A&E

Restaurant review: Raw appeal

Rumble Fish rounds out downtown Mountain View's Japanese options

You have to hand it to the owners of Rumble Fish: They obviously had a good time coming up with the names of their specialty maki rolls, and their inspiration shows in sushi that looks as good as it tastes.

The Mountain View restaurant's menu features both traditional Japanese sushi and entrees as well as some novelty maki. Good rolls are made here, in tasty combinations and artful presentations. There's the "Tsunami," which wraps tuna, salmon and crab around a core of tempura shrimp, crab and avocado; the "Rusty," with a heart of calamari and avocado surrounded by salmon and eel; and the "Snow White," with spicy shrimp and cucumber topped with baked tilapia.

But beware the "Call 911." Though the waiter did conscientiously caution us that our selection was especially hot, we reassured him that we were game and liked a little zip with our sushi. He took our order, shaking his head. We were duly warned. This house specialty looks harmless enough but the diced tuna inside its cocoon of packed rice has been marinated in a special blend of various types of chili peppers -- and sprinkled on top with the deadly nanami togarashi (a common Japanese spice mixture with dried chili peppers). Even for patrons who crave the rush that comes from a good dose of wasabi, be warned: "Call 911" is hot enough to scorch your palate, crossing the line from a tongue-numbing burn to this side of excruciating in its onslaught of pure volcanic force. According to co-owner Eun-Joo Chang, most people manage only one slice before succumbing to the dish's "secret sauce."

Most of the 24 maki ($9 to $18) listed on the menu are quite eye-catching, loaded as they are with extra toppings. Each selection is described by its "in" (inside the rice) and "out" (the extras on top) ingredients. "Motorcycle Boy" ($15) takes a basic California roll-type filling and covers it with tuna, salmon, avocado and two kinds of sauces. "Red Dragon" ($15) piles thinly sliced tuna and avocado over a dense interior of spicy tuna and tempura shrimp. Our most satisfying choice was the "Climax" ($15), which encased avocado and tempura crab -- still warm and crunchy -- in rice, garnished with baked crab and tobiko (flying fish roe), plus drizzles of unagi sauce and spicy mayonnaise.

Each maki was extremely generous in size, lovely to look at and quite tasty, though the pure flavors of the fish were sometimes overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles.

A well-rounded nigiri menu is coupled with standard Japanese selections like sashimi, donburi rice bowls, sukiyaki and fried rice. A large selection of hot and cold appetizers range from calamari katsu ($10) to deep-fried soft-shell crab ($12), firecracker jalapeño (deep-fried pepper stuffed with cream cheese and crab, $8) and seaweed salad ($8 to $16). The chirashi bowl ($24), a dish of seasoned rice topped with scattered slices of raw fish, is a popular option for sushi fiends who want a broad sampling of flavors.

A bowl of chicken udon ($14) was simply fabulous. A rich meaty broth was loaded with chunks of meat, heaps of slithery noodles and crisp greens. The portion was enormous, enough for lunch for two with enough left over for dinner. The salmon teriyaki bento box lunch special ($16) arrived on a massive white platter as a vision in neutrals: The heavily sauced fish was accompanied by a mound of white rice, tasty dumplings and limp tempura veggies, with twin cups of identical dipping sauce. A salad of barely dressed iceberg lettuce and a bland miso soup served as appetizers. Though the salmon was flaky and cooked perfectly and the portions were more than generous, the dish was insipid and lacked the creativity and show of effort of the maki.

Chang opened Rumble Fish last October with her husband, a 10-year veteran of the business (and the brains behind the maki creations), at the former site of Sono Sushi, a long-established sushi boat restaurant on Castro Street. With its dark walls, colored lights framing the sushi bar and oversized mirrors, Rumble Fish exudes a low-key, hip vibe. Seating is along the bar, in booths and at dark tables set with square white dishes. It's easy to pass by its entrance, which is set a few paces inside the main door on the street.

Staff was friendly and attentive, especially during our "Call 911" experience when the waiter brought out a dish of sweet katsu sauce to cut the heat. Water glasses were refilled without asking and dishes were removed only after asking if we were finished. In a decided nod to its Silicon Valley location, orders are taken on iPads and emails for discounts on the next visit are sent out within days.

Rumble Fish is doing lots of things right -- fresh fish delivered daily, a delicate hand with nigiri, lots of palate-pleasing creations -- and Chang says the menu continues to evolve. Some items need to be refined, but overall, Rumble Fish is a welcome addition to booming Castro Street.

Rumble Fish

357 Castro St. Suite 3A, Mountain View

650-961-9086

rumblefishmv.com

Hours:

Lunch, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Dinner, Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m.; Friday, 5-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9:30 p.m.

Credit cards: Yes

Reservations: Yes

Catering: special request

Outdoor seating: Yes

Parking: Street

Alcohol: Beer, wine and sake

Happy hour: No

Wheelchair access: Yes

Noise level: Average

Bathroom cleanliness: Excellent

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