It's funny how some unassuming Chinese and/or Japanese places look like their food will be just plain awful, if not at least average, while others have spectacular food. My friend Jim and I experienced the latter today off of State Street in the tiny, dusty desert hamlet of San Jacinto.
A few years back I had some work in nearby Hemet - a town founded nestled by the San Jacinto Mountains. Jim works in Yucaipa bujt found himself in his company's Hemet office. I drove down the 79 to meet him for lunch. A coworker of his had recommended a nice Mexican place. But we couldn't find it. Fortunately, I rememberd seeing the aforementioned sushi restaurant just a few miles up the road in San Jacinto. And after passing a smattering of evangelical storefront churches-slash-thrift stores, some trailer parks, a few teensy stores selling "masa para tamales" )yes, I did almost stop) and the "Empower State Building" (don't ask; I think it's some kind of youth center), we got to our Sino-Japanese lunch destination, the Hot Wok Chinese Cuisine - Tokyo Sushi.
The waitresses were chatty and friendly, and thankfully the place was empty (at 1:30, we had missed the rush). Each side of the menu had a different cuisine: Japanese on one side, Chinese on the other. Jim tells me that this place was, until recently, strictly a Chinese restaurant, and was known throughout the Hemet-San Jacinto area as a pretty good option for Chinese food. I wish he had told me that before I had ordered all that Japanese food, because I wanted to see what they were talking about. Thankfully, the Japanese food we got was pretty good, at least the main items:
- Spider roll - That ubiquitous soft-shell crab roll that continues to astound me outside of the Chesapeake. But it was tasty, and relatively cheap at $7.50! The roll part, however, fell apart easily.
- Miso soup - a little more robust than most that I have had.
- Shrimp tempura - We each ordered combos with shrimp tempura (mine was $10.95 with tempura shrimp and veggies, salad, rice, salmon teriyaki and California roll). It was the crispiest and crunchiest I have eaten in ages, and the tempura batter tasted wonderful.
- Vegetable tempura - Included some kiind of squash that was a little dry. I couldn't finish it.
- California roll - They never have real crab in them, just that "krab with a K" stuff that should only be eaten on occasion, lest one get sick. But I could swear this one tasted fishier, crabbier than usual. No seaweed wrapping on this one, and the pieces were pretty tiny.
- Salad with standard shredded carrot dressing - Dressing was better than usual, but you can only do so much with iceberg lettuce.
- Salmon teriyaki - Damn this was tasty. And the salmon skin was crunchy and fatty at the same time. I couldn't help eating that first. Easy to dig into with chopsticks, but not so easy to tear apart. A good firmness.
- Ginger ice cream - Our dessert, only $1.50 each. Brown with bits of candied ginger in it, and much bigger than your standard little ball of mochi ice cream. Not as good as green tea, I think, but I would order it again.
Our bill came to $35 before tip, and Jim offered to pay. I tried to give him some money, but he wouldn't take it. Of course, dinner may wind up coming out of my pocket. Nevertheless, thanks all the same, Jimbo!