Z: We swept aside the beaded drape at the entrance and walked into a genuinely rarified realm. Barely through the doorway, we heard Chef Tomo shout out a warm welcome with a wide smile as if we were family he hadn't seen in a long time. From behind the hustle of his sushi counter Tomo offers this friendly greeting to everyone coming and going.
R: The host and server escorted us to a seat at the sushi bar where we waited for our friends Mike and Rosemary to join us. We had called ahead earlier in the day to alert the chef we were vegan and were assured it was no problem. Tomo asked if we wanted to order from the menu or allow him to prepare veg delicacies for us. We liked the thought of giving him an opportunity to employ his creativity and didn't have a moment's regret.
Z: Our server brought a starter of Miso Soup and assured us it contained no bonito flakes or MSG as we requested. It was warm and tasty and contained the familiar bits of tofu and slices of green onion. The soup was followed by an attractive Seaweed Salad consisting of two kinds of seaweed: a mound of deliciously sweet/sour marinated long, thin shreds of warm seaweed topped with ultra-thin shreds of carrot and a small serving of dulse. A generous portion of iceberg lettuce topped with a well-seasoned creamy miso dressing filled the remainder of the plate.
R: A beautiful plate of Vegetable Rolls was served while we were barely halfway through our salad. At our request, Tomo slowed the pace so we could dine leisurely and savor every morsel. We had not ventured into a sushi restaurant in many years, recalling that veg selections were extremely limited. At Tomo Sushi vegetarians are treated to an almost boundless variety of delicacies. We soon recognized Tomo Zhang was indeed a rare breed of sushi chef when we learned he traveled from his home in China to live in Japan for four years while studying the art of sushi. Even his assistant, Liu Tao, who calls himself Fred, is Chinese.
Z: Our memorable sushi experience was as unique as the restaurant's ambience. Decorating the wall behind the sushi prep counter are top-to-bottom and end-to-end dollar bills with patrons' inscriptions in bold markers extolling praises of Tomo's delicious creations. The same monetary décor covers the opposite wall, while Japanese lanterns, a large parasol, and giant fans lend definitive Japanese flavor.
R: Tomo explained the dollar-on-the-wall tradition began when he opened the restaurant four years ago and served a few Armenian patrons who then wrote a message on a dollar bill and suggested he post it on the wall. They told him it was an Armenian practice and called it "lucky money."
Z: Tomo adopted the practice and "lucky money" has continued to decorate the walls ever since. It gives the long, narrow room a unique touch of character and certainly makes for interesting conversation.
R: Picturesque Vegetable Rolls sported a satin-white wrapping of crisp soybean paper dotted with black sesame seeds. Tucked inside were sprouts, cucumber sticks, rice, and iceberg lettuce. Dipped into our tiny saucers of soy sauce mixed with wasabi, they were a tasty sushi beginning.
Z: Next we savored the Oyster Roll--relax, no squishy fishy suffered for this delight. Instead, a three-inch-long slice of whitish king oyster mushroom topped the small mound of rice and was wrapped with a thin band of nori. Garnishing the top was a dab of spicy, pink pureed daikon radish and finely shredded green onion. It was a taste sensation, picture perfect, and very unique!
R: Following the Oyster Roll was Shishito, four green, batter-dipped, deep-fried Japanese peppers. Tomo explained these were a Japanese favorite. At first glance I thought they might be spicy jalapeno peppers and was delighted to learn they weren't. The batter was super light and crisp, the peppers mild and sweet, and the sauce beneath was sweet and reminiscent of a thinned hoisin sauce.
Z: The next morsel of delight was the Tofu Stuffed Sushi. Rice provided the outer layer and was wrapped around a layer of nori. Neatly packed inside was a large chunk of deep-fried, marinated tofu along with julienne cucumber. It was easy to recognize Tomo was as comfortable creating veggie sushi as he was the traditional fish variety.
R: The sushi saga suddenly sprang to life when Tomo handed each of us Kamaki, a Japanese handroll he explained was very traditional in Japan. Stuffed into the cone-shaped nori wrapper were a hearty portion of rice, sprouts, and a long spear of steamed asparagus that formed a beacon above the rim of nori. The top was brimming with a generous portion of Japanese beans prepared with a pleasantly pungent brown sauce that may have been seasoned with miso. At that point, Tomo asked if we wanted him to continue. With a slight hesitation we all agreed we could ravish one more of his tasty surprises.
Z: The evening extravaganza came to a close with one final, artisanal creation. Thick slices of Japanese cucumber provided the base. Piled onto the center were tiny brown beans marinated in Tomo's special sauce. Balancing the salty flavor of the beans was a cube of pickled daikon radish standing on top of the pixie beans. A sprinkle of sesame seeds finished the dish.
R: As a tiny finishing touch, we each received a two-bite-size portion of watermelon. When Tomo said we must return for more still veg varieties, he earned our title of "esteemed repository of endless creativity."
Z: The experience was pure delight, yet we were in for one final surprise. Most vegetarian and vegan restaurants are quite inexpensive, where two people can dine well for under $30. Those who frequent sushi restaurants are savvy to the pricey meal. Very na´ve, we were caught off guard. Some may call it moderate, others expensive. The bill for the four of us came to $101 before tip. It didn't discourage us though--we certainly will return for Tomo's irresistible sushi.
144 N. San Fernando Blvd, Burbank, CA 91502
Reviewed August 2007