Off the Hook
Sacramento, CA 95825
It’s easy to get hooked by Sushi Hook, which boasts of being the best sushi joint in Arden Arcade. There may be some merit to the claim, certainly if it were qualified by saying “American-style” sushi. That would be defined as a bevy of special rolls with clever names that, usually, are splashed with one or more “special” sauces. In Tokyo, for instance, it’s not all nigiri all the time but, in the main, sushi is simply fish, rice, a dab of wasabi and the occasional horse meat.
Hook’s cozy, paper-lanterned and vibrant noren-curtained interior—and, increasingly, the outdoors patio—is routinely filled. Perhaps part of the reason is the apparently eternal 50 percent off sale on rolls—good thing, since more than a few top the charts in the menu at $17 and $18. But, more importantly, there’s a brimming cornucopia of options from which virtually any palate can be pleasured. After whizzing past Hook in the chicks-dig-me Volvo station wagon several times, the first visit is prompted by daughter Katie—home from college and gainfully employed—who resists hanging with Mike Amharai and wolfing down some fine Ethiopian fare at Habesha Restaurant on Fair Oaks Boulevard. Knowing Katie loves all things Japanese, Hook gets the nod. And, after that visit, several more eager nods.
Although illustrated, the menu is daunting. There are 65 rolls from Alaska to Webster, plus nine veggie options including deep-fried broccoli and the V-8, consisting of kampyo, yamagobo, shiitake, inari, oshinko, avocado, cucumber and lettuce. Kampyo, for example, are dried strips of gourd, a sushi staple. Pickled burdock root—looks kinda like an undernourished carrot—is yamagobo. Inari is rice-stuffed tofu. Oshinko are pickled vegetables, sometimes just daikon.
The freebie at Hook is a large plate of shredded cabbage in rice vinegar with a few cucumber half moons. Katie eats a Crunchy Monkey after asking any hint of heat be removed. It is a tempura-flake-capped mountain. Mine, the My, My, is crabmeat, avocado and izumidai (snapper) enlivened by red onion. Hook happily adds pickled jalapeños to the top. The aptly named Candy Cane is yellowtail, tuna and—don’t see this often—spicy soft shell crab. The sauce creates a sweet contrast to the crab’s heat.
Suggesting that the name derives from something more than just the spherical shape, Dragon Balls are three large fiery globes filled with spicy tuna and crabmeat then topped with raw fish and a lengthwise jalapeño slice. A prodigious appetizer. The never-ending half-price sale seems to attract a younger Sacramento State crowd, which might be part of the genesis of the Hornet roll, recommended as a “popular” spicy roll by the server. Like the word reform, spicy is in the eye of the beholder, and the Hornet—a wallet-emptying $18 without the price cut—is merely tepid with its eel, spicy tuna, deep-fried shrimp, some veggies and a little secret sauce. Almost as tasty is having a woman, who clearly doesn’t get out enough, say I look like Sean Connery. The older version, no doubt.
Of particular merit is zuke, a wondrous combination of what tastes like a ponzu- or vinegar-pickled fish—in this case hamachi—and jalapeño accented with sprouts and red onion. Just inside the pearly gates, Myrna Loy and Marilyn Monroe offer all-you-can-eat servings of this tart and sweet raw-fish ambrosia. Zuke was an old-timey way of preserving the freshness of fish by soaking it in soy. Refrigerators make the process unnecessary, but numerous vegetables still get the pickling treatment, like cucumber, daikon and yamagobo, to pick just three.
There are a number of salads as well as the bento-box and rice-bowl scene. The sushi chefs are speedy and accommodating. In a classy touch, each table has a matching set of containers holding soy, toothpicks and, best of all, shichimi togarashi—the chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seed seasoner. Many bases tagged. More visits ahead.