Sushi Matsu (El Cerrito)

10561 San Pablo Avenue @Moeser Lane, El Cerrito, CA
Dinner Review Date: December 2021
This pleasant little neighborhood restaurant recently opened in October 2021. Parking is easy here along San Pablo Ave., at least at night. The waitress dropped off a small bowl of boiled edamame. The quality was mediocre, but the gesture was appreciated. Most restaurants have stopped serving these little freebies in today’s tough economic environment.

Gyoza: Deep Fried Handmade Dumplings: Gyoza should have good porky flavor but the filling will have a light, loose texture without being too finely ground. The skin can be commercially sourced but should always be thin. These passed the test. They were excellent, and we rated them as 4.5 stars – above average for a neighborhood restaurant.

Age-Dashi Tofu: Deep fried tofu with broth, bonito flakes and scallion:
An unusual presentation - tofu was fried but served dry. A small bowl of broth was served alongside, with a comment from the waitress that we could ask for more broth if desired. The amount of broth provided just barely wet the cubes, flavoring them but leaving the crusts still crisp. We split on this. Spouse was okay with it, but I didn’t care for it. The tofu wasn’t spoiled, but it wasn’t as fresh as it should be. The cubes tasted like they were fried in reheated oil.

Mix tempura: Deep fried prawns (2pcs) & vegetables (8pcs): Sushi Matsu uses the usual double-style battering, and do a nice job on it. The shrimp were genuinely large ones, sliced bookend-style into long straight ‘pencils’, with a good panko crust. The veggies were an assortment, with three different kinds of winter squash interspersed with the usual broccoli, carrot, green bean and eggplant. It was hard to tell varieties of squash, but one was superb – it just melted in the mouth like creamy butter. The batter was a bit heavier than the traditional tempura batter, but still light-textured and above average. A very generous dish, even tho listed under Starters. We would order this again.

Chicken Kara-age: Japanese style popcorn chicken: Sadly, a flop. Tough gristly pieces of chicken, thickly battered, and overcooked to a dark brown.

Unagi Don: The eel was a good quality, with meaty pieces. The tare sauce wasn’t glopped over the rice the way too many kitchens do. The oshinko, pickled vegetables, consisted of slices of bright yellow takuan, pickled icicle radish, rolled into a decorative flower. Instead of cucumber, there was a small portion of wakame gomae, the bright green seaweed salad.

It was a good dish, but we are not overly fond of the increasing use of sushi rice instead of the traditional steamed rice. Sushi rice is cooked with less water – think of it as the “al dente” version of regular soft-cooked Japanese rice. Frankly, if a restaurant wants to cut costs by only making one version of rice, then invest in a microwave and nuke the sushi rice with some added water. One minute would produce the proper tenderness for a don.

Sashimi & Nigiri Sushi Combo: Chef`s choice of 5 pcs nigiri sushi & 5 pcs Sashimi: A nice assortment of sashimi, but Spouse said it was average – nothing bad, but nothing exceptional either.

We opted not to have dessert, but I noticed that Sushi Matsu not only offers the usual green tea ice cream, but also cheesecake, Japanese cheesecake, and mochi.

Summary: This is a pleasant but not exceptional Japanese restaurant. Unfortunately our preferred local place, Sugata/Albany, remains closed for dine-in, so our choices these days are limited. Sushi Matsu is open seven days/wk, which is unusual and worth noting. We haven’t tried Sumo Sushi, down the street, but will put it on our list to try for comparison.

Two people, dinner: four starters, two mains, with tax but without tip, $74