In my quest to sate my burgeoning Asian food craving (yes, ANY Asian food) in a region that has relatively few options of that sort, I offer a few notes of my experiences at local Japanese places. In general, this niche of the SC food scene depresses me...
1) Sushi on the Run (in Aptos on Soquel across from KFC)
This shack of a place looked VERY dubious for raw fish, but stopped in for lunch to check it out and was pleasantly surprised. Primarily a lunch place since they only open til 7pm. Place is owned by an elderly Japanese couple; wife takes orders at the register and rings up, husband makes sushi to order a few feet behind her. Some pre-made packages for those on the go. I've only been once, but hubby has been several times for lunch now since it's close to his workplace. So far, this is our favorite place for sushi. Not a huge selection, but nigiri and rolls were all good. Chirashi plate has a nice variety of fish atop a well-vinegared rice. Standout there is the smoked salmon, which is not your typical Pacific NW smoked salmon but rather a gently-smoked salmon that is supple with a hint of green tea smoke (I'm guessing). Place is consistently good (per hubby's report), owners are sweet, but wish it had a bit more in terms of atmos. and extended hours.
2) Mobo Sushi (corner of Soquel & River near new Trader Joe's)
Heard that this was one of two places to go in SC for sushi...NOT. Everything about the experience created sushi dissonance for me, and ultimately, the food was lacking. One can't appreciate all of the intricacies of perfecting a piece of sushi until one encounters a type that lacks proper flavor balance and fish slicing. Menu of house special sushi was dizzying--more about quantity than thoughtful creations. Fridge case at the sushi bar was half filled w/ fish and other half w/ veggies (this is crunchy SC, but c'mon!!). Had the sampler nigiri and "sunrise" and "sunset" specials. Fish looked fresh but lacked any distinguishable flavor across the board; wasn't one drop of vinegar or hint of sugar in the sushi rice. Green tea was served in a tall glass mug w/ a Chinese green tea bag afloat in hot water. Never made homemade sushi when I lived in LA, but Mobo experience has made me rethink pulling out the bamboo mat. No desire to return. So down on the meal that we had to immediately counter it w/ a scoop of Marianne's macapuno, which did help.
3) Benten (on north Pacific in downtown)
Went on a drizzling Mon. night. Decided to not focus on sushi since it was cold and fish might not be as fresh on Mon. night. Menu has a variety of sushi and cooked items. Prices are moderate. Small but comfy place. Hubby ordered a 3-combo bento box w/ tonkatsu, tempura, and sashimi. Inspired by Melanie Wong's ramen quest, I ordered the Sapporo ramen after clarifying w/ the waitress that the broth was not made from some powdered mix (one never knows). Miso soup and green tea to start were both weak in flavor. My ramen was rather disappointing. Broth was weak in flavor, not complex; noodles were akin to Top Ramen. Toppings were scarce and didn't meld well w/ the rest of the soup. Quite overpriced at almost $9. Hubby's meal was better, but not spectacular. Tonkatsu was probably the best item. Tempura was overly battered, drowning out the flavor of the shrimp and veggies. Tuna sashimi was actually tasty. Even though we weren't crazy about the meal, we're curious enough about the sushi to return for that.
Next on my list--SUKEROKU. Hope it can provide a corrective chow experience for the New Year.