Here is the sixth of seven installments about South Sound maki sushi.
Sapporo Sushi & Roll Teriyaki Restaurant
Where: 4803 Pacific Highway E., Fife; 253-922-5656
Price: $ (Entrees under $14)
Be prepared to wait for a table at Sapporo. Judging from the hundred or so boxes that hold the chopsticks of restaurant regulars -- labeled, even, with their names -- this is a restaurant that does a lot of business, and has a lot of regulars. We met one diehard regular (the kind with his own chopsticks box) in the lobby of the restaurant while waiting for our table. He's a well-traveled sushi lover and Sapporo is his favorite for maki. We knew we had landed in good sushi terrain after hearing that.
It's a small place, with seven tables that seat about 26, and a seven-seat sushi bar. Hanging paper lanterns and a few other decorative touches make it an attractive restaurant, although the cases of beer in the corner could use a shielding screen. Wood-enclosed booths provide some degree of privacy for diners.
The menu has plenty of classic Japanese dishes, such as katsu, sukiyaki, teriyaki, yakisoba and udon, but most of the tables around us were ordering sushi and the restaurant came highly recommended for its sushi.
The maki menu of more than 25 rolls has the usual suspects, but many specialty rolls, as well. Tired of the typical spicy tuna and unagi rolls, we opted for all signature rolls on our visit.
I don't know if we ordered wrong – but the flavors of two of the four rolls we sampled were cloying and lacked a savory dimension. Still, the approach to sushi here is inventive.
Meals here begin with complimentary miso, a small salad and an appetizer of pickled vegetables very similar to the banchan pickled appetizers served at Korean restaurants (a quick scan of the menu did find a few Korean dishes, such as short ribs and Haedup Bab, Korean style sashimi).
The tea is nutty (my favorite). It's easy to fill up on the freebies, so order selectively – rolls are large here.
The rose roll ($9.25) was the hit of our table. Spicy tuna wrapped in a very thin layer of fried egg is rolled with crunchy cucumber. It was a creamy, spicy, crunchy experience. The roll was absolutely loaded with thick pieces of tuna, working out to be a big bargain for the price of the roll. I liked the composition of this roll and it was beautifully displayed on a plate.
Our maki adventure took a perilous turn when we ordered the corn snow roll ($9.99). In retrospect, I supposed we should have known a maki roll with corn is a bit of an iffy proposition, but we had high hopes the flavors would work. They didn't. The roll with cucumber, yamagobo (pickled burdock root), avocado and imitation crab comes covered in a creamy corn sauce, then torched before presentation. Imagine a sushi roll covered in a sauce that had the taste and texture of creamed corn – and you get an idea of how this roll tasted. My advice: skip it.
The garden crunch roll ($7.25) with cucumber, imitation crab, shrimp tempura and topped with tempura crumbs was a much better flavor pairing than the corn snow roll. The tart apple-ginger sauce drizzled on the garden roll didn't taste much of apple, but it proved a puckery companion to the creamy-crunchy tempura roll.
The Hawaiian roll ($7.99) was another that seemed a good idea on paper, but in execution, it was cloying and a one-flavor experience. Stuffed with tuna, cucumber, avocado and imitation crab, it needed more of a savory flavor to save it from the cloying mandarin orange sauce on top.
On a next visit, I'd order the volcano roll ($12.99), which is a California roll covered with spicy scallops and shrimp. I also would order the cherry blossom roll ($11.99) – a salmon roll covered in tuna. Sounds delicious.