Passing through the South Bay after Christmas, I called my sushi benefactor to see if he could get away from the office. He said, Youre offering to pay for lunch? Sure, where should we meet? I replied, Well, from what youve told me about it, I can afford to treat you to Sushi Maru. Ive already checked and theyre not closed for the holiday week. Meet you there at 1 oclock.
Despite one of the heaviest downpours of the storm season, I managed to get to Sushi Maru on time. Driving toward the restaurant, it dawned on me that Id not been to San Joses Japantown before. Ill also confess to having led a sheltered life and not experiencing conveyor belt sushi before. Waiting for Vince, I watched some of the plates make more than one lap around the room. But it gave me a chance to figure out the system: the color of the plate is keyed to the price of the food it holds ranging from $1.90 up to $4.90 each in dollar increments. The dishes are covered with clear plastic domes to protect the food. Besides sushi, desserts and packaged fruit juices were making the rounds on the conveyor. You help yourself to ginger and wasabi from canisters on the counter.
After 30 minutes, my phone rang, and Vince said, Im at Sushi Maru, where are you? I looked around and said, Sitting at the counter, I dont see you. He sighed and then asked, Are you in Japantown? Im at the *original* Sushi Maru in Sunnyvale near my office. Omigod, Im so sorry, I blurted out. He said, Ill come to you, go ahead and choose what you want, and Ill catch up.
I tried two things before Vince came in the door. Sitting downstream of one of the prep stations where new items launched on the conveyor, I had first pick of the freshest dishes. I pulled off a monster truck roll style maki sushi that turned out to have a warm omelet wrapper filled with mayo, cream cheese, surimi, and eel napped with sweet sticky sauce. It was every bit as terrible as it sounds although the parties on both sides of me seemed to enjoy them. I had also ordered the baked clam gratin from the menu. It was served in two little aluminum foil cups. The gratin was sickeningly sweet dairy goop enlivened with MSG and studded with chopped scallions and pencil eraser-like bits of tough overcooked clam. When Vince saw the portions of these that I had dutifully saved for him, he declined to taste them and wanted to know why I had picked these. Well, I thought this was my chance to sample some of the fancy sushi rolls that I never get to try when Im with you, I explained, But theres no there, there. I wont waste my money again.
Needing to warm up, Vince ordered the days special, shitake udon with tempura. I munched on a piece of tempura yam, and we agreed that the lacy battered morsels were expertly prepared. I didnt try the broth or the noodles, but he said they were good.
From the conveyor belt, I picked
Sake richly flavored, cut from a fatty section near the belly
Mirugai smallish slices but tender and sweet, carefully cut across the grain
Since it was nearly time for the close of lunch, the dishes were not being replenished on the conveyor and I didnt like the looks of what remained. A lady sushi chef, the first one Ive dealt with, took care of our section of the counter. The rest of our nigiri was prepared to order by her for the same pricing. We had
Aji very fresh with good flavor but a little tough on one edge
Hamachi rich and buttery but with an untrimmed dark area on the flesh
Maguro very good quality, melted in the mouth
Shiro maguro with grated ginger and scallions beautiful, the best fish of the day and as good as Ive had at the sister Sushi Tomi in Mountain View
The sushi rice was fairly plain without much seasoning. The sushi were one-bite size. I noticed that the lady chef seemed to cut our custom pieces a bit thicker than what Id seen on the conveyor. Since she was pulling the fish out of the refrigerator for us, the serving temperature was colder than it should be. Other than that, I think ordering from the chef may be the way to go here unless youre in a hurry.
Our total for lunch was about $40 inclusive of tax and tip. Thats good value considering the quality of the fish.
262 Jackson St.
San Jose, CA 95112