by Terrance Mc Arthur
Our roving food critic Terrance Mc Arthur continues his search for great food in Sanger and the surrounding communities. Check out more Great Food Search here!
In Japanese, sushi means “sour-tasting.”
Sorry, that’s what the original translation would be. Today, sushi means rice (salted, vinegared, or sweetened) with fish, meat, vegetables, or fruit. When most Westerners hear the word, they think the translation is “raw fish.”
Sure, I’d had sushi, before…I thought. At some Asian buffets, I’d had the California Roll, which is as close to real sushi as a fast-food burger is to a filet mignon. My immersion into Sushiland began when my wife texted about a new place in Sanger, Casa Oinari. I texted back, “Oh, great. Just what Sanger needs…another Mexican restaurant.” I looked it up online, and…Wait a minute! It’s a sushi place! KRL’s editor had wanted a Great Food Search on sushi for ages, and this place was less than a mile from home, so…..BANZAI! Here we go, diving into the wild and wonderful world of sushi!
(OK, maybe not a dive, more like a wade. I mean, it’s not like I was going straight for the dishes with unagi…eel. I stayed more with crab, salmon, and tuna. I wasn’t ready for going off the ten-foot board into the deep end.)Casa Oinari (775 Bethel Ave. #101, Sanger) It used to be an El Pollo Loco, across the parking lot from the WalMart, but now it’s a sushi place with a partly Hispanic name (Casa = Spanish for house, Oinari = Japanese god of food, farmers, and growing rice, Casa Oinari = House of the God of Food). The original shop is in Parlier, but the recently added Sanger location is larger and able to have a wider menu. They have sushi, nigiri (sushi with raw fish on top), sashimi (raw fish slices), rice bowls, and bento boxes. I had an eight-piece Spicy Crab Roll ($7.95)—salmon and avocado—and Salmon Creek Roll with cucumber and avocado ($7.95). My family enjoyed the Chicken Teriyaki Bento Box ($15.95), especially with the secret weapon: Bacon-Fried Rice. That’s right! Bacon-Fried Rice! Gotta have it!
Kikku Japanese Food (2336 Tulare St., Fresno) Kikku could mean “chrysanthemum” or “kick,” depending on the spelling and the dictionary. Well, it’s as lovely as a flower and the food can have a kick, so it works both ways. I’ve been coming here for years, even before the makeover they won a while back, usually for the #19 Spicy Chicken with Fresno Brown Sauce (inspired by our air quality?), but I’d never tried their sushi. So there I was, on break from jury duty, and I said, “Why not?”
A six-piece Spicy Crab was $8.99, and the Spicy Salmon was $9.50. Good stuff, service was quick at a rush-hour lunch, and the owners are so nice, know me by name, ask about my wife—sweet people who really care about their restaurant.
Sansei Japanese Restaurant (1135 E. Manning Ave., Reedley) “Sansei” is the word for the grandchildren of Japanese-born immigrants, and it’s the pleasant-looking Japanese restaurant in a strip mall on the east side of northern Reedley.
The half-order option is great for quick lunches and sampling. Salmon ($3.50), Spicy Crab ($3.50), and Spicy Tuna ($3.95) were really good, but the tuna was my favorite. Yoi Japanese Food (781 N. Reed Ave., Reedley) Yoi is a Japanese name meaning “born in the evening.” Yoi Japanese Food is across the street from Reedley College, squeezed in among a bunch of shops and places to eat. Small, but neat, and the prices are small, too. For eight pieces, the Snow Crab is $3.95, and the Spicy Tuna is $4.50, while a tasty chicken bowl is a thrifty $5.95. Yolo Sushi Bar & Karaoke (4907 E Kings Canyon Rd, Fresno) This is the last place I tried, in order and alphabetically. Yolo means “You Only Live Once;” it doesn’t sound very Japanese, but it fits this quirky blend of restaurant and karaoke bar. Taking up a nice chunk of the Asian Village shopping center in southeast Fresno, there’s barspace, a stage, TV screens for watching games, and a watch-me-roll-it-up-for-you area.
By the time I reached Yolo, I was pretty comfortable with sushi, and was ready to try something a bit more adventurous…and this place had some real adventures: Grandma Roll, Kiss Me Roll, Crunch Roll, The Thing, and…Monkey Brain. Yeah—tuna and crab mushed into a shitake mushroom, deep-fried, and drizzled with oh-so-colorful sauce ($8.95). Wow! My daughter had been there before with friends from work, but was not interested in sushi. I took her as a chaperone and witness, in case I decided to sing. Now, she’s interested, but she’s not quite a fan. We had an Alaska Roll, which was a California Roll with salmon on top ($11.95) and a Crunch Roll with spicy tuna, crab, cucumber, and albacore strewn with deep-fried onions ($12.95), and another roll we can’t remember what it was when we ordered it. My daughter used the onions to cut the spiciness, but I found it all lively, tasty, and filling…and yes, I got up and sang: a parody of “Yesterday” I wrote at a diabetic camp—“Insulin.” The Bottom Line — I’ve decided I like sushi, but I still don’t think I’m ready for the eel. The Best Deal was Yoi, the Best Ambiance was Sansei, but the Best Time was Yolo…what will I sing next time?