Live by the sushi blade
Sacramento, CA 95814
Owner and staff greet several lunchtime diners by name at Momiji Sushi & Grill. As well they might, since the quiet and attractive Japanese restaurant isn’t exactly at downtown’s epicenter, so one would expect a big chunk of the clientele to hail from the neighboring neighborhood.
Long ago, the restaurant at this spot was also a place worth the walk: Juliana’s Kitchen, whose owners, an older Lebanese couple, laid out some of the finest, wallet-friendly Mediterranean eats in town.
The name for Japanese maple, Momiji features a lot of bamboo and light-colored wood. This is not a raucous and deafening nighttime scene like Mikuni, although it would certainly be a killer spot to dine before moseying up to the Music Circus to rock out to The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Momiji is equally adept at the two parts of its name: sushi and grilling. The sushi chef is creative and crazy for oranges. One of his creations—the $15 Orange Crush—is a monstrous snake of a roll with salmon inside and a thick thatch of tobiko, diced jalapeños and onions aloft. Squiggles of red-hot sauce emanate from its flanks.
“I’ve never had anything like this before,” I volunteer.
“Because I made it up,” the maestro replies.
The orange mojo is replicated with the truth-in-advertising Poki Delight, a $10 mounded tuna appetizer modeled on the Hawaiian salad of the same name. It lies on a triangular foundation of three orange slices, fans of red-hot sauce like kite tails shooting down the rest of the rectangular plate.
“Edible art,” Kim the waitress says. The saba—Spanish mackerel—is fresh and fishy, just how it’s supposed to be.
Catching up with Liz Hill, California’s former legislative analyst, we are convinced by waitress Kim to order the aptly named Rainbow Roll. It could have been called the Kitchen Sink Roll, but that probably would have gotten the kibosh from the marketing department.
Basically, the Rainbow is a California roll topped with a maestro-selected medley of raw-fish bits draped with eel sauce and spicy mayonnaise, then dusted with tobiko and scallions. Liz and I don’t let it stay on the plate long. We also opt for Orange Crush Redux, which wins two thumbs up from Liz as well.
As to the grilling, having a grandmother who grew up on the Chesapeake Bay meant extensive exposure from an early age to fried oysters. Now, long years later, if fried oysters are an option, they get eaten.
So when down near the bottom of the lengthy appetizer list appear the words “Kaki Fry,” followed by “Panko breaded lightly fried oysters with tonkatsu sauce,” it’s a done deal.
Tempura dipping sauce tastes better with the oysters than the syrupy tonkatsu, however. There are 11 donburi offerings, bowls of rice topped with everything from grilled mackerel to eel to ginger chicken to beef. The $8.50 yakinikudon—grilled beef with sautéed veggies—gets my vote. It’s well-prepared but contains the offending presence of two small broccoli crowns.
Similarly, Momiji has the noodle universe covered: There are four offerings of nabemono, four varieties of yakisoba and six types of udon including the $10 Nabeyaki, which translates into “Everything but the Kitchen Sink” udon. In this case that turns out to be a very appealing combination of chicken, shrimp tempura, shitakes, eggs and—don’t leave home without it—a fish cake.
Unlike many other Japanese restaurants, Momiji offers several somewhat nontraditional meal-maker salads.
Kim’s service is courteous and the maestro is a blaze with the sushi blade. Liz and my three rolls arrive lickety-split—the only thing quicker is the dispatch with which we happily consume them. Momiji is worth the pilgrimage.