By Vickie Lewis
Over the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to visit local restaurants and sample a variety of foods from other countries as a restaurant reviewer for Contra Costa Marketplace. Tachikawa Restaurant in Pinole is the first Japanese restaurant I’ve visited since I began writing reviews, and I really looked forward to it. I’d only eaten at Japanese restaurants a few times in the past (unless you count Benihana’s—then the count goes up!) I remember that I’d enjoyed the foods I’d ordered previously, such as sesame chicken and tempura when I’d dined at Japanese restaurants, and was looking forward to the culinary experience. However, when I arrived at Tachikawa, located in the Del Monte Shopping Center on San Pablo Avenue in Pinole, I initially became a bit apprehensive when I read the sign “TACHIKAWA Sushi Bar.” I have never been a fan of Sushi, and my guest also does not eat it. But I entered with an open mind, and can honestly say that it was an enjoyable dining experience!
I was happy (and relieved!) to see that in addition to sushi, Tachikawa’s menu includes a full array of fresh sashimi, maki, and nigiri, as well as more meaty dishes such as chicken or beef teriyaki, katsu or udon dishes, and tempura selections. My guest and I were pleasantly surprised at the many menu options from which we could choose. I asked our very accommodating server, Gina, to tell us about some of the menu items about which we were unfamiliar. We learned that Udon is like a noodle soup; Soba is pan-fried noodles with vegetables; Nigiri refers to a menu selection being served “over rice”; Teppan refers to items cooked on a grill; and Maki are smaller portions of sushi rolls. Bento boxes, a multi-compartment, box or tray, containing various courses of a Japanese lunch or dinner, are also available on the menu, and there are many choices of entrees from which to choose. The appetizer section of the menu included “potstickers”, which I’ve always enjoyed from Chinese venues. The Japanese version of these is called Gyoza, and Gina informed us they are similar to Chinese potstickers, but are deep fried. At Gina’s suggestion, we opted for two appetizers to enjoy while reviewing the larger menu—Edamame and the Shrimp/Veggie Tempura.
The restaurant has a casual, clean, and comfortable atmosphere. Seating is at wooden tables with cushioned chairs, and during non-peak periods, there is also seating at the sushi bar. There are lots of wooden accents throughout the restaurant, laminate floors, and interior lighting is provided by box-shaped lamps suspended from the ceiling. Soft, ambient music plays in the background, and the Sushi Chef can be observed busily working behind the sushi bar. The staff is friendly and accommodating, and our experience was that the items we ordered were prepared and delivered to our table very quickly after ordering.
The Shrimp/Veggie Tempura appetizer was excellent. There were two shrimp and a generous mound of assorted vegetables, including zucchini, carrots, squash and broccoli, lightly breaded in beer batter and deep fried to a golden brown. The items were crispy and the pieces of vegetables were generously cut, and non-greasy. The Edamame was served in a bowl with plenty of plump, green soybeans, steamed in their pods. The beans inside were tender and enjoyable, and easily addictive! Soon after our appetizers arrived, we placed our order for one Bento Box, which allowed us to select two entrees from two lists of choices. Since we were at a Sushi Bar, we also decided that it was appropriate to try some kind of sushi, especially since it comprised such a large part of the menu. Gina patiently recommended numerous sushi choices that featured cooked ingredients rather than raw seafood. From a list of over thirty different rolls, we selected the Daniel roll, which included shrimp tempura, cucumber, and cream cheese. Sara Chee, our hostess for the evening, also recommended that we try one of Tachikawa’s most popular items, the Crunch Roll, which includes shrimp tempura and imitation crab, topped with tempura flakes and unagi (eel) sauce.
Bento boxes also include Miso, a traditional Japanese soup that is broth-based and included a few small pieces of tofu. The soup was hot and satisfying and had a pleasing, soothing flavor. Our Bento Box was served following the Miso, with each component of the meal neatly contained in its own compartment. We had selected Teriyaki Chicken and Teriyaki Beef as our two entrees. In addition to these, the box contained a large serving of steamed white rice, a small green salad, and a serving of Wakame, a type of edible seaweed, which resembled a mound of spinach. The beef and chicken teriyaki were served in small strips and slices, topped with a yummy teriyaki sauce. The portion of beef seemed a bit slight in comparison to the plentiful chicken serving, but both were tender and enjoyable. The green salad was served with a delicious house made salad dressing made from a base of miso and mayonnaise. Sara said that customers often ask to buy the dressing, but Tachikawa does not currently bottle and sell it, although it has been considered! I tried several bites of the Wakame, but in the end, I conceded that I didn’t care for it. Although it seemed to be mixed with some ingredient(s) that made the seaweed taste less intense, that flavor still prevailed. If you enjoy the taste of seaweed, you’ll likely enjoy this accompaniment to your meal.
