Among the happy-hour choices is a half-price ($8) party roll called the Cardiac Roll. “If it gets stopped for speeding, is that a cardiac arrest?” Jim asked. You could call it a cereal killer, for sure, as it’s piled on top with enough Wheaties-like tempura crunchies to smother the shrimp hidden under the heap. A Caterpillar Roll is also cut-price before 7:00 p.m. It tastes good and has all the usual stuff in it, but there’s no attempt at visual panache — more playful chefs will often give this roll eye-stalks and palps and fuzz, while here it’s just a striped avocado wrap, no big deal. Well, it tastes good all the same.
An original roll called RU Kidding Me (not a happy-hour special) proved a winner — it turns out to be owner Shihomi’s favorite. It’s the perfect gentle roll for sushi beginners, as well as an enjoyable combination for old hands. It offers spicy scallops around tempura asparagus, topped with barely seared tuna and white truffle oil, with an accompanying salad of deep-fried chives and baby lettuce leaves. Mild and soothing, with a dash of spiciness, it’s a roll for all tastes — novices and veterans alike.
That balance is Azuki’s secret weapon. There’s a little bit for purists, more for beginners, and plenty for adventurers at any level of appreciation. It’s probably not the greatest sushi you’ve ever had, but it’s fresh, bright, reasonably creative, and the bossa nova soundtrack puts it in perspective: You’re here to have fun, enjoy a little carnaval for your mouth.
Bargains of the Week: I’m not mad for Bleu Bohéme (4090 Adams Avenue, Kensington, 619-255-4167, bleuboheme.com), but many people are, and if you’re among the restaurant’s devoted fans, there’s now a $22 prix-fixe three-course dinner if you arrive early enough to get in your order before 6:00 p.m.
And up in La Jolla, one of our best chefs is offering bargains on our favorite crustacean. During local lobster season, the Marine Room (2000 Spindrift Road, La Jolla, 858-459-7222, marineroom.com) is offering a three-course lobster dinner menu every Monday evening from 5:30–9:00 p.m. for $40 per person (tax, gratuity, and beverages not included). For an additional $15 per person, wines will be paired with the first two courses. The three-course menu starts with the choice of a salad or mushroom soup, followed by your choice of one of three different lobster preparations, including Nectarine Kalbi Glazed, Pistachio Butter Basted, or Fennel Pollen Spiced Lobster Tail. The meal concludes with a Praline and Chocolate Plantation Pie. Ooh-wee, baby!
Azuki Sushi Lounge
*** (Very Good)
2321 Fifth Avenue, Banker’s Hill, 619-238-4760, azukisushi.com (website still very primitive).
HOURS: Lunch Monday–Friday 11:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m., dinner Monday–Saturday 5:00–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Simple rolls, $5–$11; nigiri, $4–$6; house special rolls, $11–$17; sashimi (five pieces), average $15.50; appetizers, $2–$13.50 ($15.50 for king crab); house special appetizers, $6.50–$12; Entrées, $12–$28, most about $16; omakase sashimi dinners, $35 for one, $59 for two. Happy-hour simple rolls, $3.50, miso soup $2, discounts on selected rolls and beverages.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Long menu of sushi (from basic to creative), sashimi, party rolls, Japanese and fusion appetizers, and basic Japanese/fusion entrées (teriyakis, etc.). Substantial lists of sakes, Asian beers, cocktails, and intelligent, affordable wine list, plenty by the glass, well described by flavor profiles.
PICK HITS: Miso-shiitake soup, Pon Hama (spicy yellowtail sashimi), Kumamoto oysters, spicy scallop hand roll, RU Kidding Me Roll. Good bet: Amaguru Tataki.
NEED TO KNOW: Easy street parking. A few tables on street. Quiet early, but rather loud once full. Two vegan entrées, a scattering of vegetarian sushi rolls.