If it's sushi in the suburbs we're seeking--way out in the county's hinterlands, in the hills on the fringe of the Conejo Valley--there's not a lot of choice.
What there is--tucked in a new shopping center on the border of Agoura Hills and Westlake Village at the edge of North Ranch--is Osaka Sushi. Run by Ken and Christine Cheung, it's what might be called a white-bread Japanese restaurant.
The bottles of soy sauce on the tables are the low-sodium variety. I don't know if this is because of clientele demand or a restaurant owner's choice. I find it difficult to believe that all the fathers, each with a kid or two in tow, who patronize the restaurant in the early evenings are so concerned with low sodium.
Diners are best off ignoring most everything except the sushi menu and the specials. The major exception to this is an excellent rich, juicy, broiled yellowtail collar ($6.50). The dish is crisp on the outside, cooked gently, served in a tasty sauce of sweet and sour seasonings and green onions.
But other menu items, even though served in an attractive room of dusty rose fabrics and glistening black lacquered furniture, are not worth a trip.
I confess, I couldn't resist trying the tofu salad ($4.50). It's cold tofu, sitting on iceberg lettuce, sprinkled with kernels of corn. The salmon skin salad is the same thing, except this one has crunchy salmon skins to save it.
Over at the sushi bar, things are better. The meal begins with an excellent tiny appetizer dish of spicy pickled vegetables. On the sushi list, there might be some delicious sweet shrimp ($3.60), fresh from Canada and tasting as though they've just come out of the brine. Or cherrystone clams ($3.60), an item not always on the menu, slightly chewy, served with an eel sauce. Forget the abalone slices. I like chewy textures but this, I think, has not been marinated properly, not pounded enough or--perhaps I just don't know enough about the preparation of this particular delicacy.
Some house sushi rolls are better than others. Some of them come so large that they're quite difficult to handle, whether with chopsticks or by hand. And the salmon roll ($6.50) comes with a cloying mayonnaise sauce.
But it is the perennial favorite, the California cut roll ($4.40), which is a particular disappointment. Its minced crab is at least partly the artificial, kanikama kind, which fails to hold the roll together.
One evening's special was baby tuna in a garlic sauce. Not too garlicky, and cooked perfectly.
* WHAT: Osaka Sushi.
* WHERE: 668 Lindero Canyon Road, Agoura Hills.
* WHEN: Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
* COST: Meal for two, food only, $11 to $50.
* FYI: Major credit cards accepted; reservations accepted; beer and wine; (818) 865-1988.