Texture issues

Mana Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar

1724 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818

(916) 448-2828

There was perhaps nothing overwhelmingly special about New Edokko, but I liked knowing that big bowls of soba noodles were to be had at a reasonably convenient location. However, it closed. Its space has been taken by Mana, which has moved in from the Arden area. (Broadway seems to be a new magnet for Arden-area restaurants; there’s also Queen of Sheba now, which I’ll visit in a future review.)

I visited Mana at what might best be termed “the children’s hour”—every single table in there had kids of varying ages. My friend and I were there with two toddlers and our server was very, very nice about it, bringing edamame immediately and hurrying the kids’ dinners along. It thus seems slightly churlish to cavil that the edamame was a little overcooked and a bit mushy, but, hey, that’s my job. I also have to note that the service, while friendly, was very slow for a number of items—possibly a function of a still-gearing-up kitchen (it was early in the evening) or the many tables with kids.

For the kids, there are mini bento boxes. My friend’s son had the sesame chicken, which I tried—yes, I stole food from a baby’s plate; again, a bit of moral laxity that my job requires. It was very similar to the Chinese style of General Tso’s chicken: lots of batter, lots of sweet sauce, a fair amount of grease, and not much chicken. I liked my daughter’s teriyaki chicken better (though I would say the sesame chicken is more suited to young palates). It was pretty much your standard teriyaki, on the sweet side with hinted pepperiness in the sauce.

These little bentos also came with tempura, which again was utterly standard (perhaps a bit on the oily side) and, of course, rice. There was miso soup, too, which the server had thoughtfully cooled with ice cubes and which both of the kids went absolutely nuts for. I don’t know if it was the lure of the giant spoons or the salty, savory quality of the broth, but it was like toddler catnip. A pair of gyoza—deep-fried and a little tough in the skins, but with a gingery and appealing filling—rounded out the kid-plate offerings. That is a child’s plate that definitely beats the usual grilled cheese.

My friend and I went for something a little more adult, in the shape of sushi, with the fried tofu to start. This agedashi tofu was pretty to look at, topped with white grated daikon and a bit of yellow, plus a fine chiffonade of seaweed, but ungainly to eat. The chunks of soft, hot fried tofu, rather thickly battered, sat in a deep pool of tempura sauce, which added some much-needed flavor but tended to make the fried batter separate from the tofu and the tofu itself fall apart. Since they were too hot and too big to pop in one’s mouth immediately, the longer they sat the more they tended to disintegrate.

For the sushi, we were a little stumped to start with: There’s a bewildering variety of rolls, many of them named for past customers. There’s also a specials board announcing what’s fresh, which was a little on the anemic side. We tried a nigiri of tai (red snapper, the server said), which was a little mushy and fibrous, though the flavor was unobjectionable. Unagi nigiri, tried on a different visit, was fatty and sweet, but otherwise not too distinctive.

The flavor of the various types of fish was hardly an issue in the Tony roll, a big one where the major ingredients (tempura shrimp and avocado) were overshadowed by the sauces: a mildly spicy mayonnaise-y thing and a sweet, sticky teriyaki-style sauce. All this made for a goopy roll. A different textural issue, however, came up with the also-overloaded SMF roll, which was topped with peppery grilled tuna that was even more fibrous than the nigiri had been, and that also featured more of the mayonnaise-based sauce. The Belly roll was mercifully simpler, with snow crab and eel inside. The unagi flavor was barely detectable, but the roll was easier to eat than its companions.

I tried two other rolls when a lunchtime-sushi urge struck during the recent spring-like weather. The Roll-r Coaster, filled with very finely chopped spicy tuna, which had a pleasant but not overwhelming kick, and a little too much cream cheese, would have been fine if left there, but it also came with salmon on top, another dousing of that mayo sauce and tobiko: more overload. I should have just gotten a plain spicy-tuna roll. The rainbow roll was the usual, well, rainbow.

Again, however, the fish—and other items—had texture problems. A sharp piece of bone emerged from some salmon; the tough and fatty connective tissue at the edge of a salmon fillet was also left on. Avocado tasted overripe. And the rice—usually a reliable part of any sushi experience—verged on overcooked and mushy, rather than being firmly sticky and pearlescent. All in all, in a town teeming with sushi joints, I don’t see much reason to go back.