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Roadkill

Simply Sushi

By R. V. Scheide

Driving above the Santa Rosa Plain on the depressingly wide and straight Highway 101 superslab, we often find ourselves lamenting the demise of the Old Redwood Highway. By the early 1990s, that magnificent ribbon of two-lane roadway that once snaked through the redwoods and practically every center of commerce, large and small, from San Francisco to Crescent City, was practically paved out of existence by progress' insatiable demand for efficiency. When the new freeway came in, entire city centers were bifurcated and sometimes outright bypassed, cut off from the vital, sustaining flow of four-wheeled commerce.

Consider the southern tip of the town of Healdsburg, snipped off like a bad hangnail by the mighty 101. We take the Central Healdsburg exit into town then hang a right on Healdsburg Avenue, which, if we drive south far enough, becomes what's left of the Old Redwood Highway. It's getting there that's the problem. At the intersection marked by a Chevron station and a new McDonald's, we are presented with a life-threatening choice. Veer to the right, and the road slingshots us onto southbound 101. Go to the left, and we wind up lost somewhere down by the river. Only the center path leads to what's left of the old highway, but first we must remember to brake at the stop sign, lest we get creamed by the high-speed, northbound cross-traffic exiting off the freeway.

Yep, it's a little risky getting to southern Healdsburg this way, but just a couple of blocks more and we reach Sushi Osaka, and Sushi Osaka is definitely worth the risk. If the name sounds familiar, that's because for the last 15 years or so, chef and owner Tommy Yamaguchi's Japanese restaurant was located on Highway 1 near the outskirts of Bodega Bay. The lease expired last February, so he moved his place inland, and while business started slow (getting here, as noted, can be a little tricky), he assures us that it's "beginning to pick up."

A native of Osaka, Japan, Yamaguchi labored in sushi restaurants at home and in the States for what he describes as "years and years" before opening his own place, developing a unique style that focuses on simplicity and tradition while still incorporating the latest tricks of the trade. We've recently marveled at such specialties as the "Punk Rock Roll"--unagi (barbecued freshwater eel) and crisp cucumber rolled up in nori and sticky rice, doused with eel sauce, cut into bite-sized slices and topped with black tobiko (flying fish roe). Dunk a colorful piece in a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce, and it's spicy, crunchy, salty and sweet all at the same time.

Sushi Osaka is the kind of place we generally like to keep to ourselves, but situated as it is in this remote part of Healdsburg, it's probably time the secret got out. "People in Bodega Bay miss my place," Yamaguchi says. "They don't know how to get here."

They do now. For safety reasons, we suggest traveling north on Highway 101 and taking the first Healdsburg exit, which dumps you right out on Healdsburg Avenue, aka the Old Redwood Highway. Cross the bridge just down from Memorial Beach and drive a half-mile north. You can't miss it.


Sushi Osaka, 48 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. 707.431.1381.

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From the February 2-8, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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