Red, white and sushi
Sakamoto Japanese Cuisine
Sacramento, CA 95816
The Platonic ideal of Japanese sushi might look like minimalist slivers of nigiri precisely prepared with sparse adornment. The fish speaks for itself.
But sometimes you aren’t craving sophistication in your sushi. Sometimes you want sushi so thoroughly nontraditional and hyper-American that you can practically hear Bruce Springsteen blaring in your mouth: Bring on the mayo rolled up with fried shrimp and torched jalapeños. Savor the red-white-and-blue excess of spicy unagi sauce on cream cheese on sugar on salt. The type of sushi that screams, “I can handle a bigger driveway and a bigger tube of rice than you.”
At Sakamoto, you can revel in such sushi. The Japanese restaurant opened in November in the former location of Tamaya Sushi Bar & Grill, with new ownership but some of the same sushi chefs. They’ve clearly had fun revamping the menu.
Even the names of the rolls—the Armageddon, the Kraken, the One Punch—might make you wonder: Are these food items or Michael Bay movies? The Armageddon ($15) layers cream cheese with lobster salad, spicy crab and panko shrimp, topped with seared tuna, avocado, unagi sauce, garlic mayo, green onions and sesame seeds. It’s enough to make Liv Tyler cry from all of the explosions of flavor.
Another dish that exemplifies this maximalism, the Sunburnt roll ($14) packs creamy spicy tuna, lightly fried panko shrimp and spicy crab. The seafood triad provides a soft-and-crunchy core that’s alternately present and overshadowed by its toppings of soft scallops, spicy mayo and garlic mayo (that’s two kinds of mayo), unagi sauce, green onions and itty bitty orange balls of tobiko that pop in quick, ticklish bursts. The surrounding rice is torched. The cacophony of tastes washes over you like a wall of blackgaze music—all instruments in the mix on full blast. You taste everything without necessarily identifying the ingredients contributing to each sensation. Perhaps beyond all reason, it is wonderful.
A tamer option, the Sake Sake roll ($11), bundles warm tempura asparagus next to cold slivers of salmon, layered with even more salmon and zesty lemon peels on top. The contrast of temperatures, in addition to the unexpected brightness of lemon, make this sushi pop without any need for thick sauces.
Some holdovers from Tamaya appear, including a few wacky appetizers. The Hot Lava ($8) ensconces a mix of spicy crab in a volcano-shaped shell of delicious tofu that’s deep fried with rivulets (or, one could say, lava streams) of unagi sauce. Be careful when lifting the mini Mount Fujis with chopsticks—the fried shell sometimes lifts up without its crabby contents. The fried shell and potent seasonings nearly mask the seafood on the inside. Sometimes, the fun overwhelms the fish.
Granted, the restaurant also serves traditional options, such as wide selection of nigiri, ramen and hand rolls. The bento boxes ($9-$11 during lunch) with soup, rice and a salad offer a filling way to try its entrees, such as finely fried chicken katsu and vegetable tempura with a delicate layer of fried batter. However, when exposed without sauce, the fish lacks the oomph of delectable sushi found at places such as Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine—Sakamoto’s sashimi tastes only so-so.
But it’s the two-page selection of spicy, cooked and mild rolls that sets Sakamoto apart from Sacramento’s other sushi purveyors. At Lou’s Sushi or Kru, you can find spider or rainbow rolls that seem prim next to the all-out calorie rampage of the 10-ingredient Armageddon. At Sakamoto, you might discover a first among your sushi-dining experiences, but an effect found in many red-blooded American restaurants: You’ll leave stuffed.