The strip mall sushi joint, a delectable marriage between class and convenience, belongs to the same utilitarian order as wine in a juice box or crab with a K: inventions that, strangely, make me proud to be an American. And so it was with empty-stomach-induced curiosity, a splash of patriotism and a pinch of sure-hope-it's-fresh reticence that my date and I found our way down Vista to one of Boise's newer spots, Raw Sushi.
Though the entrance to Raw Sushi greets you with a dangling red glass art piece best described as teardrop meets loogie, the highbrow/lowbrow juxtapositions end there. Once one of the busy sushi rollers noticed us at the hostess stand, he promptly ran up to greet us and said we could take any seat we'd like. We found a small table, tucked away from a boisterous family reunion occupying the main floor and most of the restaurant's staff. Our server Ollie warned us that the large party might make our dinner take longer than normal. We assured her we were in no hurry, something that became apparent after her third attempt to take our order only resulted in two 300 ml bottles of Zipang ($7.50), a sparkling cold sake. Though my date had been leaning toward one of the restaurant's signature sake-tails, Ollie was quick to point out that all but the sake margarita were sickeningly sweet and headache inducing. We both agreed it was refreshing to hear honesty from a server and not feel like we were being fed the "everything on our menu is fantastic" spiel.
As we sipped on our sparkling sake, I took in the space's ambience. The strip mall kitschiness I had mistakenly expected was nowhere to be found. In place of dusty paper pagodas and gold spray-painted Buddha statues, there were sleek brown tables, burnt orange and moss green upholstered benches and pleasing but innocuous World Market-esque wall art. The stained and polished concrete floor was the most striking detail in the restaurant, ratcheting the classiness factor up a few solid notches. Though Raw Sushi was opened in January 2008 by Brian McGill, the same guy who owns the attached contemporary American joint Willowcreek Grill, the flooring gives each of the two spaces a markedly different feel.
Still not in a rush, we put in an order for a couple bowls of miso soup ($2.50). Had I looked closer at the menu's prices, I might've expected gold-plated seaweed floating around in a diamond dust broth. The soup was all right, but I would've rather spent the cash on the dish it came in, a cute little number with another tight-fitting bowl on top to keep things steamy. A little buzzed from the sake, we were finally ready to move on to the fresh fish flesh. To sample the sushi sans accoutrement, we selected the chef's choice sashimi platter ($15.99), which arrived with a cucumber-onion relish and an assortment of hamachi yellowtail, maguro and shiro tuna, fresh salmon, shrimp, octopus and halibut. Though we struggled to discern between the yellowtail and tuna by sight, the tastes were worlds apart. The shiro was the most flavorful, followed by the maguro and then the hamachi. While the salmon was surprisingly lean and not fishy, the halibut should've stuck to what it knows best by rolling around in some breading, jumping into the fryer and finding its way into a fish taco.
Before we had finished our assortment of raw goodness, the giant Ton Ton Roll ($11.99), a fried log of scallop and avocado topped with lumps of spicy tuna and wasabi tobiko, was set on the table. A single piece of the behemoth roll was far too large to eat in one bite, which, though admittedly un-American, is a pet peeve of mine. It's so disappointing when a piece of sushi falls apart mid-bite, spilling its guts into a dish of soy sauce, where you're then forced to painstakingly retrieve each soggy sliver with chopsticks. But tangents aside, our dinner at Raw Sushi was fresh, the service accommodating and the atmosphere pleasant. I might just have to re-evaluate my scientific classification of the strip mall sushi joint, moving it up to a classier order that includes the Sofia Coppola champagne in a can.
—Tara Morgan likes her adult beverages in easy-to-carry packaging.