Japanese tea ceremony—only it was a food ceremony. We could have sat at that countertop for hours, watching the emergence of one aesthetically pleasing dish after another.

We did finally order, and I had something new to me: the Tempura California Roll ($6.95), which is on the (M-F) Daily Specials menu. The roll was fabulous, and it came with a pleasant miso soup and a side of edamame. The Daily Specials menu is highly recommended for those seeking lunch.

My luncheon partner tried the specially offered Chef’s Platter, a combo plate that includes several types of sushi, along with a Grilled Chicken Rice Bowl (with fresh pineapple, steamed broccoli and seven-spice slam sauce). He discovered the sushi went well with the daikon and wasabi served with it, and the chicken bowl tasted superb and was nicely presented, too.

Sushi aficionados can’t go wrong at the Rawbar, and its menu also offers many items for non-sushi eaters (because we all have at least one friend who is too squeamish to eat raw fish). There’s an exquisite wine list, too, along with vegetarian selections.

The one drawback was the background music, bass-pounding techno that did nothing to enhance the aesthetics of the food and the chefs in action. Management should give more thought to this, since music is a huge part of the ambience. (This is a common problem. All too often we find ourselves in eating establishments facing a pleasant enough meal but having our ears assaulted by music not quite aligned with the sensibilities of the patrons.)

All in all, however, the Rawbar provides a delightful lunch or dinner experience. The waitpersons were 100 percent on top of every nuance, and they were knowledgeable about the menu, providing excellent descriptions of the dishes we were interested in. The restaurant’s interior offers a contemporary, sleek look, and while you watch the sushi chefs wielding their knives, you can occasionally look up and glance out the large front windows, musing on the comings and goings of Chico life.