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Restaurants & Bars 5

Sushi Totoro in Santa Cruz--first (and likely last) visit

Carb Lover | Feb 18, 200605:32 PM

Y and I finally got around to trying the newish Sushi Totoro on the westside last night. The first hound report from Tom is linked below. We got there on the late side for SC dining (around 8:30pm) and it was about half full. The sushi bar was jam packed w/ all men who looked like they were having a swell time w/ flowing sake and beer. Unfortunately, no room to squeeze in. The two Asian sushi chefs greeted us boisterously behind the bar, and we took a seat at a table.

Menus were promptly offered and I was immediately struck by two things: 1) all the photos on the menu and 2) the deafening house music. For such a small space, the loud music was very overwhelming and made it hard to even think or converse. I'm usually not picky about type or level of music, but it was at the level that I would expect for when customers leave and staff is ready to close out. I guess we could have asked them to turn it down, but as a brand new customer, I just wanted to "take in" and observe before snapping my fingers.

Trying to tune out the music, I perused the menu. It's pretty extensive and covers a little of everything. Fish selection consists of the usual suspects for this area, and the nigiri prices are very reasonable...a bit cheaper than our standbys. They have a large special rolls menu w/ pictures galore. While I typically love photos and visuals (as many of you know), I found the photos that littered the menu more distracting and cheesy, but that's me. It's probably a good marketing strategy on their part...

As usual, Y and I were most interested in sushi, and slabs in the case from a distance looked fresh enough. We took the easy route and went w/ the "sushi omakase platter". Designed to serve two, it's described as being the "best selection of 20pc nigiri sushi and 12 pc (total) tuna, salmon, hamachi sashimi". All that for $39.95 is (and turned out to be) too good to be true. I wanted something to start, so we ordered the salmon skin salad ($4.95 for small).

The complimentary miso soup was mediocre. The "salad" that came w/ the meal was abysmal and is the worst portrayal of a salad that I've seen in ages. (This is SC after all; even pizza joints and diners have passable salads.) It was a bunch of dry and semi-wilted iceberg lettuce pieces w/ some sort of diluted creamy dressing. No grated carrot, no unripe tomato, no garnish, nothing. Why bother? Knowing our salmon skin salad would arrive soon, we took a bite or two and left the rest untouched. Unfortunately, the salmon skin salad was only moderately better. The skin was more chewy than crispy and not seasoned well. Cut into uneven shards, it had some unpleasant bits of flesh still attached. We left half untouched.

By this point, we knew that we had erred in ordering a huge omakase sushi platter on a first visit. Should have gone the a la carte route. Oh well, too late as our sushi is presented to us on a large wooden plank. I consider taking a photo, but just am not inspired. Instead of my usual excitement to dig in, I hesitate as some items look a bit past their prime or "off".

We slowly work through the platter, and nothing tastes that good. Even if something was adequately fresh, the harsh chill from the fridge case squelched any life from it. Even my last bite of sashimi was cold. This was the blandest, most uninspired sushi I've had in SC. While most things were "edible", I couldn't proceed to finish the herring roe and albacore nigiri. The only nigiri that I truly liked was the aji (horse mackerel). To their credit, I liked how the fish was sliced, and the sushi rice was better than many places in town. Once again though, we left several items untouched or half eaten which usually NEVER happens at a sushi place. Deflated but somewhat full, we pay our check and leave. This exit is all too familiar...

The hostess seemed a bit taken aback when we turned down her offer to wrap up our sushi to go, but there was no point. We may have offended someone there, but we don't have much desire to return for a second round. While the service was well-meaning, the floor staff was very "green" and not able to answer the most basic questions. While we may have had a better experience sitting at the sushi bar, the quality of the fish is just not up to par and not a good value when we didn't enjoy most of it.

I didn't intend to write such a negative report, but these were truly my first impressions. Not one aspect of the place hooked me in, and I felt more sad than bitter upon leaving. While the former Sukeroku didn't wow me, I found myself missing it and the more traditional tone set by the husband and wife owners. I hope they are enjoying their retirement...

We will continue going to Sushi on the Run (Aptos), Miyuki (Watsonville) and Sushi Garden (Capitola) for our sushi fix. I do think that Mobo and Shogun in SC and Naka in Capitola have better quality ingredients than Totoro. We may check out Takara or Miyako at some point, and the newish Aqua Bleu is on our list. Any reports on AB?

Sushi Totoro
1701 Mission St.
Other locations in SJ Double Tree and Saratoga (not up yet though)


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