Sushi meets style at Gen Kai

The Japanese restaurant boasts a new, chic location that offers a little something for everyone

The Jamie—a tempura-style roll featuring unagi, crab and avocado, topped with sirrana and spicy mayo.

The Jamie—a tempura-style roll featuring unagi, crab and avocado, topped with sirrana and spicy mayo.

Photo By matt siracusa

Gen Kai 605 Mangrove Ave., 345-7226
Hours: Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Thurs. 4:30-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4:30-10 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m.
Meal for one: $15-$20

Gen Kai Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar

605 Mangrove Ave.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 345-7226

I love sushi. In fact, that’s almost an understatement. So when I say Gen Kai is my favorite local sushi bar, I’m prepared to back up that statement with lots of “research.”

For a long time, like a lot of people, I was afraid of sushi. I thought it was all raw fish, and that sounded, well, icky. Then I discovered the California roll (no fish, just krab!), which eased me into what’s become one of my favorite foods—only now, I choose raw fish every time.

I’ve been eating at Gen Kai since I moved to Chico almost five years ago. I have to say, I’m both thrilled at the restaurant’s new location closer to downtown, and disappointed in its lack of tatami rooms that made the old place feel so cozy and intimate, not to mention Japanese. That said, the new spot is pretty awesome. With super high ceilings, the space feels about five times as big as it is, and the artsy chandeliers and modern tables and chairs give off an urban-chic vibe.

I am in no way the most adventurous sushi eater in Chico. I’ve seen people suck down raw quail eggs and prawns with their heads still attached—that’s a little beyond my comfort zone. But that’s really what’s so fun about most sushi restaurants—there’s something there for everyone. Gen Kai is no different.

On a recent stormy evening, my husband and I decided to pick up several different dishes for a taste test. Because I can’t go to Gen Kai without ordering some fish, I opted for the fresh sake sashimi appetizer (five slices of raw salmon for $10.95) and my husband chose the ebi tempura entrée (four large deep-fried prawns for $13.25). We each got a bowl of miso soup ($1.50) and, since we wanted to try something new, we ordered two chicken appetizers that are also offered as entrées—the yakitori (teriyaki skewers, $6.95) and kar-a-geh (fried with ginger sauce, $7.95).

The chicken dishes get a mixed review. Both were dark meat, which I love, but the teriyaki was so subtle that the yakitori ended up tasting bland. The ginger sauce served with the kar-a-geh was completely delicious, but the chicken itself was unremarkable—it was good, but nothing I’ll crave anytime soon.

We quickly moved on to the good stuff. The miso was, as always, simple and delicious, and the salmon was melt-in-your-mouth amazing. (One small criticism, though: Whoever packed the to-go box placed a lemon slice on top of the fish, and the citrus cooked the salmon a little bit by the time I took my first bite.) The tempura shrimp got rave reviews.

As I mentioned before, this was not my first time at Gen Kai. My husband actually tried sushi for the first time at the old location a few years ago, and though he was apprehensive, he now loves it. In addition to sashimi (just fish) and nigiri (fish on top of a rice ball), the sushi bar also serves up a whole slew of specialty rolls. My personal faves: the Geisha Roll (it includes a ton of different fish, including shrimp, yellowtail, tuna, salmon, halibut and tobiko—fish eggs) and the Frank Roll (tempura’d so it’s warm and crispy).

Dining in is sometimes the only option when doing sushi—especially for those fried rolls that taste best when eaten immediately. The four or five times I’ve dined at the new location, I’ve had nothing but great service. In fact, back in January, my family and friends (more than 20 of us) gathered in the restaurant’s semi-private seating area to one side of the sushi bar and the service was impeccable.

They were accommodating as well, willing and able to quickly put together a party menu beforehand that included raw and cooked sushi as well as chicken, beef and pork entrées. The entire party gave thumbs-up to the food. Something for everyone, indeed.