From the Kitchen

Sakana-Ya Sushi Bar offers excellent dumplings, mango rolls

Kelli Mosher | Staff Photographer

The Sakana-Ya Sushi Bar is slightly more expensive than what college students typically prefer, but would be a perfect location to eat with parents.

UPDATED: April 26, 2016 at 3:54 p.m.

When most Syracuse University students are craving California rolls or a big bowl of salted edamame, Oishi Sushi and Bleu Monkey Cafe are the eateries of choice. However, Japanese food at Sakana-Ya Sushi Bar offers an upscale version of what GrubHub connoisseurs are already familiar with.

Because of its location in Armory Square, Sakana-Ya’s prices are higher than the typical student can afford. The food is objectively better than Marshall Street takeout, but still expensive enough to turn some college-age customers off. However, they offer half-price sushi on Monday and a 3 menu items plus all-you-can-eat sushi $25 special on Wednesday.

Sakana-Ya has an extensive menu. It has teriyaki, pad thai, udon, edamame, bento boxes and a huge selection of sushi — including standards and house specials.

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Kelli Mosher | Staff Photographer

Overwhelmed by the choices, I decided to go with a bento box. Included in the box were shrimp and vegetable tempura, gyoza and shumai dumplings, seaweed salad, ika salad, a choice of entrée and a choice of sushi. I also ordered a house special mango sushi roll, as well as a hot cup of green tea.

The tempura was breaded lightly in Panko and fried just enough in oil to add a salty crunch while keeping the original flavor. The shrimp was the slightest bit too rigid. Perhaps it was overcooked, or perhaps since Syracuse is an inland city, the shrimp itself wasn’t of amazing quality. The vegetable tempura included bell pepper, sweet potato and zucchini, which was my favorite.

Gyoza is a beef dumpling, fried crisp. This one was different from the one I once had before at Dolce Vita World Bistro — it was much crunchier and the flavor of the dumpling was heavier, probably because of the red meat. I would assume the Sakana-Ya’s gyoza are more traditional — however, I would have to try Dolce Vita’s again to determine which one I liked better.

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Kelli Mosher | Staff Photographer

I preferred the shumai to the gyoza. It was a steamed dumpling, and I believe the dough was rice-based, giving it a lighter feel. Standard Chinese shumai is usually made with a pork filling, but the Japanese variety uses shrimp. The shrimp in the dumpling was flavorful, and I wish I could have eaten more.

The seaweed salad was surprisingly one of the highlights of the box. With its crunchy texture, it was almost like eating salty, chilled spaghetti squash. It did have that sea salt, algae-like taste that only a day at the beach or a fresh-caught fish has. The aftertaste was manageable, though I did wish I had an after-dinner mint or a pack of gum.

Ika salad is chopped and steamed squid. I can imagine many people turning up their noses at something like that, but I love Italian fried calamari, so I was OK with eating it. The meat itself was a little tougher than I expected, half as tender as the best calamari I’ve eaten. This could be a byproduct of being smoked, though smoked meat is usually not that tough.

As an entrée, I ordered chicken teriyaki, served with baby corn, green peppers and carrots. Usually when Americans order teriyaki sauce, they expect a thick brown glaze with a viscosity similar to honey. However, Sakana-Ya’s sauce was much more watery. I liked that it wasn’t so thick because it allowed the tenderness of the chicken to shine through — but don’t expect the chicken, shrimp or tofu to serve as merely a vehicle for the sauce.

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Kelli Mosher | Staff Photographer

For the sushi in the bento box, I ordered a simple California roll. It was thick — the biggest California roll I’ve ever seen. The Sakana-Ya chefs did an excellent job making sure the sushi was the best it could be, as it was probably the best California roll I’ve ever had. Be sure to try it with the wasabi, pickled ginger and extra soy sauce.

The mango roll was a spicy tuna roll topped with thin mango slices and a sweet mango syrup. Eating this with ginger and soy sauce was my favorite combination of the day. The spicy tuna, sweet mango, tart ginger and salty soy sauce combined on the palate in one big explosion of flavor.

I would love to try some of the other items on the Sakana-Ya menu, mainly because I like trying new foods, and not because Sakana-Ya provided a truly outstanding meal. But before I go back, I’ll have to make sure my parents are in town so I wouldn’t have to pay for it.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the differentiation between the Monday and Wednesday special was misstated. The Wednesday special is different than the Monday special. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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