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Sushi fun: Japanese restaurants bloom in Manteca/Lathrop area
Wake up and smell the chrysanthemum. Well, the sushi-style edible creation of Chef Tony Guan (bottom left) at the New Chinas sushi bar in the Save Mart shopping center on West Yosemite Avenue. The sushi bar is the new attraction at this Chinese restaurant. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Just before Y2K, and even during the early years of the new millennium, Stockton and Modesto were the nearest places to go for a Japanese sushi or sashimi experience if you happened to live in the South San Joaquin County area.

Not anymore. In fact, this particular dining-destination traffic trend has been reversed with Japanese-cuisine fans from the “Wealth Health Contentment” city of Modesto and Someplace Special Stockton frequenting sushi bar joints in Manteca and Lathrop. The last 10 to 15 years have seen a mushrooming of this type of restaurant on this side of Altamont.

The first to make its foray into the tri-city area of Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon was Yukimi which caters to both American and Japanese food aficionados as well as amateurs. In quick succession after that came Matsuyama Restaurant in the Spreckels shopping center, Matsu Sushi at the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, both in Manteca, and the Mikasa Bistro at Save Mart shopping center and Amici Sushi in the Louise Avenue shopping center in Lathrop. The latest to hop into this restaurant trend is the New China Chinese restaurant in the Save Mart Marketplace shopping center on West Yosemite which opened its new sushi bar in December 2013 soon after its renovation.

One of these Japanese restaurants stands out among the rest, however. That’s Yukimi. While it features a separate sushi bar, it also has two dining areas where guests sit down and wait for their food to be served Benihana-style as their orders are prepared in front of them by a trained chef. The visual highlight of the Yukimi dining experience comes at the start of the food preparation, when the chef “cooks” the sliced fresh onion by using the rings to build a Mt. Fuji which he then lights up to create a make-believe volcanic eruption complete with licking flames.

Another thing sets Yukimi apart from the other sushi bars. Here you can sit at the bar and watch while the sushi chef prepares your order. While you’re waiting, you can follow the news or the latest games on the wall-mounted television.

Each Japanese restaurant basically offers every basic and traditional Japanese palate pleaser such as sushi, sashimi, tempura, teriyaki, miso soup, and a host of salads. But for the most part, they do provide some artistic differences in the food preparation and presentation. At the New China Sushi Bar, for example, Chef Tony Guan who brought to Manteca his Japanese cooking experiences in San Francisco Bay Area and Modesto can create for diners a Chrysanthemum sushi that looks so good that you hate to mar the artistic creation. At the heart of each chrysanthemum is an ahi “rose.” Pink pickled ginger thinly sliced, and a delicate garnish that looks like a sprig of green olives – the olives are actually wasabi attached to a parsley sprig without the leaves – complete the edible presentation.

The food choices on the restaurants’ menu include many that invites one to be palate adventurous. At Matsu Sushi are a salad called Hawaiian Poke (tuna, onion, vinegar, sesame oil, radishi, and shiso), a Godzilla spicy roll, and Zen, Oishu, and Naruto under the No-rice orders. At Matsu Sushi, you can entertain yourself while waiting for your food by looking for the tiny typos on the menu: e.g., chicken “bleasts” teriyaki, “fly” fish eggs, “Depp” fried soft shell crab, and breaded jumbo “prown).

The other good news, other than the proximity of these Japanese cuisine experiences to residents in the Family City of Manteca, the Railroad City of Lathrop, and the Almond Capital of the World that is Ripon, is the prices of the excellent food. It doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg even when you’re up to impressing that special someone in your life.