480 San Ramon Valley Blvd. Danville, CA 94526 | 925.855.1084 | website
I won a gift certificate to Koji’s Sushi at a raffle some time ago, otherwise I may never have known about this tiny restaurant tucked into the back of a strip mall out in Danville. The chef/co-owner, Koji Yamauchi trained as a sushi chef in Izu and Toranomon, Japan and has worked in various sushi bars and Japanese restaurants around the Bay Area over the past couple of decades. The interior has tall ceilings and is full of Japanese folk art that symbolizes good fortune and good health.
We arrived in time for happy hour, which offers all you can drink hot/cold sake for $8. We ordered a couple of rolls, the California Roll ($3.95) and Spicy Tuna roll ($3.95). The Cali roll was a 50/50 blend of real crab and surimi, which is surprisingly good when you are hungry.
We nibbled on a bowl of Edamame ($2.50) while we looked through the extensive menu which includes Kaiseki, the traditional multi-course omakase meal (reservations are required and requires two or more). The soybeans were particularly delicious; the texture was firm, the temperature was warm (not too hot/cold) and they were very well seasoned.
I originally had a craving for fish, but was very intrigued when I saw the vegetarian special menu for Gendai Saishoku, which is modern Japanese vegetarian cuisine. The menu described it as macrobiotic brown rice cuisine, consisting of a series of 13 small dishes. I couldn’t resist. We began with steaming bowls of Miso soup which were made with white miso, the type that I grew up with. It is lighter and more delicate than the red akamiso. I love picking up the bowl and smelling the wonderful aroma, it is like peering into a bowl of of billowy clouds filled with mystery.
We each had our own bowl of crunchy marinated seaweed salad tossed in a brightly flavored dressing made with sesame oil and rice vinegar, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
The feast arrived at once, beginning with three trays with three different compartments filled with a variety of interesting bites to sample and graze through. Most of these dishes are familiar treats that I’ve enjoyed on New Year’s feasts, so we were very excited to know that we could get such a variety of these anytime of the year.
The Japanese pickles (tsukemono) were a lovely contrast, one little crunchy umeboshi that is super salty and sour and the milder shibazuke (click here to read a very good description of japanese pickles from the fabulous Just Hungry blog). The pickled plums assult your senses, even making the glands behind your ears ring which can be very alarming to those not used to it. The shibazuke pickles are very mild in comparison and provide bursts of crunchy flavor in between bites of the other dishes.
Simmered hijiki is a dried seaweed that is simmered until tender and savory, with shiitake mushrooms and carrots. It is a fall dish, the tendrils are slightly chewy and are good on top of rice. Actually all of these tidbits are really meant to be eaten with rice…
The brown rice upon which the meal revolves, was Haiga Tamaki, which is half polished rice. This means that the outer bran is removed, but leaves the nutritious haiga (germ) layer intact. The taste and texture is closer to white rice than brown. The haiga was cooked with some colorful vegetables for extra flavor and nutrition.
The simmered kelp (konbu tsukudani) was a savory and sweet mixture with a lovely chewy texture, the strands are transparent like caramel colored glass.
Thin slices of crispy fried lotus root were crunchy like chips and served next to simmered burdock root, which has a firm, crunchy texture and an earthy, pungent flavour
Unohana, cooked dry tofu which made from okara, the mash left over when soy milk is extracted from soybeans. It contains a substantial amount of protein, calcium, and dietary fiber. The okara is cooked with sesame oil, shoyu, and mirin with julilénned root vegetables.
Simmered soy beans (daizu nimono), were almost sweet enough for dessert although a bit savory. They add an interesting element to the meal, and would be good on ice cream too.
The spinach with sesame sauce (horenso goma ae) was dressed with a delightful combination of soy, mirin and ground sesame seeds which adds an alluring nutty flavor and aroma .
We each got a bowl of Sunamono, paper thin slices of cucumber mixed with a variety of seaweed tossed with light vinegar dressing and topped with pungent daikon sprouts. It provided a refreshing and brightly fresh crunch to the meal.
Last to arrive was a plate of sliced grilled vegetables whichwere drizzled with a most delicious sauce made from soy, wasabi and a fruity extra virgin olive oil. The addition of the olive oil added a citrusy flavor that was elegant and addictive.
My mother wanted something more substantial and has always loved rice bowls. She greatly enjoyed the Oyako Donburi, a sustaining mixture of chicken and scrambled egg that is simmered with aromatic green onions and topped with fragrant strands of toasted seaweed.
Everything was flavorful and well prepared, I only wish this was closer to either my work or my home so I could visit more often! I loved that they have two bit planters exuberantly filled with Shiso leaf that is indispensable to Japanese cuisine. You can’t get any fresher than that!