The Japanese have long been enamored with seasons; from the sakura blossoming in the spring to the koyo-zensen slowly moving in and bringing with it its wave of fall foliage. Momiji (translated to mean the "reddening of the leaves," specifically the maple) has cleverly incorporated this theme of autumnal warmth into its decor. Located a few blocks away from the trendy J Street row of chaotic, sake-bomb swilling Japanese sushi bars, Momiji opts to reside in the shell of what once was Juliana's Kitchen in the Alkali Mansion Flats district. Due to its inconspicuous location and because Sacramento sushi joints to date have become as populous as Mcdonald's...overrunning the grid and spilling into the suburbs, many Midtown dwellers have yet to hear about this newcomer.
Now being a japanese food snob, I'd be hard pressed to say the offerings at Momiji are great, but I can acquiesce that the food there is solid and it is good. The menu is pretty standard- a handful of predictable apps (gyoza, yakitori, tempura), a page of sushi rolls, a smattering of nigiri choices and a few comfort food dishes such as nabemono, yakisoba, udon and donburi. My introductory dining experience with Momiji was via takeout. I opted for their bento box consisting of sabayaki (grilled mackerel), sashimi and kushiyaki (skewers of grilled chicken, beef and shrimp glazed with teriyaki sauce). The fish was well executed and the skewers were tasty but the sashimi was mediocre and left me lacking. My dad ordered the beef yakisoba (fried noodles) and remarked on the large portion-size and that it was not overly oily. Prices were reasonable and they do take plastic, which is always a plus.
My second encounter with Momiji was for an early b-day dinner with my friend, J. We ventured over there on a Thursday night and were a bit surprised to find only two other tables occupied. We were quickly greeted by a friendly waitress and allowed to choose where we wanted to be seated. We opted for the roomy half bench/half chairs seating towards the rear of the establishment so that we could comfortably converse. Walking to the back also gave us a chance to take a gander at the restaurant...and it's obvious that whoever decorated Momiji took some care in choosing its color scheme and decor. The warm reds of the wall and the exposed wood beams complement the simple black furniture perfectly. Also, interspersed throughout the background are various pieces of contemporary art, small mirrors and a few rice-paned partitions creating a cozy and relaxed dining environment...perfect for a small group of friends or a first date. The only oddball part of the atmosphere was the faint whisperings of 80's pop music (Cyndi Lauper, A-ha, etc) which elicited a chuckle from my dining partner and myself because it seemed so out of place.
As we perused the menu, our server took the initiative to service us with ocha and various complimentary starters (edamame, miso soup and sunomono). I just wasn't feeling the nigiri-vibe (it was pretty limited) so we decided to go with what I lovingly like to refer to as "gringo Japanese." We ordered two rolls to split - the Flamin' Tuna Roll (spicy tuna & cucumber topped with avocado, yellowtail, red tuna, albacore, spicy sauce & scallions) and the Garden Roll (steamed asparagus, sweet potato tempura & cucumber topped with avocado, garlic mayo, scallions & sesame seeds). The sushi chef also graciously agreed to prepare us a dish that was not on their menu - thinly sliced tuna seasoned with lemon, shoyu, chili oil sauce, jalapenos and garnished with a rainbow of tobiko. Our requested dish was not only aesthetically pleasing but perfect in taste as well. The Flamin' Tuna Roll lacked heat but I appreciated the fact that the itamae-san didn't drench it in mystery sauce to mask the fish, like so many places around town. The Garden Roll was the only miss of the night. The roll itself was good; however, the garlic mayo sauce adorning it was a turn off to both myself and J. The sauce had an odd, cloyingly sweet taste to it that neither of us appreciated and decided to scrape off.
The food at Momiji lacks culinary creativity but what dishes it churns out are acceptable and better than what you'll uncover at most Japanese places in Sac. The dishes are a bit rudimentary but hopefully as they settle in, they'll expand into offering a few more adventurous plates. I'd really like to see them extend their theme a bit and utilize seasonal ingredients. All in all, Momiji warrants a solid three stars for its food; however, I'm inclined to bump it up to four because the service we received was superb from start to finish. Our server was cheerful, attentive and unobtrusive...which definitely enhanced our dining experience. It's a welcome addition to the neighborhood and I'll definitely be dropping by again as well as recommending it to others.