Slow your roll

At Sakana, everything is an option for All You Can Eat, including the prawn nigiri.

At Sakana, everything is an option for All You Can Eat, including the prawn nigiri.

Photo/Allison Young

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In the world of visual art, there are countless styles and forms. Some are of an order beyond comprehension for those of us who can barely draw a stick figure. Then there’s the sort you might look at and say, “Seriously? My kid could do that.” The same holds true for sushi, a style of food that—in the hands of a practiced chef—can be both visual and delicious art on a plate. Unfortunately, a fair amount of food my wife and I were served at Sakana Sushi Bar & Japanese Restaurant made me wonder if we’d chosen to visit on “Take Your Kid to Work Day.”

Bento boxes and noodle dishes are on the menu, but we were there for all-you-can-eat sushi ($19.99 lunch, $24.99 dinner). The place wasn’t packed for our mid-afternoon lunch, so service was pretty efficient. The hot sake was decent, and we didn’t have to wait long for appetizers, much appreciated since we’d skipped breakfast. There are 19 appetizers on the menu, more than most restaurants of any cuisine. All are included with AYCE.

The monkey balls were very good, essentially tempura deep-fried mushrooms with cream cheese and spicy crab. Same goes for the beach ball, a large, deep-fried spherical crab cake with cheese. Fried baby octopus served with a mix of sauces was perhaps my favorite. The only starter that disappointed was a cucumber salad that didn’t appear to be dressed with anything, much less the expected rice vinegar. I ordered miso soup but didn’t mind that it never showed up. There was plenty of food still to come.

Long rolls soon arrived, and that’s where things literally fell apart. I don’t know if there was actually too much rice or they were just rolled too loosely, but every piece of makizushi was almost too big for a single bite. Some rolls appeared to be missing key ingredients. Others had everything they were supposed to, but cut in tiny slivers nearly imperceptible among the rice. Those including sauce had barely a drizzle, and then there’s the mystery of sporadic saltiness. More than one roll featured pieces seemingly soaked in brine, while others in the same batch were completely unsalted. Maybe some sauce had dripped (or not been cleared) from spots on the prep board in between rolls? I’ve never previously encountered salty sushi, intermittent or otherwise.

I fared better with the nigiri, although the ratio of fish to rice varied a fair amount from bite to bite. The upside-down shrimp was dwarfed by a golf ball of grain, though the quality of all the fish was on par for Reno sushi. As with the miso, a couple of orders of nigiri and one long roll got lost on their way, but that too is par for the course with Reno AYCE sushi table service. Still, at prices on the higher end—and a location in one of the posher neighborhoods—I had expected better than average.

To be fair, more was right than wrong with our experience. The appetizers were delicious, and the one disappointment could have been fixed with a dash of vinegar. If dining with a group that ordered every appetizer, the AYCE prices would be an incredible deal. Perhaps we hit a training day or someone was tired from a busy lunch rush. Or maybe we should have just skipped the fish and gone straight for the housemade ice cream.

Not your average end-of-sushi scoop of frozen green tea, the 16 flavors we had to choose from all sounded great and are available to take home. The blueberry and butter pecan we settled on were worth a visit in their own right, almost erasing our memory of missteps in the meal.