Taro's - Not So Much a Review as an Overall Critique on Trendy Sushi

Monday, April 14, 2008

I have taken a long time going over this review and written it a few different ways. The reason being is I can't seem to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it, at least not without getting off track. So this won't be so much a review as a critique, and not of Taro's but of sushi.

I won't go over the food dish by dish, trying to creatively lay out each handcrafted, colorful roll and describing their dizzying list of ingredients or the elegant simplicity of the miso soup. Taro's does a fine job on all fronts. The staff are polite and knowledgeable. Quite on the spot in fact. The decor is edgy and trendy, a magnet for that hip twenty-something crowd, yet relaxed enough for the everyday diner. The amount of Mikuni paraphernalia is a bit inundated with bobble heads and t-shirts, but nothing that borders on the level of a tourist trap.

In fact there is nothing really wrong. The food is delicious. The rolls and over the top and creative, with a laundry list of mayos, salsas (indeed), cream cheeses, teriyaki, tempura and every species of fish and are for the most part quite yummy. The menu offers a varied selection of bento box options that should please anyone, and some traditional Japanese fare if you want to try something new.

Still, Taro's cannot really offer anything unique. It is simply another in the Sushi Trend. Cool, hip, jaunty places with hard metal, smooth lines, and dedicated to the x-treme sushi experience. Some rolls are delicious, others are just odd like the Ceviche Roll, "An inside out roll filled with Fresh white fish, cilantro, lemon zest, and avocado, topped with our famous orange salsa."

The Ceviche Roll is crazy spicy and is something that frustrates every sushi enthusiast. It's too fbig. So big you can't eat it in one bite. It falls apart on your plate making it a chopstick nightmare. There is a limit to sushi. Cramming in so much and being so hyper trendy and cool that the food begins to suffer, but the in-style renegade rolls keep sucking us in. And they may be tasty, but something seems lost to me.

Like that pair of dime store jeans you bedazzeled the hell out of back in the 80's, there is only so much artificial flare you can give sushi.

Nigiri is the epitome of sushi to me, and to a lesser and more pedantic but equally appreciated effect, the California Roll. Straightforward and pronounced flavor. Direct. Pleasing. As sushi should be. Not a mosh pit of ingredients competing to see who gets to beat their flavor into you.

Then there is the seeming sense of production. Each roll has a set schematic. A blueprint. Like the mass developed houses of any burgeoning suburbia, they are cookie cutter. Lacking what seem to be real personality. Lines of sushi chefs producing as instructed.

Where did the love go, that time honored secret ingredient?

Taro's. Dragonfly. Kru. Each are delicious and I am more than happy to dine at them at the drop of the hat. I admit, I adore some of these crazy sushi creations! But it's the places that are unique. Small. Where the care and compassion, the delicate detail that isn't simply trained into the sushi chef for the next whatever x-roll but is rather honed and given attention to each and every delicate sliver of fish.

This sense of the individual. This spirit of flavor for its grand purpose of pleasure, of actually being able to appreciate the fish and not hunt for it under it's chili aioli is gone.

And I want it back.

(Note: The picture above is not of Taro's sushi, it was too dark to get a descent picture. That roll comes from Moshi Moshi, my favorite sushi place in Davis.)


  1. Great essay. I love your blog and totally agree with you about sushi. There is a lot to be said about simplicity!

  2. You must try Akebono on Freeport! Sit at the sushi bar.

    Very well written piece G..very clever.

  3. Well then, my baklava-gorging friend, you must try our little sushi place, Blue Nami. It's tucked into a strip mall in Orangevale, and while it does offer some freaky-deaky crap, its traditional sushi is some of the finest I have eaten in many, many states.

  4. Hey, where is this Taro place? I live in Davis and Moshi Moshi is my favorite sushi as well. Zen toro is a close second though. I saw you were located in Davis from Elise's site, is that right? I just moved here last September for grad school, thought I'd drop in and say hi!

    I agree to some extent about sushi being trendy, although I do enjoy the "crazy" rolls. My favorite roll of all time is from Robongi in Hoboken, NJ. It was a special roll for the week and it had some fish (forget which) along with strawberry, kiwi and mango inside. It was absolutely incredible, better than anything I've tried at Moshi Moshi. Also, if you ever go to NYC, go to Josie's East, they've got some to-die-for brown rice sushi with various fruits...delicious.

    Last one: In San Francisco in the Marina, Naked Fish is an excellent sushi place, but down the street a couple blocks is a tiny little sushi place that offers much better prices and a multigrain rice (black and red) for the rolls that is so tasty. While you eat, the four chefs behind this tiny counter are just pumping out these multigrain rice rolls for to-go orders.

    - The Peanut Butter Boy

  5. I agree completely. We love Nishiki, but mainly because we know all the sushi chefs and they make us simple, beautiful, tasteful food again and again.
    One of my pet peeves-cream cheese.
    I have some girlfriends that die for the stuff with their rolls.....what the hell? I don't have the heart to tell them how weird that is to me...

    I do love me some nigiri....and the good ol' rainbow roll. i went to Tokyo Fros (to meet so friends) and they ordered something with butter sauteed shitakes. It overpowered everything and was just. not. great.

  6. Great line: "...and some traditional Japanese fare if you want to try something new."

    I too yearn for the very simple sushi menu - the one that fits on a single page. I don't want to spend 20 minutes examining every possible variation of weird ingredients.

    But part of me suspects that this unseemly smorgasbord is what has helped get more people into sushi. It was one of the cool things about coming back home to California, seeing men in wifebeaters, or a pair of 12-year-old boys, eating at a sushi restaurant. But there's always a price to going mainstream.

  7. Hi there. Our little jewel away from the mainstream sushi "diners" is Blue Nami, the original in Orangevale in the Save Mart Shopping Center. Tiny has 10-11 tables in combos of 2's and 4's with about 8 counter seats. A little Patio outside. It's quaint simple and mostly very delicious. We were tired of the "Mikuni Hype" and wait to get a table. We new about this place(because we live about 1/2 mile away) so decided one night to try it. We go once a week. Give it and go if you have not already. You will leave very happy and satisfied. One of my favorite rolls is the Crazy Crazy and Jack's special 2. Service is excellent and you feel like you have been invited into someone's home. Debby :)

  8. Paradise roll at Sushi Cafe. That's all I have to say.

  9. I am a sushi addict, and these look delicious! I keep thinking I'd love to try making my own sushi so that I can feed my addiction (at a lower cost!)


Hey, you're leaving a comment! That's pretty darn cool, so thanks. If you have any questions or have found an error on the site or with a recipe, please e-mail me and I will reply as soon as possible.

Vanilla Garlic All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger