The new sushi

Japanese Blossoms offers a relaxing alternative

A LA CARTE<br>When the food is great, presentation makes it that much better.

When the food is great, presentation makes it that much better.

Photo By Josh Graham

Japanese Blossoms
2991 The Esplanade
Hours: Open every day for lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and dinner, 5:50-9:30 p.m.
Phone: 891-9022

Japanese Blossoms

2995 Esplanade
Chico, CA 95973

(530) 891-9022

Upon entering Japanese Blossoms I was immediately hit with its warm glow and calming atmosphere. The small restaurant was full of patrons comfortably seated at upholstered benches lining the walls, free-standing tables and along the sushi bar. Yet the general mood was relaxed and fairly quiet as customers kept conversations low, unlike some other local sushi restaurants that encourage a party atmosphere.

I went with two Japanese citizens to get expert opinions on the food and presentation. These current Chico residents explained that they were surprised when they first tried Japanese food prepared in California because of the artistic license with which American sushi chefs have changed and, in many ways, improved traditional recipes.

For instance, covering maki sushi rolls with rice is an American invention, rice being more appealing to those American palates squeamish of biting into dark green seaweed. My Japanese friends agreed this extra layer of rice was a delightful improvement. Another shock was how just about any vegetable can end up in a tempura dish.

I suggested we start with a bowl of miso soup, to which my friends both said, “No!” In Japan, miso soup is traditionally served at the end of a meal or a party, as a polite indication to guests that it is time to leave. And in Japan the rule with food is “drinking is mandatory.” Large Sapporos ($5.95) were immediately summoned to our table.

Japanese Blossoms claims to be an “authentic” Japanese restaurant. Yuke Caspary, who was a chef at Gen Kai for 17 years, opened the restaurant earlier this year. Her goal, according to the menu, is to offer affordable and authentic sushi to the local community.

So how did the more traditional courses fare with my Japanese friends? The first indication that this restaurant was exceptional came from one of the simplest dishes: that lovely green soy bean, edamame. Served warm, very slightly salted, the edamame at Japanese Blossoms ($3.95) was prepared slightly hard with shells that were dry rather than slimy. My friends were delighted. Japanese Blossoms offers an array of appetizers, ranging in price from $1.50 to $8.50. We also selected a cucumber salad called sunumono ($3.95), garnished with thinly sliced white fish and a vinegar dressing. It was flavorful and refreshing.

We ordered nearly everything on the menu, starting with udon soup with tempura vegetables ($8.95), which had a hearty miso broth. It was such a generous serving of tempura that the vegetables were served on a separate plate.

Next we dived with gusto into the heart of the sushi menu, ordering nigiri sushi of maguro (tuna), ebi (shrimp), sake (salmon), ikura (salmon egg), hamachi (yellowtail), each served as two pieces ($4.95). My friends approved of the freshness but were only a bit disappointed at the size of the portions, which in a more expensive restaurant might offer a larger slice of fish.

We tried one of the specials of the night, hirame (halibut) nigiri ($7.95), which was so fresh it practically melted in my mouth. I never realized that such an ugly bottom feeder could taste so good. Not stopping there, we sampled three of the maki sushi rolls, each completely different from the others. The namesake of the restaurant, the Japanese Blossom roll ($8.95), was my favorite. With snow crab, avocado and tuna wrapped in soy paper with a spicy sauce, this roll rocked! We also enjoyed the Stolen roll ($8.95), which was spicy and served crispy, and the Dragon Eggs roll ($8) with a golden baked rice skin.

Once our plates were empty and the last of our beer was being poured, we discussed the top-notch quality of the food, the gentle atmosphere of the dining area and the attentive service we received from our waitress. My friends agreed that Japanese Blossoms is the best local sushi restaurant for its price, atmosphere, service and freshness.