Warm-Rice Hand Rolls and Okinawan-Style Doughnuts at the New Ozumo
As much as I love sushi and Japanese food in general, I rarely could bring myself to step foot inside this spot in San Jose’s Santana Row when it was the former Blowfish Sushi to Die For.
That’s because it was small, dark, and blared pulsating club-like music non-stop, making it impossible to hold any kind of conversation, let alone relax.
What a difference a new concept makes.
Jeremy Umland founded the original Ozumo in San Francisco in 2001. A New York native, he became passionate about Japanese food and culture when he played professional baseball in the Japanese Pacific League.
He’s installed at the helm of the San Jose restaurant, Chef Salvador Alvarez, who trained for six years under renowned Los Angeles-based Chef Katsuya Uechi of the Katsu-ya Group.
Prior to opening, I was invited to a media preview, then subsequently, invited in as a guest of the restaurant after it opened.
One of the perks about sitting at the bar is that you can indulge in made-to-order sushi hand rolls that feature fresh, still-warm rice. What a treat!
The restaurant offers far more than sushi, though. Let’s start with the fun cocktails, such as the “Kill Bill”-inspired “Go Go Yubari” ($12) that’s sort of like a cherry-inflected Manhattan. It’s made with Makers 46, Cherry Heering, sparkling sake, and lemon, and is garnished with a cherry wrapped inside a lemon peel. It’s citrusy, with a definite cherry note, along with a slight medicinal character.
Hanabi ($14) is an array of hamachi slices dressed with avocado, jalapeno and a warm jalapeno-ginger ponzu. Clean tasting with a hit of heat and soy, it’s a perfect raw fish dish.
Nigiri come two pieces to an order. We enjoyed the kampachi ($10), red snapper ($12), and ocean trout ($9), which were all nicely firm and had a natural butteriness.
Uni Men ($12) brings a small bowl of chilled somen noodles garnished with salmon roe, nori, a poached egg and Santa Barbara uni. Mix the slippery noodles with everything to enjoy its clear brininess in every mouthful.
The Okonomiyaki ($11) here is more petite in size than others elsewhere, but still plenty satisfying. The eggy pancake is cooked with cabbage, onion, and mung bean sprouts before being finished with Kewpie mayo, a sweet-savory sauce, and bonito flakes.
Japanese-style fried chicken, karaage ($9), arrive with deeply crisp and burnished exteriors and moist flesh.
There’s a range of yakitori skewers (two skewers per order) available, not only chicken and beef, but plenty of seafood and vegetable ones, as well. We couldn’t pass up the Hitsuji ($10) because it’s rare to see lamb on a yakitori menu. Here, it’s done with yuzo kosho and comes with a pinch of togarashi to dip into. Cooked over charcoal quickly, the lamb is super juicy and flavorful.
The Negima ($7) or chicken thigh with scallions is always one of my favorites and this one didn’t disappoint with its nice smoky flavor. For real taste of succulence, don’t pass up the Buta-Bara ($8), Berkshire pork belly that’s fatty, rich and just plain wonderful.
The desserts are all quite moderately priced. There’s seasonal soft-serve ($5) with choices of sauces (such as miso-caramel) and toppings (such as mochi) for an additional 50 cents each.
My husband couldn’t pass up the Sata Andagi ($4) or Okinawan-styled fried cake donuts. Covered in a shower of sugar, the donut holes have a fluffy, tender interior.
I adore butter mochi cake with its chewy texture. Here, it’s done in chocolate ($4) with a nice little sprinkle of sea salt over the top. It’s a like a brownie, but with bounce.
More Santana Row Restaurants to Try: Oveja Negra
And: Roots & Rye