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RestaurantsNorth Bay
11.21.07

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Phaedra

Language Burier

By Carey Sweet


Sushiholic has opened in the Vintage Oaks Shopping Center in Novato. Yet another Japanese restaurant in the North Bay wouldn't be entirely "stop the presses" material except for its unfortunate name.

It got me to thinking: if raw fish and its Asian ilk is some of the most beautiful food in existence—and I believe that it is—why do modern-day vendors so often insist on insulting the art with increasingly ridiculous titles and food combinations ?

The greatest offender, of course, is Tex Wasabi's in Santa Rosa, with its ungodly "Jackass Roll" (tapioca rice paper with sushi rice, avocado, barbecued pork, French fries and garlic chile mayo) and "Screaming Gobbler Roll" (roast turkey, jalapeņos, pepper Jack, avocado, green onion, mayo and siracha mayo in tapioca-paper-wrapped sushi rice). Yes, I understand, it's attention-getting. For its part, "Sushiholic" implies a dining experience so fantastic that it's addictive; it also denotes an experience so addictive that it's harmful. But nowhere does it suggest an experience of pleasure based on thousands of years of art and tradition.

After a meal there, I'll grant that this place is a nice addition to the local lineup, with a lengthy and well-crafted repertoire including uncommon dishes like nabeyaki udon ($14.95), zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles; $8.95), yosenabe ($14.95) and sea bass teriyaki ($15.95).

The usual suspects are competently done, with good beef sukiyaki ($14.95), teppan ginger tofu ($11.95) and a sushi list that numbers more than a hundred choices. The setting is classy, with black woods, slate floors and a gold sakura mural on one wall. If I were in the neighborhood, I'd stop in for a rainbow roll ($12.95), the multifish creation inventively stuffed with shrimp tempura.

So why turn me off with a "Swamp Roll" ($10.95), an otherwise satisfying spicy tuna under a mound of crunchy, sweet, seaweed salad? The "Nuclear Crunch" roll ($7.50), meanwhile, isn't a toxic breakfast cereal after all, but tempura bits and white tuna so spicy that the fish actually cooks itself like ceviche.

Ordering a "Volcano Ash Tofu" ($8.95) doesn't appeal, either, though the resulting dish is quite delicious. A big slab of tofu is jolted with dots of jalapeņo, sesame oil, soy and a dusting of exotically musty seasonings that the chef tells me is a secret. It burns the side of my mouth like black pepper and comes on a big salad of fresh greens, tomato and cucumber.

The "Sub 1000," unfortunately, is indeed a deep, dark mess, buttery Hawaiian escolar drowning under a gloppy eel sauce tucked in an ungainly unagi roll. The "1000" refers to the depth at which this fish is caught, but it's this recipe that should be deep-sixed.

Yet, there's no need to saddle a perfectly decent katsu don buri under the clumsy title "food topped over rice in bowl." Perhaps in this case, it was simply poor writing, not a funny attempt to sex up an ordinary pork cutlet-veggie-egg stew.

I like the food here just fine. But the experience simply doesn't dance off my tongue in a way I'm proud of: "Hey, meet me at Sushiholic for a swamp roll, something nuclear and maybe a nice piece of ash." Of course, I suppose it's better than inviting a friend out to eat a jackass . . .

Sushiholic, in the Rowland Plaza, 112-C Vintage Way, Novato. Open Monday–Saturday for lunch and dinner. 415.898.8500.


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