Sushi California – great sushi, even greater korokke

    For a while I knew nothing about Japanese food, then within less than one year, I’ve found three places in Berkeley to satisfy my Japanese cravings. To get yakitori, guaranteed quality and to impress friends, I go to Ippuku. For a homey meal at affordable price and convenient distance, I swing by Musashi. For sushi and croquette, Sushi California tops the list.

    Its name is generic and its location rather hidden, had Kristen not shared a Berkeleyside review on my Facebook wall some time ago, I would never have noticed Sushi California, much less tried (I tend to stay away from generic names because they often imply generic food). Then Kristen totally forgot about the place. One day I asked her “wanna try Sushi California?”
    – What’s that?
    – The place you posted on my wall…
    – …

    The biggest reason that I remembered Sushi California before going there was this line in Anna Mindess’ review: “Chef Arakaki admits that he used to offer other Okinawan classics like goya champura (sautéed bitter melon) but they did not sell well.” I love bitter melon, and even more than that, I love ethnic restaurants that try to offer regional specialties, which often go unnoticed by foreign customers and are eventually taken off the menu. (This is why it’s so hard to find decent traditional food in America, regardless of what cuisine you’re looking for.) So, in some way, I liked Sushi California even before I went. I didn’t hope to see bitter melon there now, but what was there was more than enough to keep me coming back.

    Black seaweed salad

    Black seaweed salad ($4.45) – mozuku seaweed, cucumber, raw okra and lemon – Slimy okra isn’t my thing but this salad was so cold, so refreshing. Perfect summer food.

    49'er roll - salmon

    49’er roll ($9.95) – salmon and stuff. EXTREMELY refreshing. The lemon brightened up everything, the chewy salmon on top complemented the shrimp tempura inside. I was too busy inhaling it to notice any room for improvement, but I doubt there was any.


    Karaage ($6.95) – a bit too oily and soggy

    Hot sake and edamame

    Hot sake and edamame

    Hamachi nigiri

    Hamachi nigiri – What I liked: no wasabi on the rice, the fish is buttery. What I slightly disliked: the fish is not chewy enough.

    Okinawan soba

    Okinawan soba ($9.95) – I was actually expecting the cold soba, but this version with pork belly, egg and kamaboko is nothing to complain about. As hearty as it looks.


    Shishamo ($3.95) – grilled smelt, on the wet side, a few minutes longer on the grill would have been nice.

    Kanpachi nigiri

    Kanpachi nigiri ($4.50) – Wonderful texture, but overall the taste pales in comparison to the aji. The aji was just too good.

    Kurobuta sausage

    Kurobuta sausage ($3.95) – black pig sausage

    Manhattan roll

    Manhattan roll ($8.95) – red tuna outside, tempura asparagus and mango inside – Tuna and mango don’t play well with each other though…

    Wasabi tako

    Wasabi tako ($4.25) – purely for the texture.

    Aji nigiri

    Aji nigiri ($4.95) – a seasonal special. This was the first time in months that I became vocal after taking a bite. I couldn’t contain myself, and immediately told chef Arakaki how good it was.

    Anago nigiri

    Anago nigiri ($4.95) – Salt-water eel. Another seasonal special. Again, I became vocal. Its deliciousness will linger in my head for another 20 years.

    Sweet potato

    Purple sweet potato korokke ($3.95) – Slightly sweet, moist inside and crunchy outside, not milky, not too dry.

    Finally, the PERFECT korokke. The size, the crunchiness, the moistness, the taste are all perfect. My love for these rivals Kristen’s love for Gregoire’s potato puffs, and that girl would sell you for Gregoire’s potato puffs if she could. 😉

    Red bean and green tea ice cream

    Red bean and green tea ice cream ($3) – the standard fare.

    On Friday, the homey atmosphere is warmed up with live music: first a guitar, then a cello accompaniment later into the night. I like to sit at the bar to watch the chefs slicing and shaping their sushi, and to see which dishes get ordered. The chefs were so focused that I dared not interrupt, and I was happily immersed in such atmosphere anyway. Sushi California was first opened in 1986. Chef Arakaki told Mindess that originally he intended to expand it into a chain of restaurants, but it didn’t happen. I’m glad it didn’t happen. Chains can never feel the same, and Berkeley would have lost its most memorable sushi joint.

    Address: Sushi California
    2033 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
    Berkeley, CA 94704
    (510) 548-0703

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    2 comments to Sushi California – great sushi, even greater korokke

    • Oh gosh! Haha you know I love my potato puffs, but I think these sweet potato croquettes are some pretty good competition! 😉

      LOL and yes, it was the name that made me forget about posting this on your wall! Sushi California is probably the vaguest restaurant name ever haha, but it’s such a pleasure to discover all the delicious treasures that hide inside!

      I want to go back now for those korokke now!

    • Would it be too crazy if we go there and ask for like 10 plates of korokke? 😀 Actually, I don’t mind being crazy hehe 😀

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