Another sushi dimension
Yui Marlu6720 Madison Ave.
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Many people think of sushi in just one dimension. Perhaps that’s because the sushi most Americans and Europeans eat is a monochromatic stereotype of the Japanese dish—usually some sort of makizushi (or “rolled sushi”) topped with very un-Japanese dollops of aioli, Sriracha sauce and cream cheese. Others consider sushi to be synonymous with the California roll, another nontraditional dish comprising a simple uramaki roll (rice on the outside of the seaweed) filled with imitation crab, cucumber and flying-fish eggs.
Yes, Yui Marlu serves up California rolls, plus a menu full of American-style makizushi. But its mastery lies in Japanese-style sushi and an assortment other traditional Japanese fare.
Tucked in a strip mall in the suburbs of Fair Oaks, Yui Marlu only has a handful of tables, and the place is easy to miss with its unassuming signage. It’s also open limited hours: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. But once the servers (or the sushi chef, if you choose to sit at the small bar) bring out the food, it’s clear that this restaurant is enormously serious about its food.
On our first visit, a family dinner, we collectively ordered an omakase plate (the chef’s selection of sashimi), a chirashi-don (assorted raw fish over rice), a couple of American-style makizushi rolls as well as order of barbecue albacore.
The omakase was the pièce de résistance—one of those dishes that everyone stares at when it comes out of the kitchen. It looks like a flashy Dali-esque painting, with raw fish piled into small flower patterns atop scallop shells and a bed of microgreens, dollops of sauce, piles of ginger, slender slices of fried plantains sticking out upwards of 6 inches from the plate, and slices of lemon, radish and cucumber.
And it tastes as surreal as it looks: Each slice of fish is fresh, fleshy and flavorful. The best component is the salmon, with a surprisingly buttery consistency and bright color and taste.
The Rainbow roll and the Linda roll are like most American-style rolls served locally, but better. The sushi rice seems just a bit softer and less vinegary, and the fish slices taste fresher. The chirashi-don is also a good choice for someone who isn’t used to eating lots of flavorful raw fish: It’s served with a bowl of tasty white rice to accompany the seafood.
On another visit, my dining partner and I ordered a customizable dinner special (with grilled saba, assorted tempura and sashimi): a spicy tuna handroll, pork tonkatsu, chicken sukiyaki (a hearty stew with veggies, eggs, tofu and noodles) and a Charlie roll (eel, tuna, salmon and shrimp tempura). The handroll—spicy fish, sweet sauce and salty seaweed, all in the size and shape of an ice-cream cone—was the standout here. The saba tastes a bit plain, but nonetheless gives off a nice smoky essence from the grill. The Charlie roll, sukiyaki and tempura are also good, but not the restaurant’s greatest offerings.
Lastly, we selected a variety of nigiri sushi (one-bite slices of raw fish resting on little pillows of sushi rice), plus ohitashi (a boiled-spinich appetizer), salmon-skin hand rolls and a futomaki roll (with sushi rice, cucumber, mushroom, pickled veggies, chicken egg and fish eggs). We also ordered an off-menu item called hamachi kama (grilled yellowtail collar).
Even though Yui Marlu’s raw fish is great, the hamachi kama was probably my favorite fish dish. It’s tender, sweet and juicy—a must-have for those who enjoy rich, meaty flavor. And the futomaki was probably my favorite sushi roll of all. Its flavor was slightly sour and sweet, yet still savory.
To drink, there’s a small selection of beer, wine and sake. Service is available in English or Japanese. All of these touches make Yui Marlu the best place in town for those who want to venture beyond cliché American-style sushi.