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.
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.
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