Restaurant Reviews

October 31, 2012

Small spot, big flavor for Golden Bay Japanese Restaurant

Hole-in-the-wall discoveries are one of the best perks of writing about restaurants, and thanks to the urgings of several sushi eaters in-the-know, I’ve discovered another one.

Hole-in-the-wall discoveries are one of the best perks of writing about restaurants, and thanks to the urgings of several sushi eaters in-the-know, I’ve discovered another one.

Golden Bay Japanese Restaurant, which opened this spring in the teeny-tiny spot that for years housed Mama-Sans Japanese Restaurant, makes delicious, beautiful and affordable sushi and other flavorful Japanese dishes.

Owners Brian and Jing Kitchens own the tiny restaurant, which seats about 40. The food is so good that, when four of us and my 7-year-old visited for the review, we ordered a feast with the intention of sampling everything and taking most of it to-go.

We ate it all before we left.

ON THE MENU The stars of Golden Bay’s menu are the “chef’s special” sushi rolls – creative and colorful concoctions made with fresh fish, veggies and sauces. The sushi not only tastes great but is presented with flair. The Lover role, for example, comes in the shape of hearts served atop a bed of curly-shaved radishes. Many others are presented on large white plates decorated with dramatic swirls and flowers drawn with sauce.

Golden Bay offers a great sushi deal, too. Anyone who orders a more complex, ingredient-heavy “chef’s special” roll, which cost between $8 and $15, can get one more basic roll for free. There are four choices of free rolls, including a California roll and a delicious deep-fried creation called the “West” roll.

The menu also offers Japanese soups and salads plus hibachi meals featuring steak, chicken and seafood, as well as yakisoba and udon noodle dishes.

DON’T MISS DISHES Golden Bay’s sushi was amazingly delicious and fresh, especially the rolls. We didn’t try one we didn’t love.

We tried three of the “chef’s special” rolls, and our favorite was the Electric Shock roll ($10.95), which was filled with spicy salmon and tempura flakes and topped with different colors of roe. We also loved the heart-shaped Lover roll ($10.95). Two oval-ish pieces filled with cucumber, avocado and tuna formed each “heart,” and the radish curls added to the beautiful presentation. The Rainbow roll ($10.95), topped with colorful bites of salmon, tuna, shrimp and avocado, was as beautiful as it was delicious.

The three free rolls we received doubled the amount of sushi we had to share, and each of them was good, too. Especially interesting: A sweet potato roll, which had a nice crunch to it, thanks to fried bits of sweet potato inside.

Equally as good as the sushi was hibachi meal ($15.95), made with tender chunks of New York strip steak. The meal came plated with rice, fried egg, bits of crunchy onion, red pepper, broccoli and other vegetables, but the complex sauce coating it all — the perfect blend of sweet and savory — was hard to stop slurping. The meal, which also came with a delectable beef-based soup floating with bits of French-fried onion and slivered mushrooms, as well as a salad doused with ginger dressing, was a good value.

We also gobbled up a generously-sized appetizer of shrimp and vegetable tempura ($6.95), which came with several crispy-fried shrimp plus fried bites of sweet potato, broccoli, mushrooms and onion rings.

The only “miss” on our table was the chicken yakisoba ($10.95), which was made of nice ingredients: noodles, juicy chicken and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and slivered mushrooms. But the sauce was overpoweringly salty, and the pieces of imitation crab that garnished it were unnecessary and unappetizing.

AMBIANCE The restaurant is tiny and uncomplicated in a way that reminded us of little neighborhood gems in cities such as New York and Chicago. There’s no such thing as private conversation.

When we arrived on a cool October night, the restaurant was uncomfortably hot, then the air conditioning kicked on, and it was uncomfortably cold.

But the biggest problem at Golden Bay was the only thing that would limit my return visits, especially if I’m on my way somewhere else afterward. Poor kitchen venting fills the dining room with the aroma of frying shrimp and vegetables, which smells great while you’re there but overwhelmingly not great when clinging stubbornly to your hair, clothes and skin once you leave. Our jackets were so tempura-scented that they had to go directly into the washing machine.

PRICE RANGE Good considering how much food you get. Our entire feast, which stuffed five people, was $80.

SERVICE Good. Servers seemed genuinely pleased about their customers’ presence. They’re attentive and are known to throw in free desserts — such as fried bananas or fried cheesecake whimsically topped with whipped cream and sprinkles — to regulars and those who place big orders.

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