First Bite

Robato Grill and Sushi

By Ella Lawrence

Editor’s note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

“You realize I’m totally vulnerable here,” my date said earnestly. “I don’t even know how to use chopsticks.”

He closed his menu calmly and pushed it to the side of the table. “It’s obvious you know your way around a menu, so I’m not even going to try and fake it.” Then he spoke those magic words: “Why don’t you order for both of us?”

What a great way to start a first date! I sighed with contentment (already planning date two) and scanned the menu at Robato Grill and Sushi in Mill Valley. Good. Ample choices, but not overwhelming. I didn’t want to freak him out with octopus-tentacle sashimi but did want to branch out from the usual California Roll.

We started with a miso soup, of course, which was nice and comforting but could have benefited from the addition of more seaweed. Next came a poki salad ($8.95), chunks of tuna sashimi marinated in a spicy sesame-oil dressing. Fresh cucumber slices and wakami made me hope that the salad would make it from the specials board to the permanent menu by the time I returned.

As we chopsticked our way through the slippery sashimi salad, nigiri sushi began to arrive. The sake (salmon; $4.95) and maguro (tuna; $4.95) are always classic choices, and Robata doesn’t skimp on the thick slices of raw fish secured to the rice balls beneath by a dot of wasabi. Nigiri sushi is perfect for a date, because it arrives in pairs, and you can talk about the virtues of each fish as you try the different morsels.

We ordered unagi (fresh water eel; $4.95) and anago (sea eel; $4.95) so that we could compare the two, but unfortunately the server informed us that the restaurant was out of anago. The unagi came straight off the grill, barbecued slices of dark brown, oily eel tied to the rice ball with a small seaweed wrapper that reminded me of Japanese bacon. Mmmm, bacon. Last to arrive was ikura (salmon roe; $5.25) with uzura (quail egg; $1.25) on each, and I scored both delicious pieces of fowl and fish egg wrapped in seaweed as my date eyed the bright orange globes with mistrust.

Specialty rolls were up next, the Saigon Roll (spicy tuna; $5.95) was a small, simple roll with dark red tuna and sushi rice wrapped tightly in seaweed. The Caterpillar Roll ($13.95) was the big winner. Tempura prawns and tobiko (small, orange flying fish roe) were double-wrapped and arranged beautifully in a curving S shape down the wooden sushi dish, thinly sliced avocado and grilled eel decorated the top of the roll.

Dessert was green tea ice cream, “put in the microwave for 12 seconds,” declared my date, a self-proclaimed green-tea-ice-cream expert. The ice cream did have the perfect melted-on-the-edges consistency and the earthy flavor of the finest tea buds, not too sweet.

Since I’d hogged all of the eggy sushi, I allowed my date full run of the ice cream bowl. Having taken charge of the menu (and thus the date), is it now my turn to call him up for Date Two?.

Robato Grill and Sushi, 591 Redwood Hwy., Mill Valley. Open for lunch and dinner Monday–mdash;Saturday; dinner only, Sunday. 415.381.8400.

From the September 21-27, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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