After making it a month into the fall semester, I took this past homecoming weekend as an invitation to treat myself to college football, live music and Japanese food, the last of which I found at Sushi Osaka, the latest addition to East Asian cuisine in the Commons. The restaurant is housed in an expansive space lined with many tables for four; it’s group-friendly, but it also seems like the kind of place that would still feel comfortable even if every seat were filled. If you sit facing the window, you can look out and see townies and college students strolling through the Commons. This was just the ambiance I was looking for: calm, cool and collected.
Though Sushi Osaka’s name will lead you to believe it only serves Japanese food, you may be surprised to learn that the restaurant also features Korean fare on its extensive menu. However, since I was craving raw fish and fried vegetables, I stuck to its Japanese offerings and ordered the sashimi and tempura lunch box ($17.95) and the Pink Lady roll ($6.50). On Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the restaurant offers lunch boxes, as well as select sushi rolls at a considerable discount — think 50 percent off!
The lunch box was the first to arrive and had five sections: salad, California roll, rice, sashimi and tempura. I tried the salad first, and although it came with the same slightly sour dressing that most Japanese restaurants use, I was pleasantly surprised to detect a bit of sweetness and ended up finishing the whole serving. Next, I ate one of the four pieces of California roll, which didn’t taste much like anything. Although I could see the imitation crab meat, avocado and cucumber, I couldn’t sense any of their flavors, but to be honest, California roll isn’t exactly known for being tasty. Most people don’t order a whole roll of it, and since it came with the lunch box, I wasn’t too disappointed.
Finally, I allowed myself to try the main attraction: the six pieces of white, orange and pink sashimi that had been calling my name. Although every single piece was tender, the taste of the sashimi itself was alright. Given that we live in Ithaca, my expectations weren’t too high, and the price of the entire lunch box is more than reasonable. Unexpectedly, the highlight of this order was the tempura, which consisted of fried broccoli, onion, zucchini, winter squash and imitation crab meat. The vegetables were fried just right — easy to bite into without being mushy at all. I was also surprised to see that the tempura came with two different dipping sauces: the traditional tentsuyu sauce and an orange aioli. While the former has a thin consistency and subdued taste that allows you to appreciate the flavor of the vegetable, the aioli was creamy and tangy with a bit of a spicy kick at the end that may have come from the red and black flakes mixed into it. I’d never had tempura with a sauce like that, but it was absolutely delicious and paired well with the fried veggies.
The Pink Lady roll contained spicy salmon and crispy flakes topped with shrimp and avocado that was served with what the menu referred to as the chef’s special sauce. As it turned out, the special sauce was the exact same aioli that I had enjoyed with my tempura! Combined with the spiciness of the salmon, the tangy sweetness of the special sauce gave the Pink Lady roll an interesting flavor profile that deviates from what you’d expect sushi to taste like. Moreover, the crunchy flakes contrasted well with the smooth textures of the seafood and avocado. Ultimately, though, the flavors of the aioli and spicy salmon overpowered the shrimp and avocado, which were the two components of the roll that I had been looking forward to the most. Although my experience at Sushi Osaka wasn’t as great as I had hoped it would be, its lunchtime prices are irresistibly reasonable, and I’ll be returning to try its other Japanese and Korean offerings.
Serves: diverse range of Japanese and Korean fare
Vibe: serene space to catch up with friends