2000 W. El Camino Real
It has been Sushi Monster's observation for some time now that the universe of Peninsula sushi, while gradually expanding, is not growing at a uniform rate. It is almost as if the fabric of the space-time continuum has a Sansabelt waistband, able to withstand both long periods of stasis and sudden bursts of expansion.
Consider that the last two years have seen only two notable closures: Maru in Sunnyvale relocated to Milpitas and Sushi-Ya in Palo Alto lost its lease. During the first 11 months of 2007, there was but a single opening – Tatsumi in Cupertino. Now, in the span of less than a month, two new operations have opened within a mile of each other on the El Camino corridor.
I've already shared my initial enthusiasm for Jin Sho -- http://www.chowhound.com/topics/469248 -- the remarkable new face in the top tier. The Palo Alto venture, by two journeyman itamae from Nobu's New York flagship, is the most important new arrival within memory, with a Nobu-inspired fusion menu that could someday end up raising the bar for everyone else in the top tier.
And then there's Sura, just a mile south on El Camino in Mountain View, which, by comparison ... OK, wait, there really is no comparison. Sura, which opened with zero fanfare on Dec. 21, is a neighborhood Japanese restaurant that doesn't harbor any ambitions about setting the culinary landscape on fire.
First impression: Someone without an aesthetic clue spent more than they should have trying to convert this former Mountain Mike's pizza parlor into some imitation of an '80s new wave nightclub, complete with a black ceiling, fancy pin-spot lights over the booths and a faux granite sushi bar. Sushi Monster doesn't usually get an earful of Depeche Mode while he's eating lunch. And he hopes it doesn't happen again soon.
The Korean couple who own Sura, both South Bay restaurant vets (he was head chef at Sushi Oh Sushi for many years), are eagerness personified. (Until now, Sushi Monster had not had a business owner walk up point-blank at mid-meal and say "Well? How do you like it?" Like the Depeche Mode, he hopes it doesn't happen again soon.) But even if one was intent on disliking these folks, it would probably prove impossible. They are just trying too damn hard.
The menu is gigantic – a veritable binder with nine oversized pages of the standard default tempura and teriyaki fare, heavy on the fancy rolls. The nigiri selection (no specials board) is also standard issue, but there are at least a couple items you're not ever going to see at Mountain View's down-market competitors. To wit: mirugai (which I didn't try) and very decent kazunoko, the golden herring roe that's a Japanese New Year's staple.
The nigiri cuts are Korean-style (read: gigantic slabs of mid-grade fish with relatively dull flavors), but here again, John-san's presentation is just a little bit better than the midle tier competition, with a more judicious hand on the ponzu, tobiko garnish in unexpected places, etc. Overall, I didn't have any bad fish. Nor did I have any remotely memorable, special fish. With my customary 20 percent tip, the nigiri pairs averaged $6.95 – not a particularly good value.
Frankly, it doesn't take all that much for someone who gives a damn to distinguish himself from the ragged-cut artists that are legion in every other Peninsula strip mall. In the middle tier, where so many others are content to just grind out the lowest-common-denominator pseudo-Japanese slop, the mere fact that someone is even making the effort to go one better is heartening. For v. 4.0 of the Big List of Peninsula Sushi, going up in a few weeks, I'm tentatively slotting Sura at No. 26, just below Sushi Tatsumi in Cupertino and just above Yoshida, also in Cupertino.