New, mini Sushi Moto revs up large sound and big selection of creative rolls.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Upon entering new Sushi Moto near the Golden State Theatre in downtown Monterey, the first thing I noticed was the extremely loud techno music. Intermingled with some Lady Gaga, it laid out a much different ambiance than the sushi joints I regularly patronize. I would soon learn that fits with the wider Moto motif: It’s not like most of the spots around here.
It was dinner time on a weekday and the place was all ours. I liked that there were pictures of the regular customers lining the walls underneath the giant Kabuki dolls that are painted on them. The chef was visible behind the bar and a young man was taking orders. While I am not too old to enjoy loud music – even techno in the right setting – I was surprised how strange the music felt paired with sushi. But that’s part of the appeal Moto, which means “on the move,” is going for: a modern Tokyo-ish vibe which, in theory, sounds cool. Only the annoying tunes had me ordering some weirdly rich choices off the menu and scarfing down my sushi in a hurry instead of at a leisurely pace.
On that visit my friend and I shared Walter’s App ($7), two large, lightly cooked salmon pieces wrapped around a pineapple chunk topped with a sweet sauce and coconut flakes. The warm, slightly cooked salmon was a perfect match to the tropical fruit and accompanying sweet and tasty “baker’s sauce.”
Next up was the Land Shark ($6.50), a four-piece roll containing eel, yellowfin, lemon, negi (green onions), macadamia nuts and shizo (an herb in the chrysanthemum family that adds a zingy flavor). Like the Tokyo vibe, this one sounded good in theory but didn’t materialize: I was unable to taste anything but cold, dry eel and rice. Cold unagi without sauce is unappetizing.
We asked the chef what fish was local and he said salmon – though I realized later salmon season here ends in September – so we ordered another salmon option without realizing how similar it was to the Walter’s App – blame it on the techno. The Salmon Baker ($13.50) was everything the appetizer was in an eight-piece roll, with the addition of cream cheese and avocado. It was similarly delicious.
On my second visit I opted for a more traditional roll in order to compare it to others I’ve had. The Tazuna ($18) is like a fancy rainbow roll. Beautifully plated with a generous wrapping of yellowfin tuna and salmon, the roll arrived as an artistic serpent complete with octopus tentacle eye sockets and salmon eggs for pupils, mandarin slices for fins and lemon wedges for spines. The fish tasted fresh and it was well worth the $18, and, paired with a personal-size hot sake ($3.50), made me very full and happy. I noticed the music was toned down a notch, and the waitress was very attentive too, which made dining lovely.
There’s a lot more creative stuff on the double-sided two-page menu, including 21 unique vegetarian rolls. I ordered a few to deliver to my friend, who was in the process of getting a large trilobite inked on at Olde Towne Tattoo. I chose an Artishaw ($4.40), an artichoke heart, avocado and cashew combination; an Iron Man ($4.50), which contained smoked tofu, spinach, beet and shizo; and a dessert option, Shizo Heavy ($5) with avocado, cashews, mandarin oranges, coconut and shizo. Each roll contained six bite-sized pieces and the ingredients arrived fresh. The nice part was you could actually taste each ingredient within the roll and they complemented each other. My second experience left me feeling nourished and light.
I brought the Hamachi Kama ($9) home for later. It was a broiled yellowtail collar with a savory teriyaki sauce on top of rice, with a side salad of sliced cucumbers in rice vinegar and some steamed broccoli. The plate was abundant for the price and the fish was succulent and satisfying, with the right amount of sauce and lots of sticky white rice. Chef says the hamachi hails from Shore Company and the rest of the fish is sourced from Santa Cruz Fish Company.
There are many other options to choose from, including hot boxes of chicken teriyaki or salmon with rice, miso soup, salad and a choice of either sushi (California roll and three nigiri) or six slices of sashimi for $17.50. If you only want the teriyaki bowl the chicken is $13 and the salmon is $18. Another saliva-inducing option is the Spicy Scallop Burner ($9.50), chopped scallops with a spicy sauce served with cooling cucumbers, mandarin oranges and green onions. Or try the Moto Wrap ($12.50), tempura shrimp, avocado, and smoked salmon wrapped in cabbage served with a sweet sauce, tobiko and green onions.
I am always looking for fresh, healthy and reasonably priced options when I am eating out on the go. Sushi Moto would fall squarely into this category – and I will definitely visit again – perhaps for a to-go order I could take to somewhere a little more peaceful. That said, I am sure there are people who would feel differently and enjoy the upbeat, young, party-time feel to the place. Whatever the case, the fish is fresh, the veggie lineup abundant, the price right and the food good. If I do sit down next time, I’ll come dressed in rave attire.
SUSHI MOTO 413 Alvarado St., Monterey • 11:30am – 10pm Mon-Thu, 11:30am-11pm Fri-Sat., Sun 12-10pm • 646-1109.