The Crunch Roll was beautifully presented on a platter, with shrimp pieces protruding from each end of the roll. The tempura flakes were generously sprinkled of the roll and the unagi sauce was drizzled over the sprinkles. On one side of the platter, there was an accompaniment of thinly sliced fresh ginger, and on the other side was a small portion of Wasabi, a green paste made from the root of a Japanese plant, that tastes similar to horseradish. After plucking and eating the shrimp pieces from both sides of the roll, I embarked on my first sushi-eating adventure in a very long time. The rolls are sliced into individual pieces, so I removed the first piece on the end, examined it, and then took the first bite, eagerly followed by a second bite. I have to admit that it was pretty good! Since the ingredients in this roll are cooked, there was no “fishy” taste, with the exception of the seaweed wrap that holds the center together. That flavor, while not overwhelming, was not pleasing. Yet I enjoyed the rest of the roll enough to partake of two more pieces, accompanied by just a small bit of wasabi, which intensified the flavor. (Wasabi warning—don’t use too much at one time! A little goes a very long way, as my guest learned the hard way!)
The Daniel roll we’d selected was served as Maki, in a smaller portion than the Crunch roll. Six individual pieces of sushi were arranged on a smaller platter, again accompanied by fresh ginger and wasabi. I really enjoyed the flavor of the cream cheese and cucumber combined with the shrimp. But, like with the Crunch roll, the seaweed taste did not appeal, and it actually seemed more intense with this selection. I learned later during our interview with Sara that there is an option to request soy wrap instead of seaweed wrap when ordering sushi. The cost is only $1.00 more per selection at Tachikawa. I’m looking forward to trying the soy wrap option on my next visit to see how that changes the flavor of the sushi for me.
I know that a lot of you reading this are probably huge sushi lovers! It seems that most people either love or hate sushi. It is such a healthy dietary option and there is way more variety of choices than I ever thought imaginable. I am so happy to know that there are cooked sushi options because there were a number of other types on Tachikawa’s menu that sounded appealing, such as the “Oh Yes,” a deep-fried roll, made with salmon, avocado, crab and cream cheese. Another is the “Volcano” roll, made with shrimp tempura and crab topped with spicy tuna, tempura crunch and unagi sauce. There are actually two sushi rolls on the menu that are customer creations—the Archer roll and the WarrenCami roll. Check these out when you go—maybe you can even recommend your own creation to share!
If you love sushi and you’re looking for a great deal, visit Tachikawa during their daily Happy Hour between 5:00 PM and 6:30 PM, during which you can buy several different popular sushi selections for significantly reduced prices. During happy hour, patrons can also purchase a selection of Japanese beers, Hot Sake, or wine at reduced prices. This is a great local venue to stop by to unwind on your way home from work!
Tachikawa is another great family business, owned and operated by Douglas and Kum Chee, and assisted by their children, Sara and Chris. The family has owned Tachikawa since 2009. The restaurant itself has been at its current location in Pinole for many years under two previous owners, but has always retained the name, Tachikawa, which is the name of a city located in western Tokyo, Japan. The Chee family emigrated from Korea in 1988 when Douglas was recruited to the US for an engineering job. Later after a change in career, Douglas learned the art of sushi-making by working at a sushi restaurant in the San Jose area. The family seized the opportunity to purchase Tachikawa in spite of the volatile economic environment in 2009, and it has evolved into a great local Japanese restaurant and sushi venue. Kum and Sara are in charge of the kitchen, and Douglas and Chris are the sushi chefs who can usually be observed hard at work behind the sushi bar.
All ingredients used in Tachikawa’s food preparation are fresh, and all sushi is prepared to order. The dinner hours are busiest, particularly Friday evenings, and reservations are welcome. Take-out is available if you don’t want to wait for a seat—check out their on-line menu on their website so that you can call ahead! The menu prices seem reasonable for the quantity and quality of the items served. If you dine at Tachikawa and still have room for dessert at the end of your meal, try their Green Tea Ice Cream or Green Tea Cheesecake. We were so full that we had to pass on these, but they sure sounded very appealing.
Whether you’re a sushi connoisseur, you’ve never tried sushi, or you’ve never cared for sushi, I would recommend a visit to Tachikawa. The Chee family and their staff will be happy to answer any questions and recommend something from their extensive menu of Japanese delights that you’re sure to enjoy. Arigato!
632-E San Pablo Avenue, Pinole | (510) 964-0478 | tachikawasushi.com
Monday – Saturday 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM, 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM | Closed on Sundays | Happy Hour Daily 5:00 – 6:30 PM