Pretty is as pretty does

Sushi Q

Sushi Q

8325 Elk Grove Florin Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95829

Everything at Sushi Q looks attractive.

Exhibit A: chirashi ($22.50), the chef’s selection of 18 pieces of sashimi, tucked and curled over seasoned rice. In addition to the white and red tuna, ivory scallops, buttery escolar and marbled salmon, there are long, thin strands of dried pepper; a dark green relish of pickled wasabi; sweet marinated mushrooms; one large shiso leaf; a pile of shredded daikon; tangy seaweed salad and fresh daikon sprouts. It’s a marvelous-looking bowl, artfully arranged and full of different colors, textures and heights.

Then, there’s the contemporary lighting. The cute little dishes for your soy sauce. The ceramic plates in so many shapes and sizes. The plush, outrageously comfy bar stools. The guys behind the sushi bar are no slouches, either.

And so, I expected big things when I dove into that first chirashi bowl. But the flavors fell short, as did the service. Despite its good looks and elegant plating, Sushi Q is best thought of as a solid neighborhood joint. There are far superior destination spots elsewhere, but keep it in mind if you find yourself in Elk Grove.

Sushi Q opened in September to nearly immediate popularity. Show up for dinner after 6 p.m. and you’ll probably have to wait. Sometimes, with a group of people lurking by the door, the space can feel cramped. There are only 14 seats at the bar and eight tables. Lunch is mellower, where everyone seems to be a regular and the servers seem to know everyone.

Over three visits, service to this newcomer was friendly though spotty. One time I asked for ginger, and it never came. Two separate times, I ordered a chef’s choice item and received no explanation as to what I was eating. Another time, I felt hurried through my meal.

In any case, the food will arrive and it will be beautiful.

Exhibit B: the lobster tempura ($10) earned oohs and aahs with a lobster tail standing tall above chunks of meat. To answer your question, yes, the lobster tail was purely for looks. With its duo of sauces, delicate fry and buttery lobster, the dish still made for an excellent appetizer. The barbecued albacore ($12) was less successful, with any natural flavor from the fish buried under an orange blanket of spicy mayo sauce.

The spicy tantan ramen ($10.50) impressed with a subtly sweet, soy-based broth that packed heat. The noodles stayed nice and springy, cloaked in ground pork.

But the main draw to Sushi Q—the sushi—generally tasted subpar. Nigiri on multiple occasions featured slightly dry rice packed too tightly. The fish tasted like mild versions of their normal selves, especially the red tuna. I never felt like I was tasting the ocean.

Surprise, surprise: I actually found the gimmicky, bacon-topped Sacramento roll ($12.50) to be delightful. The inside—shrimp tempura and spicy tuna—could be exchanged with just about any roll on Sushi Q’s lengthy menu, but the top layer of avocado, unagi and crumbled bacon totally worked together. Unagi provided the dominant flavor, while the crispy bacon brought texture and saltiness. The small dollops of garlic mayo showed restraint, unlike so many Americanized sushi spots that soak their rolls in sauce.

Sure, bacon sushi is ridiculous and bombastic, but maybe that’s more suited to Sushi Q’s strengths. And that’s perfectly OK.