Photo by Natalie KardosStation Sushi
125 N Highway 101
Shoddy-looking restaurants on Highway 101 can be as common as the outrageous beauty stretching along the coastline. Some places seem rather empty, some quite full, and then there's one across from the train station in Solana Beach, where the flip-flop-clad customers actually spill over to wait on the sidewalk.
Super-sized special rolls are responsible for drawing the masses to the North County weekend hot spot known as Station Sushi. These tempura-battered, panko-fried food stars are louder than the blaring music, range from $10 to $14.50 and have names that tend to evoke a giggle (hence the young crowd). For example, take the Monkey Stick, a no-rice roll loaded with spicy tuna, crab, avocado, albacore and tempura, or the Slippery When Wet, a shrimp tempura roll of crab, eel and avocado. Purists beware: The cake-like creations may offend you.
Every possible square inch of Station Sushi's real estate, indoor and outdoor, is crammed with tables and chairs. Once the salvation of seating arrives in 30 to 40 minutes, the new obstacle becomes trying not to bump into the neighboring party or overhear their conversation. My husband and I also had difficulty pinning down the server, a nuisance soon forgotten when we saw for ourselves the exaggerated size of the rolls landing on tables nearby. Perhaps the ultimate challenge—not eating yourself into oblivion—makes up for everything else.
Soon enough, a special roll made its way over to us, and we happily faced the task of taking in the Ex-tasy. Yes, that's the name of the fabulous micro-green-adorned roll consisting of panko-fried halibut, crab, cream cheese, salmon and ponzu. The highly recommended Mary-Juana Ocean, renamed the Maui-Wowie Ocean, met expectations. It features spicy tuna, crab, avocado, salmon and a deliciously daunting tempura encasement. We also loved the Crunchy Shrimp Roll, an addictive combination of shrimp tempura, crab and tempura batter covered with sweet sauce. I'm ashamed to admit that batter really does make everything better.
The dinner did have its low points: I sampled the Disco Inferno roll, a version of a spicy tuna roll topped with tobico (flying-fish eggs) and masked with spicy mayo. Hell certainly came to mind during my attempt to wash the thing down with Sapporo. The memory lingers.
Station Sushi opened in 1999 thanks to the woman whom staff unabashedly refer to as “that crazy lady.” The owner, Chung Choi, said the idea came naturally because her family ran a similar restaurant back in Seattle. When asked what sets this place apart, she insisted the secret is simply fresh ingredients, a loyal customer base and decent pricing. “Sushi is sushi. Just Japanese food,” she said. Last I checked, gigantic monkey sticks are not readily available everywhere, but as of last year, they can be found at Station Sushi Birdrock (although some swear the sushi is not the same).
A few months ago, Station Sushi revamped the menu to include appetizers. You're probably assuming the one we ordered arrived before the special rolls. Wrong! The recently concocted tempura-cooked, spicy-mayo-drizzled jalapeños stuffed with crab, cream cheese and spicy tuna came in the middle of the meal. To the restaurant's credit, the jalapeños were tasty and the heat level wasn't overwhelming.
As in the case of another party of two I witnessed, the possibility exists that you'll experience Station Sushi in Solana Beach with your dinner in chronological order, no wait and a short search for parking. The risk boils down to how much you can stomach.
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