Sue Sheba

I don’t actually know how long Miraku has been around, but it’s new to me. It may just be the best new Japanese restaurant in Sacramento. Maybe it’s part of some small chain, as its menu has all these heralds from Bay Area newspapers claiming it’s like the best Japanese place since the beginning of time or something. Perhaps that’s on overstatement, but how many Japanese places have you been to that seem pretty much indistinguishable from each other? That’s the thing about Miraku—it doesn’t really seem the same as all the rest; it’s got its own little thing going, and that’s cool.

You may or may not appreciate the sort of pink and teal color scheme and the shiny metal chair legs, but it’s interesting how Miraku blends these modern touches with the traditional sliding paper doors and a deep green bamboo tree. Two-foot flower arrangements on tables complete the initial impression—an atmosphere that improves when dinner arrives, as Miraku has some of the coolest ceramic dinnerware I’ve seen.

But it’s not as though Miraku has a really groundbreaking menu. All the expected standards are present: tonkatsu, teriyaki, udon, sunomono, sashimi, sushi, et al. However, the way the restaurant cooks and serves its food places it a notch above the place occupied by the average Japanese eatery.

One of Miraku’s more interesting offerings came from its sushi bar. A special selection of sushi rolls was unlike what I’d seen before; the rolls came wrapped in soybean sheets rather than the usual nori seaweed. And these sheets were color-coded according to the ingredients inside the rolls. A samurai roll ($7.95) came wrapped in a pink soybean sheet; it was filled with shrimp tempura and spicy tuna. Lacing the attractive rectangular ceramic plate was a drizzle of spicy red chili paste. Although I’d formerly thought the combo of chilies and wasabi was a bit strange or unnecessary, it has become one of my favorites—perhaps because it enables the diner to self-administer pain in multiple areas at once.

Another roll, the name of which I’ve forgotten, came wrapped in a green sheet; inside was salmon and tuna. These were certainly unique, yet as far as flavors go, the soy sheets were rather bland; nori is far more flavorful—so I guess the chefs were sacrificing a bit of flavor complexity for the colorful soy gimmick. But I still thought it a cool and creative approach to sushi.

Full dinners came with salad and miso soup, and though the salad was a typically diminutive affair with iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, the dressing on it took me by surprise: It was unique, delicious and I couldn’t figure out what was in it. There was a slightly reddish tint to the generally brown color, and when I asked the waitress what was in it, she said, “It’s a house original.” (Which I soon realized meant, “I’m not going to tell you.”) As best I can tell, it was concocted from sesame oil, rice vinegar and miso, with perhaps a bit of chili paste accounting for its reddish tint, though it wasn’t really spicy. As a testament to how good and thoughtful the service was, just as we were leaving our waitress came up and gave me a sizable portion of the salad dressing in a to-go container, just because I’d asked about it. How often do you get that kind of treatment?

As for the dinners, calamari katsu ($10.95) and tonkatsu ($10.95) were typically good, cooked in fresh oil, well drained and not greasy. Nabe yaki udon ($9.95) came in a cool brownish metal bowl with handle and showcased a delicious broth with slices of fish cake, spinach, egg and noodles. Sukiyaki ($12.95) was similarly tasty, and came elegantly served in a handled bowl with a wooden cover. Miraku’s plates and bowls were all very aesthetically pleasing, even their soy sauce was in a neat little ceramic pitcher rather than the jar it came in.

Though it’s not often I feel the pull of that black hole of an area that is West El Camino Avenue, the next time I’m craving really well executed Japanese food, I’m heading to Miraku. If you do the same, I don’t think you’ll be terribly unhappy.