8150 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead. 626-288-0770
Lunch and dinner, every day.
The Food: There’s a double conveyor — one right behind the other — at this revolving sushi bar in a shopping mall, where the colors of the plates let you know the prices (there are five colors, priced from $2 to $3), and where the selection of dishes marching by is encyclopedic — though if there’s something special you want, just ask.
About $18 per person. MC, V.
Beer and sake.
Rating: 2 and 1/2 stars
By Merrill Shindler
The Sakura (which is not to be confused with the several restaurants around town called “Sakura,” without the “The”) sits inside the Square Supermarket in the Garvey Square Shopping Center, a hotbed of many Asian restaurants, adjacent to what may be the largest banh mi shop in the San Gabriel Valley.
If you want to go shopping for Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean or Japanese ingredients, all you have to do is walk out from the sushi bar to the market aisles. And since it’s generally accepted that it’s a good idea to avoid shopping when hungry (fewer impulse items, don’t you know?), cruising with a basket through the wild selection of heavily packaged Japanese candies après a meal is a good idea. Otherwise, you might just grab up everything in sight.
(There’s an entire section of the market that sells nothing but Korean small dishes — banchan. Walking through it will make you feel like a kid in a toy story. A hungry kid, but a kid nonetheless.)
The Sakura is a kaiten sushi bar, which means a revolving sushi bar. The sushi is made by a manic team of chefs who stand in the middle, and then goes round and round and round. Unlike most revolving sushi bars, it doesn’t go round just one loop, but two. This is a double revolving sushi bar. I don’t know if that’s better. But it sure is fun to watch the plates revolve.
And The Sakura is one of the few revolving sushi bars to offer far more than sushi. There’s a menu of teriyaki and katsu dishes, and 13 combination plates, that mix and match chicken, beef and salmon, with tempura; these are old-school dishes, without a hint of sushi in sight.
<NO1>It’s an odd experience, that purists may bridle at. There’s a standing rule that you don’t eat cooked food at a sushi bar — that you don’t sit at the bar to consume teriyaki or tempura. (Of course, it’s also doubtful that purists will be found in revolving sushi bars. They don’t like gimmicks. They just like rice, fish and seaweed. Period.) <NO>
There’s also a wide assortment of salads to eat at the bar, most of which are big enough for two, or more. The spicy tuna seaweed salad was served in a bowl so large, we had to move dishes around to make room for it. It fed four persons. It wasn’t particularly spicy, though it did have a monster heap of tuna on top of the greens, and a monster pile of greens underneath. This is not a restaurant from which anyone emerges hungry.
My wife — who believes Purell is a god’s gift, and never goes anywhere without packets of Wet Ones — loves the fact that the many (many!) sushi plates on the conveyor belt have little plastic covers on them. There’s a full selection of basic nigiri (slice of fish on slab of rice) sushi here — blue fin tuna, big eye tuna, salmon, snapper, amberjack, yellowtail, shrimp, snow crab — 34 in all. But unless I miss my guess, it’s not the simple nigiri that gets most of the attention from the chefs, who will make anything on request. (If you don’t see it going round and round, just ask.)
What really seems to be revolving here are the rolls, the 18 regular rolls and the 24 “Special Rolls.” The regular rolls are pretty easy to recognize as they float past: spicy tuna roll, salmon skin roll, and octopus roll; those of us who bend an elbow in sushi bars know them when we see them. It’s the Special Rolls that can be a bit puzzling. There are so many and some look the same.
Not that there’s any problem grabbing a serendipitous roll. I would not be especially concerned if I thought I was tucking into the Hawaiian Roll (tuna on top of a California Roll), and instead had grabbed the Dragon Roll (baked eel on top of a California Roll). Heck! I’d probably be thrilled. The Rose Roll (shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, avocado) is a lovely creation, but then so is the Sunkissed Roll (salmon, spicy tuna, avocado) — crunchy in one case, soft in the other.
However you wind up ordering at The Sakura — from the menu, from the revolving sushi bar, or from the chefs behind the bar — the experience is a cheerful one, especially fueled by lots of chilled Japanese beer, and lots of cold sake.
And really, it’s hard to resist the urge to go shopping afterwards. The lights are bright, the colors are brighter, the food is so … pretty. And we were thrilled to find boxes of a chocolate snack called an Every Burger — tiny hamburgers filled with chocolate — and Hello Panda chocolate biscuits. There was so much more. In Japan, they love their candy. And they love to package their candy in bright red boxes.