Sushi Smackdown

Sushi Smackdown Sonoma County Style

Fighting a serious case of sushi belly* BiteClub lays down the chopsticks and names the winners of 2006 Sumos of Sonoma County Sushi

But before the drumroll, a quick shout out to all of you who weighed in with your picks. I’ll be adding some of your comments into this story soon (a girl can only type so fast). Click here to see the comments from yesterday.

And now, the winners…

Yokozuna (Grand Champion)
Ume Japanese Bistro: The Master
Tucked away in Windsor, Ume is the place that sushi connoisseurs talk about between themselves. The sushi is simple, minimal (not blobbed with wasabi or overly seasoned rice) letting the flavor of the fish express itself and sliced generously without being overdone. Plus-
– Perfectly brewed tea poured as soon as you sit down 
– Hands down, the best Monkfish pate
– Fresh, fresh, fresh-and did I mention fresh (**caveat below)
– Artistic presentation
– Great sake list
– Lots of specials and off-menu delicacies that satisfy a serious sushi-lover
– A careful balance between serious Nigiri/sashimi and wacky everything-but-the-kitchen-sink rolls. (Which can be fun in certain situations, but in no way considered true sushi). 8710 Old Redwood Highway, Windsor, 838.6700

Ozeki (Serious Sushi)

Yao Kiku: Insiders Choice
The key to Yao Kiku is getting in with the sushi chef. Frankly, I’ve yet to ingratiate myself properly (I think I ordered a California roll, and blew my chances), but regardless, I’ve never had a misstep at this Bennett Valley jewel. 2700 Yulupa Ave, Santa Rosa, 707.578.8180

Hana: Authentic
This one, I’m nominating primarily as a crowd favorite. My two experiences at Hana were less than illuminating (though the foie gras ‘sushi’ was delightful), but too many people I trust have told me that the chef is nothing short of brilliant. So okay, there you go. 101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707.586.0270

Sake’ O: Triple Threat
The Healdsburg outpost of Gary Chu’s empire has incredible sushi, monkfish pate and the Martini prawns that have made Chu a legend in SoCo. I’ll mention O’Sake (2446 Patio Court, Santa Rosa, 707.542.8282 ) here as well, but frankly, the sushi doesn’t even compare. 505 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, 707.433/2669

Sushi Tozai: The Sebastopol Sleeper 
An insider spot that consistently turns out solid sushi. 7531 Healdsburg Ave, Sebastopol, 707.824.9886

Seki wake (Pretty darned good)

Hiro: Petaluma power sushi
Watching the sushi chefs breakdown fake crab (the little pressed sticks which should never enter any real sushi restaurant) for 10 minutes while they pretty much ignored me didn’t bode well. Which is why Hiro falls short in my list, despite some otherwise good sushi. 107 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, 707.763.2300

Senju: Wow in Windsor
What makes Senju one of my perennial faves is the incredibly nice staff and, like Ume, the specials off-menu cuts that inspire and intrigue. 8960 Brooks Road South, Windsor, 707.836.1699

Komu Subi (Just plain fun)

Sakura: Anime explosion
It is quite possible that every inch of this restaurant is covering with something cute, pink, fuzzy or adorable. Or blinking. Which makes it one of my favorite spots on a rainy, crummy day. The sushi is good (though not mind-blowing), reasonably priced, and service is fast enough to get you in and out before your visual cortex, uh, explodes. 300 Coddingtown Center, Santa Rosa; 707.523.1916

Sushi to Dia For: Sauce with that?
A newcomer to SoCo, Sushi to Dia For–isn’t. But props for their creative rolls and sense of fun. Frankly, there’s a little too much creative saucing and showboating for my taste. But, it’s a bustling hot spot that fills the urgent bar crawling sush-cravings in a pinch. 119 4th St, Santa Rosa, 707.576.9309

Boathouse: Sushi Go Round
The main thing I like about Boathouse is the boats, which float to the bar seats with your dinner bobbing along happily. The sushi is pretty average, but hey, having your dinner dock in front of you is sometimes worth the money. 6278 Redwood Dr. Rohnert Park, Rohnert Park, 707.588. 9440

Sushi Hana: Cheap(ish) eatsNo frills sushi. A crowd favorite, yes. Great sushi? Well, it depends how hungry you are. Best bet for gorging yourself senseless on a budget, especially on the ‘cheap’ days. 6930 Burnett, Sebastopol, 707.823.3778

And the rest

Jo Jo & Café Japan: DowntownersYou said it. I said it. Too much variance in consistency for these to get our votes. While I’ve had good experiences at both, I’ve also had some pretty mediocre ones as well. 645 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707.569.8588

Sapporo: The Fix
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I actually go here pretty often. There’s not much to commend on the sushi. It’s fine, but never exceptional. It’s simply the closest fix near my work. And sometimes you just need a fix. 518 7th St, Santa Rosa, 707.575/0631

Take Your Chances

Here are several that are yet untried…
Kabuki: Another crowd faveLots of you love this place. Worth a try? Let me know. 17 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, 707.773.3232

Shiso: Sonoma star?
Newest entry in the town of Sonoma. 522 Broadway, Sonoma, 707.933.9331

U&I: Cheap eats
Frankly, I’ve been a little scared of this place, located in a strip mall in the Sonoma State area, but again, it gets several nods from those of you who love sushi on the cheap. 99 Southwest Blvd., Rohnert Park, 707.794.0410

Shogun: 2350 Midway Drive, Santa Rosa, 707.575.5557 
Nagomi: 8235 Old Redwood Hwy, Cotati, 707.795.9753
Kyoto: No. 5, Padre Town Center, Rohnert Park, 707.584.4204

*Sushi Belly (def.): The state of uncomfortable fullness after eating $80 worth of sushi. Brought about by rice expansion. Usually goes away within 2-3 hours, allowing sushi eaters to gorge again.

**Okay, I just got taken to task for my comment about “fresh”. Here’s the deal on that. Almost all sushi in the US (with a few exceptions, tuna being one of them) must be frozen at some point to kill parasites. In reality, a majority of fish served in sushi restaurants, has at some point been frozen for varying lengths of time. It’s a matter of economics and seasonality. I don’t have a huge problem with that, as long as the fish has been properly handled, is of exceptional quality to begin with, and…well duh, actually tastes “fresh”…as in not freezer burned or particularly fishy. So, okay, point taken. It’s not exactly “fresh” . But next time, don’t refer to me as Cox. I’ve never even met the guy.