Second chances

Second chances

At Maki Yaki, it’s all about ordering right

By Stephanie Kinnear 03/08/2007

Sometimes you just really want to like a restaurant. At least that’s how I felt when I stopped in to Maki Yaki with a friend about a month ago. It was about 8 p.m. and, according to our server, we had just missed the biggest dinner rush the restaurant had ever seen. The high school-aged waitresses leaned on counters and whispered conspiratorially, wiping their brows like unsuspecting soldiers who had just survived an ambush. They smiled good-naturedly at us and shuffled tiredly but happily between our table and the kitchen. I liked them.

And I liked the restaurant’s aesthetic. There was something strange and comforting and almost kitschy about the way the little authentic Japanese touches (beautiful miso soup bowls and dipping dishes) met with the sort of greasy-spoon diner surroundings. For those who have lived in Ventura longer than a few years, you’ll remember that Maki Yaki occupies the building that was once the Hi-Ho Diner — a great place for pancakes.

I had already decided that I liked the place when our mixed vegetable tempura arrived. I bit into a foreign looking piece of vegetable (which I later ID’d as sweet potato). It was not so good. I tried a piece of broccoli. Better. All in all, the dish was not wonderful, relying far too heavily on starchy vegetables that don’t make for good tempura. I was hoping for asparagus; I got carrots.

Next came our rolls. Stacy had ordered a vegetable roll and I had ordered the Hot Night roll. Mine promised avocado and a variety of fish, all topped with spicy tuna and some sort of hot sauce. Now, I’ve had spicy tuna before, and I’ve liked it. But there was something unappetizing about the presentation of this spicy tuna. It was overwhelmingly thick. I dutifully tried a few slices and eventually decided to remove the spicy tuna from the top of the roll. Stacy’s vegetable roll was more of a success. We left, still charmed by the place, but not wowed by the food. I knew I’d be back, though.

And I was. A few weeks later, I took a new friend to Maki Yaki for lunch. I wanted to like this place. She ordered the spicy baked salmon roll and I ordered something called the Jessica roll. We sipped our miso and chatted while we waited for our orders. They came quickly. My roll looked promising and hers smelled wonderful.

We dug in. This was a good roll. The Jessica roll was huge and filled with fresh seafood, avocado and tempura shrimp. The textures and tastes were perfect, but they were bland compared to Stacey’s (yes, a different Stacey!) baked spicy salmon roll. It was definitely one of the best rolls I have ever tasted — savory and spicy and warm and satisfying.

We left stuffed and happy. Maki Yaki is a great place for inexpensive sushi; just make sure you’re a bit more informed than I was when you take on the menu.

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