Sited along busy El Camino Real in Palo Alto, Odori Sushi and Teppanyaki is easy to overlook. But don't let its outside appearance fool you: two-year-old Odori knows what it's doing. It's a friendly, low-key neighborhood restaurant that focuses on nigiri, sashimi, maki and a number of creatively concocted rolls, as well as traditional Japanese dishes.
The restaurant's interior is divided into a 10-table dining area personalized with a wall-size version of Katsushika Hokusai's famous woodblock print of an ocean wave. Tables and seating are spare, putting the emphasis solely on the food. A small sushi bar, manned by two friendly experts, showcases the restaurant's real draw -- super fresh, glistening slabs of fish.
The menu lists more than 25 different types of sushi ($1.75-$4 for two pieces), from old familiars including eel, salmon, shrimp and yellowtail to less common offerings such as giant clam, Spanish mackerel, ocean trout and white toro. A chalkboard posts seasonal offerings and daily specials like baby lobster, bluefin toro and skipjack. For an indulgence, a $30 omakase menu provides about 10 samples of the chef's top sushi selections. Fish is brought in daily from a 6 a.m. buyers' market, according to the manager, and his due diligence shows in the bright flavors and textures of the restaurant's ocean-based offerings.
There are more than a dozen beautifully presented American-style rolls ($9-$12) that deserve a moment of admiration before digging in. Carefully applying sauces and garnishes, the chefs create whimsical-looking creatures and visual amusements. The Loving Heart roll comprises spicy tuna, crab and avocado topped with tuna, molded into a heart shape and drizzled with soy sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. The Mango Tango roll contains crisp shrimp tempura and cucumber, topped with mango bits and spicy sauce. The servings are generous, and the chefs take obvious pleasure in making the presentation as enticing as the flavors.
Aside from sushi, the restaurant offers a large selection of appetizers, noodle soups and cooked dishes for both lunch and dinner. My lunch bento ($11.95 for three items) included salmon teriyaki, vegetable tempura and white tuna sashimi, along with standard lunchtime sides of a small bowl of tasty miso, a dollop of white rice and an innocuous salad. The generous serving of tempura was a little greasy but its yam, carrot, broccoli and onion were crisp and flavorful. The teriyaki sauce was a bright touch on a thick slice of very well-prepared salmon.
On another visit, I started off with an appetizer of oshitashi ($5): boiled spinach drizzled with a sweet sesame sauce. It looked as delicious as it tasted. Gyoza ($5) dumplings were overly oily and a bit skimpy on the filling. A large bowl of too-salty seafood ramen ($12) was heaped with perfectly cooked tender noodles along with large chunks of salmon, exactly one mussel and two small shrimp. A sushi lunch special ($13.95) highlighted five different nigiri (salmon, tuna, eel, shrimp and hamachi) with a simple, well-proportioned tuna roll. Delicious.
Dinner ($11.95-$17) features classic items like beef, chicken or salmon teriyaki; black miso cod; breaded chicken katsu and the full repertoire of sushi and rolls. The restaurant has wisely dropped serving teppanyaki (a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food -- think Benihana's), which the manager said was simply too demanding on both servers and space, although the name remains on the restaurant's signs and menu.
Several types of sake are offered as well as Japanese and American beers.
Odori -- which means dancing shrimp -- is not a secret find, since tables tend to be packed both at lunch and dinner. Its popularity can make service inconsistent and timing can be hit-or-miss, with long waits between dishes or everything arriving at once. But servers (with one exception) are friendly and zealous about keeping water glasses full and empty plates cleared. And the sushi chefs are expert at cutting and preparing their immaculate fish.
Odori Sushi and Teppanyaki
2111 El Camino Real, Palo Alto