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Restaurants & Bars

Smile Sushi, Downtown San Jose

Manuel | Nov 2, 200506:12 PM

Not counting Japan Town, downtown SJ was down to two sushi spots (at least two in walking distance of the Camera 12, which I frequent), Tengu (fast-food sushi) and Fuji. Fuji was one of my early sushi experiences, and, at the time, quite good. It's still not bad, and not too pricey, but not quite as good as it used to be, having changed owners at least once, and chefs several times.

Well, a new place opened up just a block north of the Camera 12, on 1st street, by PF Chang's (which I mention only because it's highly visible). Smile Sushi has a tiny front, one of those narrow comercial spaces you find downtown, and is in the process of being remodelled (the space was formerly a salad bar). Afraid the decor would put off customers, they haven't advertised, yet, and won't until they've retooled thier digs. As a result, though they get a good walk-in lunch crowd, they're quiet for dinner, when I just happened to notice the place on a Tuesday night.

I didn't have high hopes looking at it - I wasn't even sure if it was really open, as they didn't have hours posted, but I gave it a chance. I'm glad I did. The service was friendly, attentive, and helpful, and the sushi was pretty good.

I ordered a combo special - 12pc sashimi, 'special roll,' a beer or sake, and the ubiquitous bowl of miso for $19 - and was pleasantly surprised. The sashimi, though presented on letuce as well as daikon, was expertly sliced and just the right temperature, with 4 kinds of fish, salmon (good), hamachi (buttery, excellent texture - as the server claimed, thier best offering), hirame (good - for a kind of fish I don't much care for, better than usual), and maguro (pallid and a little blah): 3 out of 4, not bad. For the roll, I chose the "San Jose Roll," which turned out to be an unagi urumaki with cashews (worked better than you might think), drapped with salmon and tuna drizzled with some sort of creamy sauce - not the kind of thing you can just pick up with your fingers, and not the sort of sushi I normally like. I was pleasntly surprised, though, as the combination worked very well - the rich, complex flavors, and added texture of the cashews were untraditional but still enjoyable. The amount of fish in the roll was probably close to the amount in the sashimi order (which was generous), as well, so not a bad value, either.

It turns out the chef at Smile, "Jack," is a disciple of Jung (japanese-trained owner of the excellent Tomo Sushi), and had worked at Fuji when it was at it's best, as well. 'Jack' is energetic and friendly, and I look forward to Smile's sushi bar finally being completed. In fact, I left my email and asked to be informed so I could be there the first night the bar itself is in operation.

I'll report back then. For now, I'd recomend Smile to anyone who can overlook the sad decor, and finds themselves craving sushi in that part of SJ.

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