But there's hope on the horizon for those seeking casual Japanese food, and it's called Sumo San. Chef Victor Srikusalanukul, a transplant from California with more than 18 years experience in Asian fusion cooking, has opened his own version of a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in Shockoe Bottom.
Srikusalanukul's focus is on using only the freshest ingredients. Menus are seasonal and reflect various cuisines, as can be seen in his salmon filet with pumpkin curry sauce and his baked polenta with spinach,served with shoestring fries.
Yet the heaviest focus is still Japanese. Edamame, chicken teriyaki and sushi abound and are served alongside a specialty martini list, plenty of '80s music and an upbeat, kitschy sensibility.
Don't be surprised if Chef Victor is the first to greet you as you walk past the giant blowup sumo wrestler by the front door. This sets a relaxed tone for the rest of the evening. Service is friendly and efficient, and prices are reasonable, with appetizers for $1.95 to $9.95 and dinners from $8.95 to $12.95 for the Niku teriyaki steak. Sushi prices are on-target, with rolls ranging from $3.95 for an avocado roll to $14.95 for the sumo- attack combo (one California roll, six pieces of sushi and four pieces of sashimi).
You must try the salmon skin roll. It's filled with chunks of crispy salmon skin, offering the perfect combination of crunchy texture and sweet, chewy rice. The caterpillar roll is a whimsical take on the traditional eel roll wrapped in avocado, and it comes complete with shredded cucumber "whiskers" and octopus suction-cup "eyes." Soft-shell crabs make frequent appearances on the menu, but are best in the spider roll tempura crab encased in seasoned rice, smelt roe and cucumber.
The rock and roll shrimp is Mexican/Japanese fusion. Described on the menu as sautéed shrimp and guacamole served with fried wonton chips, somewhere along the way it evolved into tempura jumbo shrimp resting in a martini glass filled with guacamole and served with fried flour tortilla chips. The guacamole tasted a little too mayonnaisey, but overall, it seemed better than the description on the menu.
The lettuce wrapped was a generous portion of fried shrimp, kanikama (imitation crab) and a generous amount of rice wrapped in a whole lettuce leaf. It was tasty, but could have used a dipping sauce. Salmon skin makes another sound appearance in the sake no kawa, salmon-skin salad. Tossed with a wasabi-spiked ponzu sauce, it was an immaculate blend of mixed greens, chunks of salmon skin and bonito flakes (dried shavings from the bonito fish).
This is easy Japanese food. Fresh, colorful, reasonably priced and made for everyone. "Have fun. Eat Sushi" is Chef Victor's motto, and this sushi bar is without pretense. The dining room has yet to find its own personality the walls are a bit bare, making the room appear starchy instead of kitschy and fun like the menu. Maybe a few more blowup sumos would do the trick. SSumo San Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar1725 E. Main St.
Open daily for lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and dinner 5 - 10 p.m.
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