Restaurants & Bars 4

Momoya (sushi) Mountain View

Sushi Monster | Sep 21, 2006 10:24 PM

After a long and eventful summer in the backcountry where my usual dinner companions were deer and the occasional black bear, I am back in the land of Chow, finally ... Picking up right where I left off on my long march of piscene devastation:

570 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View
(650) 967-6166

IT's no great stretch to say Momoya exceeded my expectations. I had, frankly, expected very little from this busy Mountain View bar that does a booming lunch trade with the tech workers in the Shoreline corridor. At first blush, Momoya would appear to be another iteration of the generic, no-frills sushiya set in a suburban strip mall – an assembly line turning out serviceable, cheap rolls, the standard teriyaki bento box specials and little else. All too often, these places descend to offer the lowest-common-denominator fare that their clientele demands and abandon any greater aspirations for quality, artistry or innovation. While MoMoYa will never set the pier on fire with artistry and innovation, the quality is above average for bars in its middle-tier class.

The room itself is spare and unadorned, and not in a Japanese artful kind of way. No, it's austere in a someone-lost-interest-halfway-through kind of way: industrial flat green walls, with the only decorative touch being the promo paper lanterns over the 12-seat bar. Yet, ironically enough, since I got the second-to-last open seat at the bar during the lunch rush, I had the bad luck to be seated directly in front of a Kirin ceramic "good luck" cat the size of a beach ball, an arrangement which forced me to crane around anytime I wanted to actually see the chef. Overall, a sort of dark space more befitting a pool hall than a sushi restaurant.

As for the fish, the nigiri are Korean-style – which is to say huge cuts on modest pads of sushi rice. Momoya doesn't stock a wide variety of fish (and the only specials on the small whiteboard were three special rolls). But the standard offerings they have are of decent quality and represent a good value, particularly when you factor in the three-bites-per-piece scale of these monsters. The sake (salmon) was the standard farmed variety with a nice silky texture. The hotate (scallop) was gigantic as well (more on this in a minute). Hamachi was very fresh and medium-fatty. Ikura (the gunkan maki battleships were larger than golf balls) had a good, very prominent sake marination. On a down note, the kani was tired-looking, tired-tasting standard snow crab (probably suffering from a mild case of freezer burn, which happens a lot with this stuff). I decided to take a pass on the toro, at $13.50 per nigiri plate.

Slowing down after six plates of these super-sized nigiri, I chose the spicy scallop as my final order. All too often this is a gunkan maki (nori battleship) construct filled with minced scallop drowned in a mayonaisse-based glop. The senior chef impressed me by actually taking the time to *ask* if I wanted the mayo. No thanks. Just tobiko and hot sauce, please. I was mildly disturbed to watch him construct not gunkan maki but a rather large roll filled with giant, whole scallops – a five-piece futomaki (thick roll) plate. Before I could remonstrate, he explained: He would usually do the battleships, but he was lucky to have jumbo Hokkaido scallops from Japan today, rather than the regular small bay-type scallops. And he felt these deserved a more prominent presentation. (Alas, the heavy-handed application of sriracha sauce fairly well nuked any nuance the scallops may have had, but I didn't see fit to mention that. Complaining that a dish labeled "spicy" is in fact *too* spicy is something I just cannot bring myself to do.)

Bottom line: Seven plates for $34 (including 20 percent tip) adds up to a good value. Sake, hotate, hamachi and ikura were all of decent quality and very ample size. There's nothing particularly innovative or intriguing going on here. But for the standard items, it's a solid choice. I'm slotting it at No. 13 (out of 27), near the top of the middle tier on my Peninsula master directory of sushiyas.

(If anyone else is keeping score at home, I intend to post v. 1.5 of the master list in about a month, with six new restaurants and 14 re-reviews.)

Sushi Monster

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