Anyway you slice it, sushi is not every man's meat.
But these morsels of sweetened rice garnished with raw or fresh seafood, egg omelet, Japanese-style pickles and other tidbits do have their moments, especially when constructed by someone who knows that the seaweed wrapper should be affixed from right to left--except on those occasions when it must be tied from left to right.
Kazunobu Tsushima, formerly a sushi chef at Samurai in Solana Beach, recently opened Nobu in the same coastal city. He offers about 40 kinds of sushi, or about one for each of the 44 years he says he has spent in the trade.
The attractively remodeled space in a small strip center on Highway 101 has housed many eateries in the past decade, and, although the place looks tiny from the outside, it opens up into two spacious dining rooms and three bars: One for sushi, one for the grill cooking called teppan yaki and one for cocktails.
In the sushi bar one recent evening, four grade school-aged youngsters snapped up eel and herring roe sushi as eagerly as their peers gulp burgers and fries. The sushi choice is rainbow-wide (there is, in fact, a colorful offering called the "rainbow roll") and ranges from the simplicity of blue tuna, to sea urchin, octopus and salmon skin. The nigiri tray offers a good selection that suffices as an appetizer for two or three diners; all the various morsels sampled had a uniformly fresh, sweet taste and seemed carefully composed.
The Nobu dinner menu runs to nearly exhausting length. Although it offers much that is familiar, it includes a number of traditional but relatively elaborate preparations that only a handful of local establishments go to the trouble to serve. Among these are shioyaki , a choice of chicken or salmon baked in salt; a box dinner that includes an artful arrangement of small portions of many different foods; the seafood soup-stew called yosenabe , and shabu shabu , an elegant cook-it-yourself meal whose onomatopoeic name, to the Japanese ear, enunciates the sound made by chopsticks swirling through simmering broth. Shabu shabu and table-cooked sukiyaki, however, can only be ordered in the teppan yaki room, so plan ahead. The teppan cooks grill up seafood, steaks and chicken in a meal that is a Japanese approximation of an American barbecue.
Meals include a relatively rich version of the ubiquitous miso soup and a simple salad that, despite its iceberg lettuce base, is made delicious by a tangy, ginger-flavored dressing.
The dinner list continues with the usual teriyaki and tempura, but expands pleasantly with the squid cutlet (crisply breaded and slashed into tender mouthfuls) and a pungent, well-executed ginger pork.
The portions would be considered large anywhere, and are almost astonishing for a Japanese restaurant; an order of yosenabe arrived in a vast earthenware bowl that held enough broth, vegetables, transparent noodles, fish, crab legs, shrimp and scallops for two or three diners. This Oriental version of bouillabaisse featured the expected sweet broth, but it lacked any special character, and the seafood, on the whole, seemed overcooked.
Precisely the same comments could be made about an order of kitchen-prepared sukiyaki, which, except for the paucity of meat, was served in immense quantity. The whole dish again seemed rather tired and forlorn, and, although all the right ingredients were present, they seemed unappreciative of one another's company.
Other specialties include an appetizer of asparagus, wrapped in thin slices of beef and grilled ( aspara-maki) , and a nine-course "gourmet" dinner priced at $35 per person.
The dessert selection consists of three ice creams, each decidedly Japanese: green tea, ginger and red bean. The last sounds the least likely, but is sweet and pleasantly offbeat.
315 S. Highway 101, Solana Beach
Hours: Lunch served Monday through Friday, dinner nightly
Cost: Dinner for two, including a Japanese beer each, tax and tip, about $30 to $60. Credit cards accepted