Sushi nostalgia

Mirai Restaurant

620 W. Covell Boulevard., Suite B
Davis, CA 95616

(530) 758-4560

Exotic foodstuffs were in somewhat short supply when I was growing up in Chico in the 1970s and ’80s. Even Mexican food generally meant crisp-shelled ground-beef tacos and refried beans with a thick orange blanket of cheese. The cuisines of Asia, sticky-sweet Chinese-American excepted, were all but unknown. I fancied myself to be something of an adventurous eater, but my limits were reached when I was about 14, and my best friend suggested we go to a new restaurant in town to try sushi.

I was horrified. I had heard about people eating raw fish, but the thought that I might also do so was new. My friend convinced me, however, and we rode our bikes to the restaurant, which was called Gen Kai. It was pretty good, to my surprise, and others in town thought so too. For years, it was the place to go for Japanese food in my hometown.

By now, both I and the American public have come around to sushi so thoroughly that it’s not in the least bit exotic anymore. It sits prepackaged in supermarkets as takeout lunch, and there’s a sushi bar on practically every corner in Sacramento. But I still think fondly of the old Gen Kai as the place that introduced me to sushi. When I heard that its owners had relocated to Davis and opened up a new place there, I figured I had to give it a try.

Mirai Japanese Restaurant sits in a supermarket-anchored shopping center on the western edge of town, rather than in Davis’ cute little downtown—a fact that may be hampering its attempts to attract a large clientele. It was all but empty the night we went in, but it surely doesn’t deserve this fate. The food we sampled was excellent. The restaurant reaches past the basics of sushi to cover a wide range of Japanese foods: Noodles are prominent, as are a number of out-of-the-ordinary donburi (rice bowls) and an especially nice selection of unusual appetizers, from fried oysters to broiled fresh shiitake mushrooms.

One of these appetizers was kamo miso, savory and pleasantly salty slices of grilled duck with a pile of coarse red moromi-miso. I’ve never seen duck on a Japanese menu before, but its hearty character went well with the strong savor of the marinade and miso; the duck meat was a tiny bit tough but flavorful. We really had not been sure what we would get, as our server was extremely nice but not terribly knowledgeable about the menu. She artlessly confessed that the duck wasn’t very popular, because most people order gyoza and other more familiar appetizers.

She made up for her slight naiveté, however, with goodwill. My husband spilled his miso soup—one of his favorite parts of any Japanese meal—and ordered a replacement bowl. We fully expected to pay for it, as it was hardly the restaurant’s fault we needed a second bowl, but the server kindly took it off the bill. It’s the sort of gesture that costs the restaurant almost nothing but can make a visitor into a loyal customer.

Even without such gestures, however, Mirai could win itself a crowd of loyal customers. I ordered a simple dish of una jyu, freshwater eel over rice, as well as a side salad with thin, tangy ginger dressing. My main course arrived in a deep rectangular box: two chunky squares of the meaty, tender eel, grilled and glazed with a teriyaki-type sauce, over a heap of sticky rice. Its simplicity hardly could have been improved on—nor could it have contrasted more sharply with my husband’s dinner, the Mirai deluxe combination bento box.

The bento box was a majestic feast. It was just a bit bigger than the paper in which this article appears, with compartments for the enormous cavalcade of dishes. At $24.95, it was one of the most expensive things on the menu, but it easily could have furnished dinner for two. I fear I can’t remember everything it included, but there were impeccable tempura (both shrimp and vegetables), Japanese vegetable pickles, vegetables in a soy-based sauce, tender grilled salted fish, little fried-fish cakes, chicken with a bright homemade ginger sauce, quiveringly fresh pink sashimi, a fan-shaped mound of rice and beautifully cut fresh fruit. I sampled quite a lot of it, and it was all delicious.

Aside from all this, there’s also a surprisingly extensive dessert menu. The desserts are not made in house, but flown in, frozen, from Japan. The delicate green-tea mousse we sampled was none the worse for the trip. There’s also a sweet sake jelly, a presence that echoes the beverage menu’s extensive list of sakes and sake cocktails—including a strawberry daiquiri. I haven’t quite learned to appreciate sake yet, but it may be the next frontier. Perhaps Mirai can send me down that path as effectively and happily as its forebear Gen Kai once led me into liking sushi.