Sushi has long been a staple in the Silicon Valley restaurant scene, with many Japanese cuisines  establishing themselves as integral parts of our thriving culture. Verde set out on an adventure to sample dishes from two of the most popular restaurants around Palo Alto.

Hanabi Sushi

1040 N Rengstroff Ave, Palo Alto

Tucked into a comparatively unexposed corner of the Mountain View Rengstorff center, Hanabi Sushi is a small, modest restaurant that offers dishes of high quality to compensate for its low profile. After seating ourselves at one of the many empty rosewood tables, we ordered from a broad selection of reasonably priced sushi and entrees. Large plates of polychromatic sushi were whisked to our table within ten minutes of ordering. The courteous waitress approached our table multiple times to accommodate our needs, ensuring that our cups of rice tea were always filled. Overall, Hanabi is an excellent option for high schoolers craving authentic Japanese food of a moderate price range.

Orange Blossom Roll – $12.95  (5/5)

The artfully presented Orange Blossom roll takes advantage of both the exquisite taste and color of fresh, raw fish. Photo by Sophie Nakai.

A visual masterpiece, the orange blossom roll consists of eight sushi petals lined with pastel-hued salmon fanned out in the likeness of a flower. The large sushi, although more than generous, made the conventional sushi-eating method of swallowing each piece in one bite a difficult task. The assorted ingredients wrapped inside a layer of rice (raw tuna, imitation crabmeat, and avocado) meshed well — the taste of each component was distinguishable but subtle enough to create a harmony of flavors.

Poké Tuna Roll – ($9.95) (5/5)

The striking ensemble of contrasting colors made the first bite of the Poké Tuna Roll one of expectancy and anticipation. It did not disappoint — the ground pieces of tuna slathered in spicy mayo delivered enough zest to jolt one’s tastebuds and simultaneously leave one desiring more. The seasoned seaweed salad adorning the rice complemented the tuna with some spice of its own. Although the same four-ingredient roll was offered by Sushi Tomo, the Poké Tuna Roll from Hanabi leaves a more lasting impression with its exquisite harmony of spices and ultimately scores a higher rating.

Katsudon (Beef) – ($13.95) (4/5) 

The Katsudon’s external presentation — random vegetables and bits of protein lumped together in a bowl of rice — induced skepticism as to whether this excessive amount of ingredients — carrots, mushrooms, seaweed, breaded beef, onions, cucumber, rice and breadcrumb — could conceivably form a palatable dish. Interestingly enough, the tangled confusion of flavors worked — the indescribable fusion of ingredients was undeniably enjoyable. This dish epitomized the idea of “everything in a bowl” and is recommended for open-minded individuals who explore daring concepts in food.

Sushi Tomo

4131 El Camino Way, Palo Alto

Located just off of El Camino road, Sushi Tomo provides sushi and other Japanese dishes to the midtown Palo Alto area. The building is adorned with bright neon signs and the panel of windows out front allowed us to see chefs rolling sushi and waiters serving the customers. Inside, an employee promptly seated us and we were attended to in an expedient fashion. We were served green tea and miso soup at no extra charge; however, while we may have received excellent service, the food was suboptimal and we would not recommend Sushi Tomo over Hanabi.

Caterpillar roll  ($12) (2.5/5)

The caterpillar roll — comprised of shrimp tempura, avocado, sesame seeds and unagi sauce —  was served on a wooden block. Despite being an elegant presentation of shrimp tempura tails sticking out of the sushi ends, on first bite, it became apparent that the appearance was the best part of this dish. The crispy tempura and smooth avocado combined to form an conflictingcombination of textures. Taste wise, the roll was lacking because the shrimp tempura consisted mostly of fried batter. The avocado, while providing a creamy texture, lacked flavor. Overall, the caterpillar roll was fairly uninspired, especially considering the price.

Laid out on a chopping block, the Caterpillar roll combines avocado and tempura shrimp to create a unique texture and experience. Photo by Sophie Nakai.

Poki Spicy Roll ($9) (3/5)

The second of the rolls we ordered was the Poki Spicy Roll. Similar to the Poke roll from Hanabi, the Poki Spicy Roll consisted of tuna, spicy mayo and seaweed salad. However, in contrast to the Poke Tuna Roll, this roll was markedly worse. The pieces of sushi were far too large to eat in one bite and the texture of the tuna was slightly rough. The flavor was mediocre if not a bit too spicy and the seaweed salad added good diversity of texture and taste.

Kitsune Udon ($12) (3/5)

This adaptation of udon had sweet fried soybean curds along with wheat udon noodles in a chicken broth. The soybean curds had a texture similar to that of tofu skins and added good variation to the dish. The noodles were fairly standard and the broth had decent flavour. However, the soup felt a bit simple, with the toppings only consisting of carrots, green onions and fish cakes.