by Diane Sussman
It's only a matter of time before the food posse at the Center for Science in the Public Interest turns its attention to Japanese food. After what happened with Chinese food, Italian food, Mexican food and popcorn, it's inevitable they will find fat streaks in the unagi and grease wads in the tempura. But even if venerable food detectives do find fault with some aspects of Japanese cuisine, it's hard to imagine they could find much that would harm our collective arteries and waistlines at Homma's Brown Rice Sushi on Birch Street in Palo Alto.
As the name suggests, Homma's doesn't even deign to drape its slices of fish and vegetables over white rice, which lacks the high amounts of vitamins B and D of brown rice.
Regardless of the nutritional perks of brown rice, some people will always prefer the sweet, vinegared taste of white rice to the nutty flavor of brown. Others will object that, like steaming bagels instead of boiling them, using brown rice is tampering with tradition. But if it's the mild, salty taste of salmon or the delicate taste of yellowtail with green onions that defines the sushi experience for you, then the color of the rice may not make much difference to you at all.
For food and ambience, few places are as spare and economical as Homma's. It has three tables inside, four tables outside, five pieces of decorative wall art and no sushi bar.
The presentation, too, lacks the studied fussiness of many sushi bars. Here, you get your food on a paper plate, your drink in a Styrofoam cup and your tea bag inside the wrapper.
Service is not just totally unpretentious, it's practically non-existent. You order at the cash register, and the sushi chef brings you your food. Most people bus their own tables and sort their recyclables.
The menu can be broken down into variations on rolls and balls, with a few extras like miso soup, salad and vegetable curry. Most of the variety comes from the size of the roll or ball. You can have large rolls or small rolls, small balls or large balls.
Homma's has all the usual rolls and balls: California, mixed, inari, vegetable and so on.
It is the vegetarian fare that sets Homma's apart from other sushi bars. Besides the ordinary cucumber, mushroom and avocado rolls, Homma's makes burdock root, mountain yam, gourd, asparagus, radish, plum and plum leaf sushi. For $7, Homma's throws it all together into a giant salad roll made with lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, carrot, egg and fish cake.
Depending on your appetite and pocketbook, you can eat for $4 or $15. By far the best deals are the combinations, served at lunch and dinner. For $5.40, you get 10 pieces of sushi. Donburis are another good value. For $7.20, you get a foothill of (brown) rice laden with tuna, unagi or a selection of sliced fish.
Homma's also has one item you will find nowhere else: umekyu, a combination of plum and cucumber. Mark my words: The day will come when the Center for Science in the Public Interest discovers that plums are bad for us. When they do, we'll all be at Homma's, loading up on plums.
Homma's Brown Rice Sushi, 2363 Birch St., Palo Alto, 327-6118
Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday-Saturday 5-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5-9:30 p.m.
Atmosphere: Spare as the sushi
Highlights: Healthy, healthy, healthy Reservations: no
credit cards: yes
wheelchair access: yes
outdoor seating: yes
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