I must admit, I was a raw fish sushi virgin until I met my husband. Sure, I ate futomaki (spinach, mushroom, cucumber, egg, and pickled plum/radish), inari (sushi rice-stuffed tofu pouches) and tamago (sweet egg omelet) but ne’er did I let an uncooked sliver of sake (salmon) slip past my lips.
For some reason, when I started acquiring a taste for toro (tuna belly)and hamachi (yellow tail) – much to the chagrin of my husband and his pocketbook – I began to develop a heightened awareness of the how’s of sushi eating. Perhaps it’s because I know that Japanese food culture is fraught with tradition and ceremony, or maybe because every self-proclaimed sushi connoisseur seems to have their own school of thought.
So it was with great interest that I read Bon Appétit Food Editor Andrew Knowlton’s piece on the finer points of sushi etiquette in a recent issue of the magazine. Besides espousing do’s like “always sit at the sushi bar” and “ask what’s fresh,” and don’ts, i.e., “don’t dip the sushi rice-side first into soy sauce,” the guide also insists that “if what you’re eating contains cream cheese, pineapple, barbecued pork, or fried chicken, it’s not really sushi.”
Hmm… I wonder what Mr. Knowlton would think of the menu at the recently-opened Harumi. I can imagine him eyeing the sushi bar that runs almost the entire length of one wall with approval – but he just might raise his eyebrows at the Zen Fusion roll ($10.50). I myself didn’t know what to expect: avocado, mango and crushed macadamias bundled with rice and nori, then topped with albacore, tobiko and parmesan cheese before being shoved under the broiler. Laid flat on a plate dotted with a duo of sweet teriyaki and basil sauces, the vibrantly-colored sushi rolls – served warm – echoed the cheery mustard walls of the spacious restaurant. Two words came to mind: sushi lasagna. Eaten on its own, I found that the sweet mango and nutty macadamias in the roll overwhelmed everything else but a brief dip in soy sauce gave it a better balance of flavor. However, I’m not convinced that parmesan cheese and soy sauce, while both rich in umami, belong in the same bite.
Maybe the Pebble Beach roll ($12.50), a glorious cornucopia of soft, fresh seafood, would better pass the sushi authenticity test. My only complaint: The menu listed tuna, salmon, yellow tail, red snapper, albacore, shrimp, cucumber and gobo root. But after careful dissection, I found the albacore and gobo missing. Perhaps their shipment of albacore didn’t come in that day, and gobo wasn’t available at the market. And yes, it’s easy to lose track when so many different ingredients are wrapped in a small package. However, restaurants should never assume their customers are ignorant, and substitutions or omissions should always be mentioned.
Fortunately an apologetic server, some green tea and the complimentary bowl of edamame helped soothe my indignation. The Grinch Roll ($13.50) did much to lift my spirits as well. Spicy tuna, avocado and wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe) on the roll’s periphery gave way to the crunch of deep-fried soft-shell crab and was finished off with a piquant spicy mayo.
If you’re a sushi purist, not to worry. You can order single-ingredient nigiri and simple makis that comprise a list of less than five items. The unagi nigiri (freshwater eel, $4.50) and tekka maki (tuna roll, $4.50) are just as fine.
And if you’re not in the mood for sushi (though I can’t imagine that ever happening), Harumi’s cooked dishes do pass muster. Lunchtime bento boxes ($8.95 for two items, $10.95 for three) are a steal, and dinner sets are available for a little more ($16.95 for three items).
The combo tempura, while crisp enough, was a little heavy with oil. But all was forgiven when the yellow-crusted shrimp, broccoli, onion and carrot pieces were dipped one by one into the sesame-sprinkled tasty tentsuyu spiked with a hint of togarashi (chili pepper mix). The skin-on salmon was admirable, lacquered with a not-too-sweet teriyaki glaze. Though quite dry, the scallopine-thin tonkatsu was perked up by an atypical curry dipping sauce reminiscent of Indian butter chicken.
The oyako donburi, unfortunately, wasn’t up to par – a mushy medley of cabbage, broccoli and carrot mixed into chicken and egg served over rice. Even the accompanying spicy pickle of celery, cucumbers and jalapenos couldn’t save it from mediocrity.
Overall, Harumi excels in the sushi realm. Honestly, I couldn’t care less if I bite into mango or cream cheese nestled inside my sushi rolls, just as long as the flavors work. Creativity and innovation reign supreme in our country so why shouldn’t it extend to sushi?
Take it from our friendly server, who, from her sweet smile and delicately accented English, I deduced was definitely Japanese. She said, matter-of-factly, the sushi rolls may not taste like true Japanese cuisine, but they sure taste good.
HARUMI SUSHI 1763 Fremont Blvd., #H4, Seaside. • 11am-2:30pm, 5-9pm Mon-Thu; 11am-2:2:30pm, 5-10pm Fri; 3-10pm Sat; closed Sun. • 899-9988.