Sushi Garden, located in North Clairemont's Diane Center strip mall, is a friendly and inexpensive Japanese eatery turning out modestly priced sushi, noodle dishes and bento boxes. Cleverly, the proprietors rented out a small location in the strip mall along with the neighboring breezeway, putting up walls, building a platform for tables and outfitting this ad-hoc patio dining area with heaters. The result is a relaxing and pleasant outdoor-dining space with burbling fountains and abundant plant life adding to the ambience.
While the food here isn't exotic Japanese cuisine that will make you feel like you're dining in Tokyo, it's still good stuff, particularly the unusual sushi rolls. On a recent visit, we sampled the Bad Boy Roll, the Fire Roll and an eel roll, along with the salmon-skin salad and a halibut bento-box combo. Everything was fresh and flavorful.
The Bad Boy Roll consisted of deep-fried crab, fresh salmon and avocado. The exterior was dusted with panko breadcrumbs and quick fried, which gives it a crunchy exterior. The sliced roll was then dressed with a tasty mayonnaise-based sauce spiced with wasabi.
For those of you with fireproof mouths, the Fire Roll is a good selection-spicy tuna and cucumber topped with strips of tuna, jalapeño slices and spicy sauce. The jalapeño slices were fresh, with seeds intact, making it brutally hot.
The eel roll was one of the best I've had. The eel, also tasting fresh, was served warm with only a light dressing of eel sauce. Eel sauce can be rather sweet and syrupy, and a little goes a long way. Thankfully, that's something they understand at Sushi Garden.
Salmon-skin roll is one of my favorite kinds of sushi, so it wasn't a surprise that I enjoyed it as a salad. Here, fresh lettuce was topped with a generous amount of crisp-fried salmon skin and dressed with ponzu, a dressing made from soy sauce, lemon juice and rice wine vinegar. If you like salmon skin, this is a good appetizer for sharing.
The bento box included halibut, teriyaki chicken, rice and salad. It was unremarkable except for one thing-the pieces of tempura-battered halibut. Light and delicious, these were like perfected fish sticks for grownups. If you sweet-talk your server, he might let you order them as an appetizer.
Sushi Garden is open seven days a week: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday (Friday is the same, except they close at 9:30 p.m.), 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Prices are low, with sushi topping out at $9.50 for the fancier rolls, and bento boxes priced between $6 and $8.