Any sushi experience can be summed up by a simple equation: seasoning of rice plus quality of fish, divided by proximity to sushi chef equals deliciousness. Works every time, providing you’re not an actual mathematician.
High-quality fresh fish and the deft, careful making of rice are critical. But the farther you get from the hands making your nigiri (sushi rice plus fish) or sashimi (just the fish), the less perfect the experience. Sushi is a time-honored craft, not assembly-line fast-food.
That’s why grocery store or takeout sushi pales in comparison to what you get sitting at a sushi bar. And it’s why, in times like these, starting with pristine fish and well-made rice matter even more, especially if you have a mean craving for some top-notch sushi.
Nobuyuki Asahi, who grew up in Japan and opened Asahi Sushi & Kitchen in Healdsburg last November, gets it. Asahi’s grandparents worked at the famed Toyosu fish market in Tokyo, where Asahi spent many hours as a child.
“Since I was a kid, I was in the fish market. You could say I lived with the fish,” he said.
That’s why he insists on both local and imported Japanese fish, mostly seasonal, for his restaurant. The difference in his delicate hamachi, buttery tuna, creamy scallops and velvety Mendocino uni make Asahi one of my top five in Sonoma County, in the company of Sake 107, Hana Japanese, Sushi Kosho and Shige. And that’s only having had takeout during shelter-in-place, which adds both time and transport to the sushi.
What first alerted me to Asahi’s restaurant was a personal note from an Asahi fan who said the sushi was as good as they’d had in Japan. That’s a tall order. But biting into at the careful cuts and precise presentation of a well-trained chef, it’s clear this isn’t your usual sushi bar. It’s sushi heaven.
Asahi’s menu, however, isn’t just raw fish. The kitchen features crossover favorites including light tempura, chicken karaage, teriyaki and both udon and soba noodle soup. We recommend the vegetable curry, which Asahi makes in-house. Don’t expect an Indian curry; this is a simpler sort of curried gravy that’s more nuanced and authentically Japanese. Hamachi collar (or kama) is a special treat, one of the prized sections of meat from just behind the gills. Bon Appétit magazine calls kama “the spareribs of the ocean,” which is apt.
I’ll mention a curated list of American-style rolls with fried shrimp and sauces, along with a “real” California roll featuring snow crab, “traditional” rolls with single ingredients (tuna, cucumber or avocado) and hand rolls.
Don’t miss the small pantry, if you head in for pickup. There you can find everything from Kewpie mayo and Japanese candies to soy sauce, sake and seasonings.
Overall, this is real Japanese kitchen cooking, with nigiri, rolls and sashimi worth the trip. Portions are logical rather than ridiculous and use thoughtful, well-curated ingredients.
Takoyaki Ball, $6: These didn’t survive the trip home, meaning I ate them all during the drive. They are a sort of round pancake filled with octopus and vegetables and slathered with a reasonable amount of mayo sauce. Dangerously delicious.
Carpaccio, $15: It’s like sashimi light; choose from hamachi, salmon, albacore or scallop with a light yuzu (citrus) and soy vinaigrette.
Sashimi Appetizer, $18: A good deal for 10 pieces of perfectly balanced raw fish (no rice). Sashimi can be a pitfall at lesser restaurants, where fish has been frozen and thawed so many times it becomes a chewy sponge. Asahi’s, however, was fresh, clean and delicious.
Chicken Karaage, $9: Though the light rice flour breading doesn’t hold up exceptionally well for takeout, we love that you can choose thigh or breast, and the spicy-tart mayo sauce is crave-worthy.
Japanese Vegetable Curry, $15: Grilled cucumber, squash, carrots and Brussels sprouts are set on a bed of rice with lightly spiced curry gravy, Japanese style. Warming, comforting and great the next day.
Omakase Nigiri, $40: “Chefs Choice” is always the way to go at a sushi bar, if you’re up for adventure. Honestly, omakase is the only way I’ve learned that raw ama ebi (spot prawns) and Hokkaido hotate (scallops from the best spot — Hokkaido) are insanely good. You really can’t go wrong with any of the nigiri or sashimi, which include several types of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, crab legs and Spanish mackerel. Snappers, Arctic char and uni are frequent daily specials.
Tamago Nigiri, $6: This is not your usual overly sweet, overly chewy factory-made omelet. These are fluffy and savory, with a slightly browned edge and a dash of shrimp paste. Impossible to resist.
Rainbow Roll, $14: Tuna, salmon, avocado and shrimp top a simple California roll. A crowd-pleaser.
Tsukemono Moriawase, $7: I judge a Japanese kitchen by the pickled veggies they offer. These often alien-looking bits of cucumber, daikon, plum, garlic, carrot, eggplant or ginger offer balance to the meal. Asahi’s were a solid mix that included pickled daikon, narazuke and garlic. Not my absolute favorites, but still, an important addition.
Asahi Sushi and Kitchen: 335 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-395-0487. Order online at asahisushiandkitchen.com. Open 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 — 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.