Among the perks of attending Sonoma State University — the beautiful weather, the educational opportunities, the Green Music Center — is the proximity of Jidaiya Sushi in Rohnert Park, just a couple of blocks from the campus.
There's a world of great food beyond the traditional student classics like ramen, pizza and burgers, and Sonoma State students are known for their awareness of it. Jidaiya Sushi puts generous portions of fresh, healthful Japanese food just a short walk away. Best of all, the food at Jidaiya — the word means "time," so the name of the restaurant translates to "sushi time" — is suited to student budgets, or to the budgets of any of us who have to watch our pennies. The place is certainly a worthy destination for anyone, student or not, with a yen for Japanese food.
The sushi chef, Ken Chen, is originally from China. He's been in the United States for eight years and learned to make Japanese cuisine during that time.
While his food is delicious, it may not be quite as artistically crafted as at most Japanese restaurants, where the cultural tradition is to make the food as beautiful as it is tasty. But that matters little to most Americans when the food is really good.
Dinner starts with a complimentary bowl of miso soup, a hot, nourishing, salty broth with tofu, seaweed and scallions. Because of the prevalence of seaweed in the Japanese diet, natives of that country have developed a unique intestinal flora that produces enzymes that help digest seaweed — enzymes that most other cultures lack. Seaweed's many minerals are still good for us, but it isn't metabolized as thoroughly in westerners, scientists have found.
A new discovery, at least for me, was <b>Kakiage</b> ($6.95, 2-1/2 stars). Several kinds of vegetables are cut into thin strips and tossed together, dipped in tempura batter, and plunged into hot oil. They emerge as a large twisty lump of tempura — crunchy and good, like battered and fried thin-sliced onion rings, but not as salty.
Six Japanese-style pot stickers called <b>Gyoza</b> ($5.95, 3 stars) were a treat. The tender wrappers are stuffed with a mixture of finely ground pork and cabbage and served with a soy-based dipping sauce. Scallions cut into little rounds on the bias sprinkled the plate. Calling the gyoza luscious hardly does them justice.
The nigiri sushi menu includes 18 kinds. <b>Inari</b> ($2.95, 2-1/2 stars) is four deep-fried pouches of tofu called aburage. The pouches are formed when the hot oil turns the internal moisture to steam that pushes the fried and sealed outer surfaces apart. The pouches are then stuffed with sushi rice. Chefs can add flavor in many ways, such as by marinating the rice in dashi and soy sauce. These had only a mild flavor, but you can wake them up with wasabi and soy sauce. If you want heat, the tables are set with shakers of shichimi, a mix of spicy powdered chilies and herbs.
The nigiri called <b>Hamachi</b> ($4.95, 2-1/2 stars) consisted of large pieces of sweet, raw yellowtail laid across long lumps of sushi rice. You get four pieces for a bargain price. An even bigger bargain was the <b>Spicy Tuna Hand Roll</b> ($4.95, 3 stars), fiery-spiced tuna and cucumber wrapped in black nori seaweed, then rolled in sushi rice, sprinkled with orange tobiko, and cut into eight pieces.
A simple vegetarian roll is <b>Kappa Maki</b> ($3.50, 2 stars), long sticks of peeled cucumber covered in sushi rice, then rolled in nori and cut into six pieces. These are bland, but come to life if eaten with pieces of the pickled ginger that accompany them.