Tobiko, or not tobiko

A new kosher sushi bar has the crowds piling in, but just how good is the food?

sushi 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
sushi 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
A world-weary woman once said, "Eating sushi is like sex: the more you have, the more you want." Having been lucky enough to indulge in a late-night happy hour at another Jerusalem sushi joint just the prior week, sushi was definitely on the brain. I love the fresh, invigorating feeling of sushi. A good roll can involve all the senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and - if it includes roe - even sound as the eggs pop, pop, pop inside my overjoyed mouth. So I was happy to hear that a new kosher sushi bar had opened up in Rehavia, relatively close to my house. First glances can be telling: Although the restaurant underwent major revamping prior to opening (it is located on the premises of the former Jerusalem stalwart Cafe Atara) and is now outfitted with a wraparound miniature Japanese garden and clean white aesthetic interior, it still manages to exude a cozy "neighborhood cafe" vibe. But perhaps this non-threatening, Everyman appearance is not a bad thing, since it accurately reflects the standard of the food and the mood of the place. My dining partner and I started out with gyoza (chicken-filled dumplings - NIS 24) and a seaweed salad (NIS 18). Though gyoza are usually small, delicately steamed pockets, these were "seared," according to the menu. When they came, they were giant, fried and swimming in grease, with an intensely salty, thick sauce. The meat itself felt rubbery and even without the sauce to deliver the final blow, the gyoza themselves were flavorless, with only a hint of ginger and salt to distinguish them. They were edible. Just. The seaweed salad with glass noodles and cucumber, while tasty, was too heavy due to the overpowering soy-sesame dressing. We were not off to a good start. My companion is much more food savvy than I and wisely ordered the Sunshine roll, a "special" of the Sushi Bar comprised of spicy tuna, seabass, tobiko (tiny, clear fish eggs), cucumber, carrot and spring onion wrapped in yellow soy leaves. Reveling in the kosher free-for-all, I had decided to let the taxed waiter suggest an additional special roll from the fairly extensive menu. He recommended the Rainbow with such little hesitation that I didn't even bother to find out what it was. We also ordered nigiri salmon and tuna. The waiter's recommendation, which included tuna, salmon and yellow- tail fish and sweet potato tempura chips, looked very attractive, but turned out to be heavily dominated by the tempura chips which were not so much crispy as oily. Although the fish was generous and fresh, it was almost undetectable and it certainly wasn't designed to leave you with a feeling of invigorating health. Moreover, the rice both here and throughout all the sushi choices was mediocre. Sushi rice should be fully cooked but retain a tangible bite; this rice had only the faintest hint of an edge. In addition, although it stuck together nicely, the balance between the rice vinegar, salt and sugar was slightly off kilter, which left the white stuff too sweet. The Sunshine was better, with the yellow soy leaves an unusual touch and the filling boasting a nice texture, but little wow factor. The nigiri was fair-to-middling, with excellent fish once again, but problematic rice. (The rice had an unfortunate cumulative effect meaning that by the time you were on your fourth piece of sushi, you felt like you had eaten dessert, not a main course.) Dessert itself was a narrow assortment of sorbets which tasted remarkably familiar. I think we buy the same brand from the supermarket. This came as something of a surprise. The Rehavia Sushi Bar isn't an ascetic, purist kind of a place; it's a crowd pleaser. Apart from the sushi menu there are a number of different options for stir-fried chicken, noodle and meat concoctions that are vaguely Far East but hardly pure Japan. So would it hurt them to throw in a parev hot chocolate fondant like everyone else? Altogther, however, the experience was better than the sum of its parts. On a Tuesday night, the restaurant was full to capacity, properly heated, clean, contemporary and inviting. I would come again, but with lower expectations on the food front. But what can you expect? You get what you pay for. The overall cost of the meal, which included two starters, more than ample sushi selection, two desserts and two alcoholic beverages was just around the NIS 250 mark - half of what it would have cost at a "better" sushi bar. So I'd still agree with my world-weary friend when it comes to a sushi experience, but with one caveat: "Eating so-so sushi doesn't make you run back for more."n Sushi Bar, Rehov Aza 29, (02) 566-7477. Since Weekend visited the Sushi Bar, the restaurant has added a selection of desserts to its menu. Kosher. Atira Winchester contributed to this report.