Religion in a rainbow roll

Lou’s Sushi

Lou’s Sushi

2801 P St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 451-4700

I had passed Lou’s Sushi on P and 28th streets numerous times when coming into Midtown, and noticed that the rather unassuming spot was always been packed. On occasion, I would even see a throng of people milling outside waiting for a seat. Yet, I never really pulled the car over and made a stop until a fellow SN&R restaurant critic pointed out that somehow we had yet to review this spot.

My dining companions were thrilled when I told them where we were going. Apparently, everyone but me had already found religion in a rainbow roll here.

Lou’s Sushi is run by sushi chef Lou Valente, who once practiced under renowned sushi chef Go Kawano. Valente combined years of sushi apprenticing with a traditional culinary school career before opening his now popular eponymous neighborhood sushi joint. (Neighborhood being the key word here. Lou’s is far from the bustling center of the grid and the staff know the names of its customers and their dogs who camp out on the patio.)

If there are two things that separate Lou’s from the drudging sameness of most other sushi joints, it’s the clarity of flavor and ingenuity applied to each dish.

A recent meal started with fresh, meaty oysters sauced with ponzu, scallion, Sriracha and lemon. A litmus test for seafood freshness, the oysters were perfection and the addition of ponzu highlighted their sweetness. (Plus, at $1.50 a pop, we felt we could easily spoil ourselves.)

The specialty menu is where much of the magic takes place. Take the adorably named L-Train ($12.50): a sort of rice-less roll, Valente takes grilled asparagus and embraces it in snow crab before wrapping it with thin wisps of tuna. Shiso adds an herbal bitterness that harmonizes it all.

Miso spicy chicken wings ($8.50) may be one of the best bites for beer I’ve had in a while. The wings are hauntingly savory with miso and fried to a crisp perfection before being drenched in a spicy sauce and dashed with togarashi. The memory of these little umami bombs haunted long after the meal.

For those who enjoy fire, the BTS ($13) is right up your alley. Strips of albacore are drowned in a shallow puddle of ponzu and chili oil and blanketed in jalapeno. It ends up in your mouth as a devil of sea and spice.

A grilled eggplant ($6) left the table a bit underwhelmed, as it was severely undercooked, resulting in a bitter flavor. Perhaps, on another night, it would have been fantastic as the promise was certainly there.

The seafood nachos ($13) could easily fall into the gimmicky category if not for their execution. Seafood of the chef’s choice (in our case, spicy tuna) was smashed with avocado and scallion and served on crispy wonton chips; a playful reimagination of traditional sushi.

Rolls are thoughtful and certainly creative, but some, like Mt. Fuji ($16), buried under a literal mountain of tempura flakes; and the OMFG ($16), beaten to a pulp by two overpowering garlic sauces; are only imaginative in their plating and ultimately result in just more overblown sushi rolls that strangle the flavor of the fish and rice. (Then again, flash over flavor is what most people want when it comes to American-style sushi rolls.)

Other rolls are more reserved, and I would encourage you to go this route. The Daniel, my Brother roll ($13.50) pairs salmon and striped bass with cucumber and shiso. An irresistible splash of ponzu dresses it up and delivers a sense of the chef’s precision when it comes to flavor.

Lou’s constantly surprised me. When most sushi joints seem to deliver the same ol’, same ol’, I found new flavors and ideas here, and look forward to visiting again.