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Sushi With Style

[whitespace] Kubota
Christopher Gardner

Prawn Ticket: A plate of crustaceans pleases the eye and teases the appetite at Kubota.

In Japantown, Kubota unveils a sleek, streamlined interior filled with good-looking sushi and cozy designer appointments

By Christina Waters

A DESIGN TEAM has certainly been at work here, Katya and I agreed as we strolled through the landscaped entryway to Japantown's Kubota Restaurant. Quietly vivacious--like the predominately Asian crowd filling up the various dining areas--Kubota looks like an East-meets-West dining club. Long, dove-gray banquettes echo the textured carpeting that curves up to the edges of stone flooring like a stylized wave. A curved central sushi bar of intricately laminated wood repeats the theme. Holding down one edge of the dining action is a cosmopolitan wet bar across the room from a dramatic marble sculpture. From frosted glass room dividers to blown-glass pin spots, Kubota is a smart showcase for its host of creative-sounding seafood entrees, teriyaki, udon and of course sushi classics.

A bustling lunchtime crowd kept four sushi chefs busy last week at the serpentine counter where we sat, admiring the view of a glass container filled with tiny live crabs. "What do you call those," Katya asked with an inquiring smile. "Crabs," came the reply. Underneath the hyperactive crustaceans were cases filled with shimmering maguro and hamachi, thick octopus and Dungeness crab claws, like enormous branches of uncut tourmaline.

Taking possession of hot green tea--the perfect antidote for a rainy day--we checked out the lunch possibilities and finally ordered a sea bass with ponzu vinaigrette ($8.50), a special bento box ($11.95) and an appetizer order of California roll with ahi salad ($9.25).

Presentation is a mixed concept at Kubota. Our bento box special was gorgeously arranged with edible art, and yet a tempura of sea bass wedges seemed to be stuffed on top of undressed romaine leaves in a very non-Asian-style bowl.

Let's start with the sushi and ahi salad combo. A generous portion of California roll arrived on one platter, and a second bowl--resembling very much a pattern by Corning--arrived filled with sliced romaine lettuce, sliced radishes and a large portion of flash-grilled ahi topped with spun beets, carrots and daikon strands. A quick second glance revealed that the sushi rolls were almost entirely rice. Excellent rice. Possibly the best rice I've ever eaten at a sushi bar. But the amount of crab and avocado interior was microscopic. An unusual interpretation, to say the least. The ahi nuggets on the salad quickly became boring, especially since little in the way of spicing, seasoning or saucing relieved their sameness. A small bowl of noodles--floating in water impersonating broth--was unnecessary.

Katya's red enameled bento box made up for the arrival of more soup. A slab of silvery mackerel--the star of the meal--lay next to a wedge of lemon. A mild-tasting spinach and sesame salad sat on the right, a nest of flavor-free cabbage on the left. Barbecue ribs were wonderful, deeply flavored by a fiery five-spice sauce, yet a mound of grated daikon failed to make any sort of sensory impression. Several thin slices of sashimi nestled in a kale leaf.

We both fought over the flavor-rich, oil-intensive mackerel.

My generous slabs of moist sea bass arrived on more of the ubiquitous romaine. At the bottom of the bowl was a shallow pool of ponzu sauce. The dish amounted to Japanese fish and chips--which would have been fine if there had been more dipping sauces. The bowls of rice that accompanied each entree were wonderful. Kubota makes sublime rice.

We finished up with an unusual dessert offering: warm apple cake heavily laced with walnuts ($4). It arrived topped with a tropical fruit blend sherbet and a pretty garnish of berries.

Address: 593 N. Fifth St., San Jose
Phone: 408/2789-8440
Entrees: Moderate
Cuisine: Sushi and Japanese specialties
Extras: Full bar, sushi bar

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From the February 4-10, 1999 issue of Metro.

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