Gastronomy, the art of good eating, constitutes the very core of the dining experience, giving relevance to restaurant reviews and online websites such as Yelp. It is comprised of several elements, from the level of expertise in cuisine, to the service, to the surrounding ambiance. I’d like to think of gastronomy as a grading system much like a report card, one that helped me examine my experience at Sushiya Japanese Restaurant and Bar, one of the newest dining additions to the University Village. Since its opening in November of last year, I had not heard raving nor disparaging reviews about it by word of mouth, so as a sushi foodie, I had to stop by myself.
Open from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm from Monday to Thursday and 11:30 am to 10 pm from Friday to Saturday, I visited on a sunny Friday morning as soon as it opened, famished for my fix of sushi. Located next to the University Village Theater, the restaurant was hard to miss, especially with a store sign in front, advertising their tempting special: 50 percent off special and cut rolls during lunch and dinner and hand rolls during dinner. Sake aficionados can expect a daily drink special: $2 for sake shots and $11 for a carafe of sake.
Upon stepping into a crimson red, earthy atmosphere, waiters dressed in dark, classy garb and sushi chefs midway into rolling their creations stopped and greeted me with hearty cheer. Seated immediately, I opted for the sushi bar. A few people trickled in as I perused the lunch and sushi menus, so the waiters seemed more at ease than they would have been if I had visited later in the day. Thick moist towelettes rolled into a plastic wrapper sat at each seat, a rarity at most Japanese restaurants I have visited. Sports news on a flat screen TV above the sushi bar kept me entertained as I waited for my order to arrive. The intimate lighting from small light fixtures, wooden and concrete accents, and the butterfly decorations that peppered a wall produced a real glow around the entire restaurant.
I did not have to stare at the ambiance too long, as my large plate of yakisoba noodles arrived within minutes, followed by the special Scallop Dynamite and traditional Crunchy Roll¸ two choices highlighted on the menu and included in the half off special. The latter sat beneath a drizzle of sweet Kabayaki sauce and a sea of fried tempura crumbs, which can make the roll fun to eat, but can take away from the balance of crab meat, cucumber, and avocado tucked inside. That ratio between the different ingredients in a sushi roll can make it delectable, or fall short to impress. In this case, the generous layer of tempura crumbs did not quite make up for the small amount of crab meat inside the roll.
The yakisoba noodles, another dish that can be found at a commonplace Japanese restaurant, sit in a light but distinct sauce that can be served with chicken, beef or vegetables. I opted for the vegetables, eager for a healthier alternative, but after sampling the dish, I wouldn’t order it again. Small broccoli slices, green onions, carrots and romaine lettuce sat nestled in the noodles, but the carrots and broccoli were used more sparingly than the greens. Further, the sauce lacked the zest that gives yakisoba noodles a distinction from any other noodle dish.
The Scallop Dynamite roll, baked with creamy scallops atop crab meat and cream cheese was more decent; a must-try among Sushiya’s special rolls. The sweet seasoning mixed with cream cheese gives the roll a light kick that is sure to entice the palate.
From perusing the menu, it is clear that Sushiya’s intent is to provide customers cost-friendly sushi and Japanese dishes. All rolls do not exceed $15 aside from the Chef’s Choice combinations. The $7.99 lunch specials, including a side of rice, miso soup, salad, California roll, and main item may appeal to UC Riverside students wishing to eat something other than dining hall food. Options include both Japanese and Korean items: breaded pork cutlet, chicken teriyaki, pan fried Korean marinated beef, grilled salmon teriyaki and grilled marinated Korean BBQ short ribs. If my guess about Sushiya’s intent is correct, then it would be accurate to say that you get what you pay for. My bill came out to be about $29, including a cup of hot genmaicha tea, which I consider impressive for three main items. So considering all the factors that make for a gastronomic experience, Sushiya’s intimate ambiance ultimately fails to compensate for the forgettable, but decent sushi.