250-D W. Harvard Blvd.
Residents of the Heritage Valley — Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru — have long been languishing without a suitable sushi option in their vicinity. Having to drive to Ventura, or gasp, head east to Valencia and Santa Clarita for a taste of the popular Japanese cuisine seemed a hardship. But now, not only can you find sushi in Santa Paula at Yokozuna, but also after paying your vehicle registration, you can scoot up to the sushi bar and enjoy your favorite roll.
A good friend and her mother joined me for lunch, and my friend said two things to me before we met at the restaurant, “It’s next to the DMV, and I have to try the I Hate You Roll.” It’s easy to find on Harvard Boulevard if you know where the DMV is, but the idea of a restaurant in a strip mall, is more L.A. than VC. And then, wait a minute, the I Hate You Roll? We were expecting something that sounded like that. A hard to remember Japanese word that sounded similar to the phrase. But no, there is in fact a roll called the I Hate You Roll and, apparently, it’s a bit famous. Our waitress told us the story of how it came about. A lady, somewhat new to sushi and visiting the Oxnard location, was afraid she wouldn’t like anything; the chefs told her they would make her anything she wanted, and they did. When she bit into the roll, she said, “I hate you roll,” because she liked it so much. When the owner heard the story he decided to put the roll, with the name on the menu. The roll sounds a bit mundane for seasoned sushi eaters — salmon, cream cheese, avocado, asparagus. The whole thing gets deep fried in the fabulous tempura batter, and topped with two different yummy sauces. It is a different tasting sort of roll, that might rub sushi purists the wrong way, but if you are prepared for a nontraditional sort of experience, you’ll enjoy it.
So Yokozuna is in a strip mall. We just need to be up front about it, but you’ll forget it the minute you walk in the door because the red walls, Japanese art work and accent pieces transport you to another world. It is a calming sort of place, with mellow background music and dark colors, a great place to tuck into from the bustle of the busy street outside.
I do enjoy sushi on a somewhat regular basis, and was thrilled to see a fresh variety of rolls to try, options and combinations I haven’t seen before. But I began with one of my tried-and-true favorites, the cucumber salad. Yokozuna’s version was fresh, with just enough crisp in the cucumber and topped with a bunch of sprouts and thin slices of carrots. It was perfect. The first roll I enjoyed was the Energy Roll with deep fried eel, gobo (burdock root), avocado, white fish and masago. Some readers may be familiar with masago. I was not, apparently it is a type of roe, or fish egg from a small smelt type of fish. I’ve never been a big fan of fish eggs, but in this roll it was fabulous. This roll came well-constructed, which is a feature I appreciate, and feel is a testament to the skill of the sushi chef. It’s never enjoyable for your roll to disintegrate as you try to eat it.
We then tried the Banana Roll. Yes, yes, I am aware many sushi aficionados are now wrinkling their faces and looking like they ate some bad ginger, but I had to try this version. It is rolled with eel and avocado on the outside and deep fried banana inside. I enjoyed this roll. The eel, banana combo was interesting.
And to partake in regular sushi, I tasted the fresh yellowtail. The sashimi pieces were generously sized, on a perfectly packed platform of rice. The lovely barely-there pink color, subtle flavor and ideal texture indicated a lovely piece of fish.
The hot tea was perfectly brewed — an issue at some area sushi spots whose bitter tea may be steeped too long — and I appreciated the attentive service. Even though they were having a busy lunch, the servers were prompt. And just like the Oxnard location, it offers a fabulous happy hour every day from 5 to 7 p.m., your second beer or sake is just 99 cents.
I’ll be back for sure, probably during happy hour, and will try the ceviche on Yokozuna, mango salmon roll or the Heart Attack Roll. I’m curious about that one after the I Hate You roll story.