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Domo arigato, Sushiya 

Good fish, good prices, good restaurant

When you pick up sushi from a shared plate do you courteously use the reverse ends of your chopsticks rather than the ends you eat from? Or are you one of those who makes wasabi soup in the soy sauce vessel? If these are your habits in a sushi bar, you're sorely in need of lessons in sushi etiquette. In Japan, such actions are insulting to sushi chefs, and let's face it only morons would irritate the person who's feeding them.

Most Americans commit such acts unthinkingly. After all, it took us a long time to adopt the practice of eating raw fish when we had always called it bait. And it's been many years since I decided I could control my weight better if I didn't clean my plate. How could I have known that leaving food behind in a Japanese restaurant is considered boorish, and it's downright indecent to leave rice uneaten. It was easy to find tutelage online to improve my insensitivity. But I don't have to worry whether I blatantly displayed rude behavior in San Luis Obispo's newest Japanese restaurant, Sushiya, because I've never left as much as a single grain of rice behind.

click to enlarge HERE, FISHY, FISHY :  Sushiya serves up tantalizing fish in a variety of colorful ways. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • HERE, FISHY, FISHY : Sushiya serves up tantalizing fish in a variety of colorful ways.

# When it comes to sushi, I'm ultra picky. There are three things that are of the utmost importance to me: fresh maguro, fresh hamachi, and fresh sake. The latter isn't in reference to rice wine I mean the freshest tuna, yellowtail, and salmon. For that matter, anything that's put in my roll had better be fresh. The cucumber must be crunchy, the avocado must be creamy and ripe, and the tempura must be as delicate as lace and crispy. We all know this isn't what you get in every sushi house. In fact, I once walked into a place in San Francisco that reeked of dead fish. I immediately exited, muttering "nevermore."

I've dined in Sushiya six times since it opened (one has to be sure after all, especially when it's this good), and I've never been disappointed. What really sweetens the icing on the cake is the bill at the end. Every satisfying meal I've enjoyed here was value priced compared to meals at sushi restaurants I've tried from Paso Robles to Santa Maria. Admittedly, my husband Dan Hardesty (occasionally referred to as Mr. Marcks) and I typically order the same thing everywhere. But that only serves to make us experts at judging the ratio between price and quality. Sushiya has provided us with everything we expect in a supremely satisfying meal out: cheerful service, value prices, excellent selection, and quality we can taste.

I haven't tried the Teppan grill, but that's only because it's not what I crave when I'm headed for a great sushi bar. Make ours raw, please. Dan and I also prefer to sit at the sushi bar so we can watch those master slicers in action. On our first visit, as soon as sushi chef Bob Park handed us our plate of pickled ginger, I could see how fresh it was and I sighed contentedly. We gobbled up the complimentary edamame beans and found that the real treats were yet to come. We always start with nigiri sushi (sliced raw fish over vinegared sticky rice). My favorite is the Sake. We could tell it was a belly piece of salmon, which is more fatty and delectable than if sliced from the section near the tail. Our order of albacore came with a light sauce topped with a little dot of hot sauce and a surprise under the tuna: a crispy slice of fried garlic. It was such a wonderful juxtaposition of flavors and textures it made us hum aloud in delight.

Even though we order all of our favorite fish alone, we always enjoy one specialty roll because of its pleasant textural difference. Our usual is the rainbow roll, like a California roll inside but topped with slices of ebi (shrimp), sake, maguro, hamachi, and izumi dai (red snapper). I must say that Sushiya's rolls are generously sized and, like everything else here, quite reasonably priced. Still I have to ask: Why is it that sushi chefs in every place I've dined (except the eminent Nobu, a phenomenally expensive Japanese restaurant in New York City, Las Vegas, and Miami) cut the slices so thick if we're expected to eat it in one bite? More importantly, I'd be willing to pay more for real crab in my roll if I only had the choice. That's why I was so fond of the now-defunct Just Sushi, which always used Dungeness crab, not surimi.

On my last visit, I met Sushiya co-owner Bruce Lee (no relation to the martial arts legend) who explained that he and his partner Bob Park, both master sushi chefs, opened their first Sushiya in Santa Barbara. He described it as an express-style restaurant as opposed to the full-service restaurant in SLO, and they plan to franchise both styles in the future. When asked what enticed them to open here, Lee said: "I love this area. It's like Japan with its hot springs."

Manager Toshio "Toshi" Maruta pointed out that it's not simply a restaurant: "We offer entertainment and have a party room that easily accommodates large groups. We want to reach out to local businesses and let them know we can cater to every budget."

The owners remodeled the dining room, formerly Sakura, to contemporary style to make it more appealing to everyone. Once I ordered take-out and found that it too was exceptional.

"We're a Japanese restaurant that's dedicated to quality ingredients at reasonable prices to appeal to all," Lee explained of their concept for Sushiya. "This restaurant is like my new baby I've chosen the best of everything for it."

To their credit, they've gotten the formula just right. Check it out.

INFOBOX: So sushi

Sushiya Japanese Restaurant is open daily at 11560 Los Osos Valley Road in SLO. Info: 595-1500 or www.sushiyarestaurant.net.

INFOBOX: Tolosa's Wine and Cheese Experience

This fabulous tasting opportunity is back at last and well worth a special trip out to Edna Valley. Every Saturday, Tolosa's concierge John Shakley conducts a tasting that includes four premium Tolosa wines with four artisan cheeses purchased from the Monterey St. Wine Company in SLO. The knowledgeable Shakley offers a superb educational experience. He can teach you how to discern the fine nuances to match the right wine with the right cheese. I attended last summer and loved the opportunity to taste pairings like Tolosa Pinot Gris with a wonderful three-year-aged Old Amsterdam Reserve from Holland. Scheduled each Saturday now through Sept. 29, it's $15 for their Heritage wine club members and $20 for the general public. Held in the private Heritage Room at Tolosa, the tastings take place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. For details, visit www.tolosawinery.com.

You can reach New Times' Cuisine columnist at Kathy@GrapevineRadio.net.

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