Karyn Zoldan and I knew we were in for something different the minute we stepped in the door. We found a minimalist, low-lit room baked in hues of brown and black. The high ceiling is covered with black cloth. A curved banquette lines a wall that divides the dining room from the bar, and a sushi bar sits at the far end of the room. White linens top the tables, and great jazz played overhead. Karyn commented that the room looked like something one would find in Los Angeles. We were practically the only diners in the place, but we chalked it up to the fact that it was midweek.
Our server handed us a sushi menu, an entrée menu, a wine menu and a sake menu. It was bit overwhelming, but we dismissed the sake menu--we were working, after all--and concentrated on the food. Karyn did order a plum wine ($7) from the small wine list, while I stuck with water.
The dinner menu is small but interesting, and the friendly server suggested a couple of appetizers. We ordered the tempura shrimp pintxos ($7) and the warm wild mushroom salad ($9) as we looked over the sushi menu. We originally ordered a crispy rice toro dish, but apparently the rice in the dish hadn't turned out that day.
The tempura consisted of about 10 medium shrimp in a light batter, served on the points of skewers (hence the word pintxos). Alongside the shrimp were brushings of garlic cream and chili cream, for dipping and as plate art. Perhaps the shrimp were a tad over-salted; they were delicious, nonetheless. We also enjoyed the salad. The warm, earthy mushrooms and the crisp, fresh greens were tossed with a ponzu dressing. Delightful!
We decided to go with several of the signature rolls: the spicy toro tuna, spicy salmon and wasabi caviar ($4.50), the yellowtail jalapeño with shiso sauce ($4) and the shrimp tempura, spicy albacore and black caviar ($5.25). We also ordered the classic shrimp nigiri ($4).
Each serving contains two pieces of beautifully plated sushi; instead of the fish being wrapped up in the roll, it was all served on top. Inside a thin layer of rice and nouri, we found crisp greens (lettuce, according to the server) and a sliver of asparagus. The tuna/salmon were artfully drizzled with thick lines of the garlic and chili creams. The fish was fresh and buttery. The yellowtail was topped with the thinnest strips of jalapeno I've ever seen, as well as a shiso (an Asian herb akin to basil and mint) sauce. The shrimp nigiri was just that: shrimp nigiri, nothing more.
Desserts were limited that night, because the cheesecake didn't set right, and a ginger crème brulée was a work in progress. So we ordered the plum wine ice cream and the red bean ice cream ($4 each). Subtly flavored, they were a nice ending to the meal.
John and I returned for dinner on a Saturday night and found the place almost empty again, although most of the 10 seats at the sushi bar were filled. I declined an alcoholic beverage since nothing on the small wine list interested me, but John ordered his old standby: a Ketel One on ice ($8).
Once again, the crispy rice/toro was unavailable, so we ordered salmon carpaccio ($10) and soft-shell crab ($9) to start, and for entrées, the bronzed miso cod ($18) for John, and the tuna tataki ($22) for me.
The carpaccio had been dry cured in sake and then chilled; it was simply served with a splash of wasabi ponzu sauce and finely shredded onions--a great mouth rush.
My crab was a good-sized serving, nicely fried, served atop tiny pieces of some of those organic veggies and a wonderful wasabi chili sauce, which added a whole lot of flavor.
Sadly, John's cod was a disappointment. The bronzing from the grill was nonexistent, and the fish was watery and undercooked. Purists out there may argue that this is a sushi house, and that fish is expected to be lightly cooked, if at all, but one more moment on the grill would've done this dish wonders. It was basically inedible.
My tuna, on the other hand, was ruby red on the inside and sesame crispy on the outside, all of which was enhanced by the shiso balsamic vinaigrette on the plate. This was tataki as it is meant to be.
That night, the ginger brulée ($7) was available. I ordered that, and John ordered the Italian-style blueberry cheesecake ($7). The winner here was the cheesecake, although it was not like any Italian cheesecake I've ever eaten (the texture was gelatinous instead of grainy). The brulée held no hint of ginger and wasn't thick enough.
Both visits to Bowz were quite nice. The atmosphere is different from other sushi places, with a little sophistication and that fabulous choice of music. The majority of the plates were well prepared, and the sauces added so much to all the dishes.