Thanks to the miracle of same-day ocean-to-doorstep fish delivery, those of us in landlocked states can enjoy sushi.
But should we? Aside from the consideration of the carbon-emission-intense process it takes to deliver ocean fish to middle America, and the overfishing and sustainability issues, there is also a flavor issue. Sure, this fish can be good—but can it ever be great? Can it be compared to sushi in coastal areas where fresh, local fish is literally minutes out of the water? And, really, should it be compared to that?
These questions weighed on my mind as I set out to try the newly opened Sushi Tran restaurant at Thornydale Road and Linda Vista Boulevard.
On my first visit, I decided to order a wide variety of sushi-only offerings, though the restaurant also offers non-sushi Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese appetizers and entrées. The small, clean, sparsely decorated restaurant has quick, friendly service, and the medley of sushi dishes began to arrive, one by one. First was a Sapporo ($5.25 for a large) and the nigiri (three pieces per order, which is more generous than the usual two that you get at most Tucson sushi joints): surf clam ($4.50), yellowtail ($4.50), scallop ($4.50) and unagi ($5.50). Our server informed us that the yellowtail belly ($4.50) was not available, but he suggested super white tuna instead, for the same price, so we gamely agreed.
The nigiri was mostly good; the rice was not packed too tightly, and the portions were small enough to eat whole, which is proper sushi etiquette. I prefer a little soy sauce with my nigiri (fish side in the sauce, of course), but the fish, rice and wasabi were in delicate balance, and I didn't feel as though I had to add the soy sauce to make it taste good. The super white tuna, which was only a two-piece portion, included larger, thicker slices of fish—almost too thick. It was, indeed, a very white piece of fish (which, after further research, we learned was not tuna at all, but escolar, which is banned in Japan), topped with cilantro, green onion, hot chile sauce and masago (fish roe), which all overwhelmed the light, delicate flavor of the fish.
The 12-piece sashimi ($15) and squid salad ($5) arrived next. The salad didn't disappoint, though it was a touch overdressed with vinegar. However, the sashimi was less than spectacular. The fish slices were too large and too thick to eat in one bite, and they were served at a near-freezing temperature, killing most of the flavor. It seemed to be a mix of ahi tuna, salmon, albacore or snapper, and yellowtail, but our server did not explain what the chef had served. One of the fish selections—I believe it was the unknown albacore/snapper—was extremely fishy-smelling and fishy-tasting, which is the last thing fish should be.
Thankfully, the rolls were well-prepared and flavorful. The only slightly strange one was the kiwi roll ($7), which we ordered on the suggestion of our server. It included ahi tuna, masago and cream cheese with kiwi slices on top. The combination of the masago and kiwi created an oddly bitter flavor. The deep-fried Vegas roll ($9.99) was crispy and delicious, and the spicy tuna roll ($5.25) was light, with the filling almost fluffy. The spicy crab roll with real crab ($8, or $5.25 with imitation krab filling) was the star, with the cucumber lending a nice, crunchy textural element to the soft rice and crab.
On my second visit, I resolved to try a variety of Sushi Tran's non-sushi offerings, since they have quite a few of them. The restaurant was a little busier, but service didn't suffer, and food came out hot and fast.
The gyoza (Japanese dumplings, $5) were first up; they were deep-fried and tasty, though I prefer them pan-fried, personally. The dipping sauce had a nice ginger bite to it, which complemented the savory filling well. Two giant green mussels ($5.75) arrived as we were finishing up the gyoza. The mussels—cooked and mixed with crab and spicy mayo and then broiled in the half-shell—were velvety and ever-so-slightly briny.
Two large Vietnamese spring rolls ($3.99) stuffed with pork, shrimp and vermicelli and served with a salty-sweet peanut-based sauce, arrived alongside Chinese egg rolls ($5). The spring rolls were fresh and delicious, and the savory, delicious peanut sauce tasted like it may have had some hoisin sauce mixed in. The egg rolls suffered a bit from being fried too long, but were tasty nonetheless.
The entrées were hit-or-miss. Vietnamese charbroiled pork over vermicelli ($6.50) would have been presented better and more easily eaten and shared from a plate rather than layered in a small bowl, and the pork was slightly burnt. However, the Chinese kung pao chicken with rice ($6.99) hit all the right notes. Moist chicken chunks and large onion and pepper slices floated alongside chile peppers and cashews in a sweet, savory sauce. Overall, dinner was a nice mélange of Asian and Pacific Rim foods and flavors.
Sushi Tran has a friendly atmosphere and generally good, solid sushi (for being in a landlocked state), not to mention a nice selection of non-sushi items if you're in the mood for something different. It suffers from an overly eager menu (too many choices), a hidden location and a few minor execution oversights. It's probably not a good choice if you're looking for a quick, inexpensive bite to eat, or if you're looking for a 100 percent authentic, upscale "sushi experience"—but it is a good neighborhood sushi joint for a quiet, tasty dinner.