Except for a rather wide expanse of ocean, only a few miles of land separate Sebastopol from the shores of Japan. And so it seems appropriate that our Sonoma County town would have a couple of good Japanese restaurants. A well-known place that has been open for many years in that town is Sushi Hana, but there's also Sushi Tozai.
Tozai is Japanese for east (to) and west (zai) and the name means "East meets West," where the food of Japan can be enjoyed by westerners. And enjoy it you will, for Sushi Tozai is a pleasant surprise for those lunches or dinners when you just must have sushi, sashimi, or any of the other familiar Japanese dishes.
The first thing you'll notice as you enter is the authentic Japanese look of the restaurant. It's made from floor to ceiling from many shades of polished wood -- from light maple to dark walnut with warm fruitwood shades in between. Paper screens at the windows and paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling add to the rustic Japanese look. The six-stool sushi bar has an overhanging roof with rounded posts, like the roof of a woodland cabin. The Japanese aesthetic is oneness with nature, and the natural wood decor reflects that.
The second thing you'll notice is a large Maneki Neko, or "beckoning cat," set beside the sushi bar -- a good luck and prosperity symbol easily confused with Hello Kitty but not as kitschy.
The sushi chefs are working busily behind the bar and waitresses rush the results to the customers at their tables. In fact, when the restaurant opened at 5 o'clock on a recent afternoon, there was a line of people at the door waiting to get in.
For drinks, cocktails made with soju -- a kind of Japanese vodka -- are available for $6.95 each, such as a lemon drop, kami-kaze, and Tozai lemonade. A large Sapporo is $7.95. A short wine list includes a Stonestreet Chardonnay for $30, Fanucci Trousseau Gris for $26, and a Matanzas Creek Merlot for $34. Vintage years aren't given on the wine list, and corkage is $15. The emphasis is not on cocktails, beer or wine, but rather on sake, served nicely chilled by the masu box, or by the 180 ml, 300 ml or 720 ml bottles.
A premium sake sampler is available for $13, where you can taste a range of styles. The medium-dry Bishonen (the name translates to Beautiful Boy) is $8.50 for the smallest-pour box to $80 for a full bottle. A medium-dry sake has enough heft to stand up to highly flavored sushi but also is elegant enough to support the delicate flavors of sashimi.
As you sit down, a waitress will bring you a bowl of edamame -- soybeans boiled in their pods in salted water -- for something to nibble on. Utensils are plastic chopsticks, thankfully set across a small plate to keep them off the table. You'd be surprised how many Asian restaurants don't provide a place to set your chopsticks.