Genmai Japanese Restaurant
3623 W. Fifth St., Oxnard

A few years ago, a friend had asked me to a find a midway point between his home in Oxnard and mine in Ventura and we agreed upon Genmai. It happened to be one of his favorite sushi restaurants, located in a rather obscure strip mall on the same road as the Oxnard airport. And from what I recalled, it was rather good so I decided my return visit was long overdue.

Chili pepper roll: a fresh jalapeno stuffed with minced ahi and cream cheese, tempura fried and covered in sriracha mayo and sweet eel sauce.

My companion and I arrived for a late lunch on a Saturday afternoon. It was rather quiet with only one other table of guests. The dining room is a bit dim, with dark walls, wood tables and chairs but a cream-colored tile floor for contrast. We chose our seats at the sushi bar, which produced some of the fastest service I think I have ever had in a Japanese restaurant.

As we looked over the menu, we were offered and served complimentary miso soup with thin udon noodles, and ginger cucumber salad with sesame seeds tossed in seasoned rice vinegar. My companion ordered the crunchy roll (California roll, tempura-style), the chicken teriyaki bento box while I chose the chili pepper roll and the pizza roll.

Chicken teriyaki bento box.

First out, the crunchy roll, which was pretty standard. The bonus: fresh out of the fryer, warm and tightly wrapped. Then came the bento box. The chicken was hot off the skillet, moist, practically falling apart and not overwhelmingly sweet. The side salad had big chucks of hot-house tomatoes on fresh field greens with a tangy miso vinaigrette on the side. Along with the egg roll, pork gyoza, crisp and crunchy shrimp and vegetable tempura, there wasn’t much room left for my companion to share my rolls. Surely, one bento box at Genmai is more than enough to satiate the appetite.

As my companion was enjoying his meal, the chili pepper roll came out, indulgent to the extreme, as far as it goes for sushi rolls: a fresh yet not-so-spicy jalapeño pepper stuffed with minced ahi tuna and a hearty helping of cream cheese, then lightly battered and deep-fried, followed with a decent dousing of sweet eel and sriracha mayo and sprinkled with sesame seeds. This combination could seriously be a dessert for those who like to live a little dangerously.

Pizza roll: A mix of seafood minced and placed on a slice of seaweed, doused in eel sauce and then baked.

Following that, I ordered the pizza roll just to see how far down the rabbit hole I could go. Because my companion — a young relative — has always had an affinity for pizza, I thought this would no doubt be tempting. Alas, when it showed up, the only thing reminiscent of pizza was the attempt at being served in a circle on slices of seaweed, which had no sturdiness whatsoever so everything just fell off. The minced crab, shrimp, white fish and salmon, atop rice and seaweed, then covered in eel sauce was dense, as one could imagine, sweet as well, but it was just too much. Further, I am just not that accustomed to consuming so much mayo and sweetness, so I had some grumbling in the digestion process.

Worth revisiting, especially for happy hour ($5 drink specials, sometimes less) and lunch specials (Monday-Wednesday, $8 meal plus free drink), and apparently the place gets popping with a dance night on Thursdays. Overall, if I can just learn to scale back on the creamy, mayo-y accoutrements now customary in sushi dining, Genmai has an array of options, including the sashimi “martini cocktail,” that would satisfy sushi cravings.

Note: My young companion pointed out that he found it odd that there was a panda on the menu at a Japanese restaurant. “Pandas are only found in China,” he said. “Very observant,” I replied.