Hana Japanese Restaurant, Rohnert Park
After the conference at SSU, I wasn't that hungry, still feeling fairly full from my chicken fried steak breakfast. What better time could there be to stop for sushi for dinner without risk of breaking the bank. I had my sights on Hana, not far from campus, and possibly the most lauded of Sonoma County's Japanese restaurants.
Just after 6pm, there were only two other customers at the 8-seat sushi bar. I settled in at the opposite end of the bar in front of the younger sushi chef away from the others thinking I would have his full attention. He pointed out that the selection listed on the board with prices was quite large this evening with many varieties flown in from Japan. I was very pleased when he offered me the option of fresh wasabi. He was friendly and personable, but as it turned out, he seemed to be responsible for making maki and sashimi for the tables and did not have many varieties stocked at his work area. My orders were all passed on to the other chef, Ken, the owner to prepare. This was disadvantageous as I did not have a chance to give the fish in the display case a once over before ordering.
Engawa, $7 - After my initial sticker shock at what is often one of the least expensive choices, I ordered this anyway thinking that there might be some special treatment. Nope, just straight-ahead flounder fluke with no additional saucing. Very fresh and delicate in flavor, albeit more chewy since the flesh was not scored.
Tai, $6 - The true Japanese snapper cut with a bit of the tender black and white skin. High quality fish but served icy cold.
Albacore, $6 - A nice looking fleshy cut, but below average quality, muddy tasting and probably not bled properly.
Shima aji, $7 - Looked good but served too cold to show much flavor.
Japanese uni, $9 - Very nice with smaller eggs and smoother texture than domestic, not as sweet but more pronounced flavor. Worth the surcharge.
Kampachi, $6 - Not well trimmed with some dark areas, stiff texture and not much flavor because served icy cold.
Hana smoked salmon, $5 - After my disappointment with the fancier fishes, the house-smoked salmon turned out to be the most satisfying, mostly because it was served at an appropriate temperature. Nicely tender and fatty in texture, the smoking was delicate and not overpowering. Only lightly salted and not sweetened, the natural flavor of the salmon could shine through.
Overall, I found Hana to use pretty good quality fish but was disappointed in the execution of the nigiri sushi. The rice had beautiful pearly grains but was decidedly warm and overly marinated that made it jarring against the fish. I enjoyed having fresh wasabi, but the delicate flavor was overrun by the strong seasoning of the rice and the smoky soy sauce that was too heavy for the lighter types of fish. The special fishes imported from Japan were kept wrapped up in a separate refrigerator compartment and not in the counter top display case. Consequently, they were icy cold when served making the flavors too muted and textures off. This was a waste of good product. There was a disharmony and odd imbalance here --- highly seasoned rice and heavy soy sauce vs. delicate wasabi and muted flavor fish. I did like the one to two-bite size of the cuts and they were in proportion to the well-formed rice pads. Yet for the prices charged here, the fish should be better trimmed of blood lines and more pristine. The Saturday night selection was impressive and far better than I expected this far north. If the prices were lower, I'd probably be less critical. I also suspect that I might have been happier ordering just tuna, yellowtail, and salmon from the every day selection and I could be persuaded to return for that. At $6 or 7 per pair, the other choices were not up to standard for that elevated price point.
Hana Japanese Restaurant
101 Golf Course Dr.
(next to the Double Tree)
Rohnert Park 94928
Thanks for the great report!
I too cringe at nigiri sushi with fish served icy cold with warm or warm/hot sushi rice. Those who claim this was done during the old school Edomae era/style is really making up some excuse to not care for the delicacy and preparation.
At $7 for a pricey piece of engawa, I hope that at least it came from a Japanese hirame and it was of a good size. Sakae Sushi, when they have Japanese hirame, a nigiri pair is only $5 at most (and I would imagine the same for engawa, after all it is from the same fish and shouldn't be charged a premium).
I'd be interested in knowing what kind of Japanese tai you had. There are many varieties, and unfortunately even the best places like Sakae source their tai to the farmed variety (as excellent as it tastes). I'm sure wild Japanese tai (madai)if available in the Bay Area is too $$$$.
The Japanese uni you had, was it of a darker brown shade? If so that is the bafun uni from Hokkaido, and resembles the kind from Boston. There is also a smaller kind with an identical color/shade to the common Santa Barbara variety as well.
Thanks for the reality check on the engawa. Sometimes I'm not even charged for that order just because the sushi chef is tickled that I like it and no one else wants it anyway.
Can't tell you anything about the Japanese tai. If it were wild, I'm sure that Hana would have charged a heftier price. I can't recall the color of the uni either.
The specials among the cooked dishes that night included kurubota braised pork belly and grilled beef tongue. I might go back to try those.