While Kirk visits some exotic place that has been in the news in recent years (no, not North Korea), Cathy posts interesting eating experiences, and today, ed (from Yuma) is looking for edible sushi in Yuma. Good luck with that!
In early 2010, a new large sushi bar opened in Yuma at the cursed location at the corner of 16th St. and the freeway, a place that had previously been Tyler's Taste of Texas and then Arnie's Café. This prominent location is easily visible, but difficult to reach because of limited access from 16th St. After giving the restaurant a few weeks to figure out what they were doing, our lunch bunch showed up to sample the cuisine. The grand opening banner was still in place:
I can remember some excellent California rolls over the years; I think avocado and krab go together just fine, but the sliver of avocado was overwhelmed by the rice and the fake crab and mayo mix. I remember the salmon being okay, but the tuna was tired and grayish and the shrimp was tasteless, lacking even the thinnest smear of wasabi:
The batter tasted right and the vegetables and shrimp were adequate. If only the deep-frying had been more skillful and the end result less greasy, the tempura would have received a good grade instead of just barely passing.
None of us went back to Ninja for the next two years, even though some people told me they had had good meals there. Then, toward the end of this April, when Yuma was suffering from 100° temperatures and Tina and I were looking for something cool and refreshing to eat, I suggested trying Ninja; desperate men will do desperate things.
Did I mention it was hot? Anyway, faced with the multipage menu full of special rolls and various pictures, I quickly ordered two sunomonos as appetizers, one “kani" (imitation crab) and the other "taco." I guess that's how octopus is spelled in Yuma. They were $4.25 and $5.95.
The octopus was tender and flavorful, the knife work excellent. The thin sliced cucumber and cephalopod were enhanced by a sprinkling of sesame seeds and lightly seasoned rice wine vinegar. Cool and refreshing. The pickled carrot was a nice touch as well.
While nothing like the magnificent chirashi at Sakura, this was certainly passable. The sushi rice was well flavored and topped with black and white sesame seeds. The tilapia (hidden in this photo) and the somewhat tired looking albacore actually tasted okay. The hamachi and maguro were decent and seemed fresh. The salmon was a bit chewy and somewhat disappointing in flavor until I squeezed one of the adjacent lemon slices on it before lightly dipping it in the shoyu/wasabi mixture. Then not bad at all.
All the fish tasted very good – though the salmon still needed a squeeze of lemon. We also appreciated three shiso leaves, tilapia needing all the help it can get to become flavorful. The shredded daikon was abundant, and the presentation very attractive. Note the gari tucked inside of a hollowed out cucumber chunk
To be honest, that was the best sushi fish I had ever eaten in Yuma. Nothing else really has come close.
So a few days later, I stopped in for a quick lunch and asked if they had a bento box because I could find no such thing on the rather complicated menu. "Yeah, we do," the waitress responded, "it just isn't listed on the menu." With some trepidation, I ordered the luncheon bento box anyway ($10.95).
The broth was deeply flavored and you could taste the dashi in the background. Although it contained only four or five tiny cubes of tofu, it is still (imho) the best miso soup in town.
Some things here were pretty standard. The teriyaki chicken had grill marks and seemed to be all white meat chicken breast, but it was certainly nothing special. The rice was okay and the bento box salad was – as most bento box salads are – pretty forgettable. On the other hand, the gyozas had a thin crispy wrapper and a mild flavorful filling. I've certainly had worse in San Diego. The tempura was truly excellent. The batter tasted spot on, the two shrimp were crispy on the outside and moist and succulent within, and the selection of vegetables was first rate; I certainly never expected two asparagus spears in an inexpensive bento box.
My two positive experiences meant that I was able to talk the lunch bunch into making another visit (Chip grumbling the entire time). In general, we were pleased. Betsy had a good-looking sashimi salad (dressing on the side):
The folks who ordered sushi items and the tempura were pleased as well. I decided to really test the kitchen by ordering a seafood udon ($12.95), which was served in a traditional bowl with a wooden lid:
The udon itself was meh, not bad really, but not exceptional in any way. The broth was fairly standard and light. The noodles were juicy (I always think of udon noodles as juicy for some reason) but slightly overcooked. The seafood was two slices of kamaboko, some surimi, one shrimp, and several tiny scallops. Perfectly adequate.
And as a whole, the lunch bunch was generally pleased; even curmudgeonly Chip conceded that the fish was better than he had expected.
At this point, I realized that I had enough material for a post, and it would be nice to highlight a surprisingly good Japanese restaurant in Yuma. Then, on my way into the office a few days ago, I stopped for lunch and ordered the combination sushi. The miso soup was still excellent, but this was the sushi combination that day:
The California rolls were as boring as I remembered them from my visit in 2010. Even worse, some of the fish was truly horrifying. The whitefish and albacore had been drizzled with chile oil (chile oil?!?!). Certainly the oil effectively covered up whatever was wrong with the taste of the fish and, in fact, effectively covered up any taste at all - well except for the taste of chile oil. The albacore must have been especially nasty because it was also topped with two deep-fried slices of garlic . In addition, the chili oil had leaked over into the rice under the tuna masking whatever flavor the maguro might have had. Neither the avocado nor the lemon slice could truly save the salmon, the hamachi lacked its characteristic flavor and richness, and the ebi was tasteless as well. On a positive note, I didn’t get sick.
So clearly, it is possible to get good tempura, sushi, and sashimi from Ninja. It is also possible to get some really bad sushi there. May you and your friends be blessed with the good stuff, and may your enemies be served that sushi combination I got on my last visit.
Ninja Sushi, 1400 E. 16th St., Yuma, AZ 85364, (928) 782-4000. Open daily from 11 am-3 pm for lunch and 4:30 pm-10 or 11 pm for dinner.