Tsuru ain't your daddy's sushi place. Scratch that, I mean to say: Tsuru is your daddy's sushi place—it ain't yours, kiddo. The boxy structure and taupe booths at downtown Boise's nearest sushi satellite are reminiscent of the not-so-great Great Western Pizza shops that once sprouted from the core of every Treasure Valley township in the 1980s—and I make the comparison not to mock, but instead from a conviction that Tsuru's space was once filled by a Great Western. In other words, it's not Boise's most customized or chic sushi joint, but is just far enough off the hipster-radar not to employ the usual local gang of hostile sushi wait staff fond of ignoring customers for hours on end.
Upon being seated by the friendly wait staff, we were immediately greeted with a tiny bowl of cold noodles, cucumber and crab in light vinegar and lemon juice—a palette cleanser not nearly so overbearing as the pickled ginger sushi standby. Tsuru's appetizer list is small and made up mostly of sushi joint regulars like edamame and age tofu—a barely battered version of the latter did not prove to be impressive. However, the barbecued squid appetizer is alone worth a trip up Orchard Street, especially if one harbors the auxiliary goal of unnerving a vegetarian girlfriend (I do). Tsuru's squid is generous, snaps with freshness and unlike the deep fried faux-French Fries which most local restaurants call squid, is quite anatomical in its presentation. I'm talking long, puce invertebrate arms with the suckers on, perfect for hanging fang-like from one's upper lip—if it's possible to keep from eating them for that long, because the grotesque little buggers are delicious.
The roll selection at Tsuru, unlike those of Zutto and Fujiyama, favors simple combinations of fish and avocado over extravagant $12 culinary dissertations. However, Tsuru triumphs in its few attempts at uniqueness. The Red Eye Roll, for instance, combines tobiko, salmon roe and a raw quail egg into a crunchy, sweet and creamy treasure that proves three eggs are better than one. Likewise the Idaho Roll, which pairs marinated unagi (freshwater eel) with two slices of tempura potato, is far sweeter and more appetizing than its ingredients or the dubiousness of "Idaho eel" indicate. While the meat and vegetable entrees on Tsuru's menu are notable for their generous portions, most rolls are not. However, freshness and unassuming prices counterbalance any gloom over mass.
The dessert menu, though brief, is worthy of note for its inclusion of an excellent treat nary found in any other Boise haunt sushicular or otherwise: adzuki bean ice cream. Adzukis have long been known and hated by taste-lubbers as the epitome of guilt-marinated health food. They are high fiber, high protein and dissolve into a puddle of bland grit in one's mouth. Yet the Tsuruvians have bravely undertaken the task of making this cantankerous kernel into a cool, pleasant final course—and wonders of wonders, they succeed! Tsuru's bean cream is a little strawberry-ish, a little bean-ish (a few frozen ones float throughout), and is worth trying if only for the novelty and the $2.50 price tag. Like most of Tsuru's dishes, the dessert doesn't feel like the culinary "art" sushi is supposed to be, but shows instead that a good idea kept simple is equally appetizing.
—Nicholas Collias brushes his teeth with wasabi on a squid arm.