Sparks, NV 89436
Sara and I discovered CJ Palace looking for sushi restaurants in the Yellow Pages. It’s a combination Chinese and Japanese restaurant with a sushi bar. It’s often a bad sign when restaurants try to combine more than one cuisine. I didn’t try any of the Palace’s Chinese food, so I can’t report on that. But I suspect that this place might have been a Chinese restaurant first and added the sushi as a trendy afterthought. So, the Chinese food might actually be better than the sushi. It couldn’t be much worse.
You’ve heard people talk about great meals, pat their distended bellies and say “Everything was just perfect?” Well, this was a meal where everything was imperfect: the location, the atmosphere, the music, the service, the food, right down to the ill-fitting tablecloth that we almost stepped on every time one of us had to get up.
The service was passable, though rather indifferent. The atmosphere and interior decorating seem modeled after some of the more upscale restaurant chains that have been springing up all over town lately: stark, slick and impersonal. This imitation corporate ambience and the location, out in strip mall-central Spanish Springs, prompted Sara and I to continually ask each other, “Are you sure this isn’t a chain?”
We opted to sit in a booth rather than at the nearly empty sushi bar. The restaurant is family-friendly to the point of irritation—there was a screaming child a couple of booths down and they were playing the worst music I’ve heard in a restaurant in a long time: jazz as smooth as a baby’s bottom. If this place was a radio station their motto would be “jazz for people who hate music.”
We ordered the all-you-can-eat dinnertime sushi deal, which set us back $21.99. I started out with an order of sake-marinated salmon and was brought out two small, colorless pieces of salmon sharing a single, pale wedge of lemon between them. All of the fish was pale in color and scant on flavor. The rice had no structural integrity and would surely fall apart in soy sauce. The roll selection was all of the usual suspects, Godzilla and California and the like, and many, like the caterpillar roll (crab, eel, avocado and scallions) were drenched in what the menu referred to as two “special” sauces.
“Since when do teriyaki and mayonnaise qualify as ‘special sauces'?” asked Sara.
A fair question.
The Godzilla roll was especially odd: deep tempura-fried and filled with rubbery fish. It tasted like a corn dog. Not that I have anything against corn dogs. I like corn dogs just fine, and I actually enjoyed the Godzilla roll more than some of the other rolls we sampled. But still, it was a sushi roll that tasted like a corn dog. It compared favorably to a corn dog, but that’s faint praise nonetheless.
Sara and I repeatedly found ourselves reminiscing about other sushi restaurants and regretting our decision to try someplace new. I usually stuff myself silly at all-you-can-eat places and woof down everything in front of me, but I couldn’t finish many of these rolls and left feeling unsatisfied. CJ Palace isn’t offensively bad, just not very good, and with nothing to redeem it. I know I’ve had worse sushi experiences, but I can’t remember when.