.Westside’s Sushi Totoro’s Sleek Makeover Pairs Well with Their Popular Rolls

Sushi Totoro on the Westside has been making students (and professors and locals) happy for a long time. Who hasn’t loved being bombarded by all those mini psychedelic lights bouncing off walls and ceilings, and the countless Polaroids? After lockdown, Totoro has been open doing a booming carryout biz, and more recently a dine-in business as well.

Picking up some sushi the other night, I had to admire the steady pace—almost a musical performance—kept up by the guys behind the sushi bar. All those tiger rolls lined up ready for carryout. The tempura and gyoza all set to wow the folks at the bar. I had a few minutes to take in the new, sleek look of Totoro, where a chalk mural of flying Hello Kittys and bouncing Totoros has replaced the Polaroids. New burgundy paint looks spiffy, and the tables have been generously placed to allow patrons space as they scarf down the gorgeous platters of spider rolls and sashimi.

I took home our favorite carryout combo, which tastes quite nice, thank you, with glasses of icy Grüner Veltliner. Or Vouvray. Mixing up that addictive wasabi and tamari (plus a splash of wine) for dipping, we lined our plates with pickled ginger and began. My companion let me have a bite of his Spicy Tuna Handroll ($7.50), a vigorous creation that tastes exactly like it sounds, and all that finely chopped tuna plus firepower is tucked into a cone of delicious, chewy nori. We both tried to pace our consumption of the textural and refreshing Seaweed Salad ($7.95). Our other shared dish is always the New York Roll ($9.95) A wrapper of nori filled with shrimp, cucumber and avocado, the entire thing frosted with more of the sticky rice and then chopped up into fat coins. Some people can polish off one of these plump cylinders in a single bite. I take two bites—lasts longer.

There are many lavish, special rolls at Totoro, including the oddly satisfying One Night Stand with fried yam, cream cheese, avo and macadamia nuts. Mmm. But simple was the order of the evening. I would take an order of Tekka maki ($7.95)—maguro bluefin tuna with wasabi in a simple rice roll—as part of my last meal on earth. The fresh, sweet taste of the tuna, the sticky rice, the heat of the wasabi paste! My companion loved the equally pristine Hamachi Maki ($8.95), with the pale hamachi amberjack enfolded tightly in a wrapper of rice, with a spot of scallion. Delicious stuff. More fun perhaps to consume inside the delightfully boisterous Totoro itself. You decide. Sushi Totoro, 1701 Mission St. Santa Cruz. Open daily 11:30am-2pm, 5-9pm.

Salad Dressing of the WeekAt my house, salads—usually of Little Gems, baby arugula and spinach—are shown off very nicely thanks to a few strategic items added to the classic matrix of white balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Here are the crucial secret ingredients: Dalmatia’s irresistible green olive spread, and Dalmatia’s organic rosehip spread, in equal proportions (both around $5). The salty earthiness of the green olives perfectly balances the silky sweet rose hip flavors. And of course you’ll want to make sure you’ve got some garlic in there. We keep a jar of minced garlic in the fridge at all times. And sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. This salad adornment never fails to delight us, yet it’s not so aggressive that it overpowers whatever wine is joining our dinner. Get those pretty glass jars of Dalmatia spreads and concoct your own custom vinaigrette.

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