There's a yelled greeting when you enter Sushi Box, cheerful but surprising. Think Moe's Southwest Grill, except in Japanese. Does one yell back?
The place is dark with stained hardwood furniture and a tiny bar. The menu, at first glance, looks like your average sushi restaurant. A California roll, a spicy tuna roll and chicken teriyaki are available and omnipresent in most Richmond sushi establishments. As is common, everything's served with that gritty miso soup and insanely cold, drenched-in-ginger-dressing, iceberg lettuce salad.
Dig a little deeper though — I mean, as deep as you can into a laminated menu. Rolls with such names as shrimp killer, red bull and popcorn lobster begin to leave an impression. An appetizer of triangular wonton pieces, happy crunch ($4.95), topped with chopped tuna and jalapeños, is reminiscent of nachos, Asian style. Fried gyoza ($6.95), filled with a light pork and green onion mixture, has great flavor and a crispy, translucent pleated wrapper.
The sushi burrito ($9.95) is tuna, shrimp, avocado, crab, cucumber and carrot wrapped in lettuce and soy paper. Its resemblance to a fat burrito gets kudos for presentation and tastes fresh and sweet. Cajun roll ($12.95), a special on one visit, boasts boatloads of spice atop slightly seared Cajun tuna surrounding spicy tuna wrapped around shrimp tempura. It's bang on, with over-the-top Cajun pepper included as a hat tip to Louisiana.
The crispy rice ($9.95) is like sushi pizza. Fried till delicate and resembling a fast-food hash brown, the flattened rice crust is topped with tuna, roe and spicy mayonnaise. The result is crunchy yet sticky and appealingly strange. The shrimp killer II ($10.95), another special roll, is tempura shrimp rolled in even more shrimp then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnut. It makes another strange but intriguing rice-heavy concoction that sushi beginners might enjoy.
If you aren't into raw and avoid all things fried, Sushi Box has a number of baked rolls. The lobster roll isn't lobster but a bait and switch (pun intended) with a large quantity of tiny crawfish piled onto a California roll. Slathered in spicy mayonnaise, the entirety is oven-baked and served steaming. Forks are necessary. Crawfish, "crab" and piping hot avocado make a nice combination precariously held together by rice and nori.
Lunch features bento boxes and combination specials, a quick way to sample a few different Sushi Box offerings. Easy to split, they include tempura and teriyaki. Udon noodle bowls are listed among the sushi specials and are worth a try. The shrimp tempura, spicy tuna udon bowl ($8.45) is a burst of light-brown broth and airy tempura prawn. While in no way authentic, this complex flavor combination is another way to get a feel for this tiny restaurant. Service is brisk but helpful. Music is less Japan-like, more American pop. A tiny green mango milk candy is served with the check, which is a little more now because of a recent price increase.
As you leave, the same voices yell a farewell, one more example why this secluded strip-mall sushi joint is just a little different from the others and … just a little outside of the sushi box. S
11458 Belvedere Vista Lane
Monday-Saturday Noon-9 p.m.
Sunday: 5-9 p.m.