2244 San Diego Ave. (Old Town)
Prices: Appetizers, $2 to $6; sushi, sashimi and tempura, $3 to $22
Frank Sabatini Jr. / Restaurant Review
Look no further than Old Town for a return to elegant, traditional sushi. At the new Sushi Tadokoro, the rolls are void of irreverent sauces and fillers of modern day, relying instead on exceptionally fresh seafood artfully assembled by a seasoned chef who entered into the craft as a young adult in Kanagawa, Japan.
A perch at the eight-seat sushi bar puts you in direct contact with Take Tadokoro, the cordial chef-owner who said he felt Old Town needed a sushi house that beckons to conventional practices rather than experimental whimsy.
Avocado is about the only ingredient Tadokoro uses that would be considered contemporary, at least by Japan’s standards. Watch as he meticulously sculpts the green fruit into neat, unblemished panels before incorporating them into several different creations common to the West coast, including the obligatory caterpillar, California and Hawaiian rolls.
Visiting with a friend with the good fortune of living only a few blocks from Sushi Tadokoro, we arrived particularly interested in the homemade gyoza. Available as an appetizer for only $5, we received several of the pork-filled dumplings hidden under an extended film of crispy dough starch.
“In Japan we call those the wings,” Tadokoro said as he steered us to the beautifully fermented, low-sodium soy sauce he makes in-house.
Japanese fried chicken also caught our attention. The poultry is served as a starter, featuring a mix of thigh and breast pieces encased in light batter that didn’t taste much different from American versions, except that it was less greasy. A spritz of citrus from the accompanying lemon wedge imparted a clean, stimulating flavor.
The climax to our dinner began as we encroached on the seafood items, starting with ruby-red tuna sashimi. In traditional style, Tadokoro pan sears the edges with a little black pepper and garlic, which played well with the slight tanginess of his ponzu dipping sauce. The fish was simple, velvety and excellent.
Manila clams served in a shallow bowl were also exceptionally prepared. Small and tender, they came bathed in a thin consommé of sake and soy sauce that was perfectly salty and mildly boozy. Next time I’ll ask for a spoon to slurp up the treasured liquid before the dish is taken away.
Among the pricier items – exceeding $15 but worth every cent – are grilled Chilean sea bass and the dragon roll incorporating shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber and eel. The sea bass was especially surprising to the taste buds, given that it appeared like nothing more than a stark-white, unadorned filet sitting on a plain plate. As it was marinated for two days in miso paste and fish sauce, the result was a sweet, buttery flavor that tasted too good to be true, almost dessert-like.
The dragon roll deserved an encore as well for both its flavor and skillful presentation. Cut into large slices that were easy to grab with chopsticks – I’m still a klutz when using them – the fattiness from the avocado and tempura ensured that we came away feeling full. We also loved the nutty flavor of the toasted sesame seeds on top as they mingled with the outer strips of tender eel.
Even if you are a fan of trendier rolls filled with things like aioli, carne asada and bacon, the sushi and sashimi at Tadokoro will reignite your appreciation for the early days when you skeptically took your first bite of raw fish and then continued doing so with gusto.