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Utility sushi. I first heard the term used by Anthony Bourdain, during an episode of No Reservations. He was in Tokyo, and about to have the sushi of his life. The best. The primo numero uno prepared by an 80-year-old chef who had been practicing his craft since he was fifteen. This was the best. All other sushi was utility sushi – good enough to stuff your craw with, to fill your belly. But that’s it. It’s only okay. That’s kind of what you get with Sakura.

I’ve been to both locations, which oddly enough have the same name, same decor (except one is a steakhouse), but no other relation to each other. I ate at Sakura Sushi and Noodle (no website) on The Corner for lunch, and most recently Sakura Japanese Steakhouse on 29N with the hubby. This location features a Benihana-type experience – that with the hot flattop and the flying knives and the smoke, and all that grilling. During our visit the “chef” was actually flipping shrimp into the mouths of the eaters. Like dolphins. It was kinda funny, but in a weird, sad Jim Jarmusch kind of way. Maybe you have to be drunk to appreciate it fully. Which I’ve actually done come to think of it (i.e., been drunk at a Benihana on a blind date, but that’s another story).

But back to the sushi. It’s not bad, but it’s not anything to write home about either. It’s utility sushi. Good enough for when you’re in the mood for maki, but not memorable. The portions are generous, the taste is fine. But it’s just that. It’s only fine. At both locations. It’s just utility.

I did like the smell of the grillling meat and rice at the steakhouse while I was enjoying my utility sushi. That was a definite plus. And the shrimp-tossing added entertainment value. The proprietors also served us these tiny chilled sake bottles that had built in cups in the lids. That was cute. But again, the sake was okay. Utility sake (if there is such a thing). And actually, the spicy tuna roll was also one small step above “okay” – it was filled with something crunchy and had actual heat to it. A plus in a town as small as Charlottesville, where I kind of didn’t even expect UTILITY sushi if you want to know the truth.

The Corner location is fine as well, but I will warn you, the service is SLOW. Both times I’ve been there for lunch, and both times were in the summer when school is out and the place was empty. But still, it seemed to take forever just to get a little Bento Box. Can’t imagine how long lunch would take with school in full swing, but I’m avoiding that location like the plague. When I’m in the mood for sushi, I’ll head north – for the okay taste, the weird theatrics, and that wonderful wonderful smell of grilled meat. Sakura Japanese Steakhouse is definitely better than Daihachi (which has since closed, before I had a chance to write a review, but eh, I guess the review wrote itself). For a college town like Charlottesville, Sakura is not bad at all. Damn fine utility sushi.

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