Upscale Sushi Comes to the Inland Empire
By Joe Lyons

Ra Sushi Bar Restaurants are pronounced like a cheer (Rah), not like you’d expect from a sushi bar (raw). The name actually draws from the Egyptian sun god, but I’m still not clear on the connection.
Nonetheless, Ra is a unique concept for our area. True, there are any number of sushi bars around and many are quite good. I have developed a taste for sushi over the years, just as I have slowly developed a taste for good scotch. Like olives, which I still don’t like, they are acquired tastes.
There are so many sushi bars here in the Inland Empire that I have actually found myself reviewing more than one at a time here in the pages of the Business Journal. So just what makes Ra different?
No disrespect, but most of the area sushi restaurants are small mom-and-pop operations. This is not a bad thing so please don’t call and complain. It’s just that Ra is the first to take the big time approach to this delicate Asian treat. Ambiance is as important to the theme as quality of food. Don’t expect the bus stop décor or Buddhist temple design of so many other facilities. Sleek contemporary design and loud rock music are basic to the look.
That music is a problem for me. Maybe I’m just getting old but having to holler over the table does not do it for me.
The good news though is the outdoor terrace dining. Since my lovely bride has an allergy to seafood, she came along with much trepidation. Sitting outside provided her with the fresh air she needed.
The menu worked for her as well.
We began with pineapple cheese wontons and pineapple chicken. I also went for the lobster shrimp roll, which is a bit pricey at $11.75, but well worth it. The most expensive roll on the menu is the fancy Viva Las Vegas roll (honest). It consists of kani kama and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed, lightly tempura battered and topped with spicy tuna, crab mix and sliced lotus root, finished with eel sauce and spinach tempura flakes. I enjoyed this one at an earlier sake tasting for the local media. (More about that in a minute.)
The Mrs. enjoyed the chicken katsu, which is a breaded chicken breast on Asian coleslaw with wasabi mashed potatoes and an Asian BBQ dipping sauce. I approached that wasabi mashed potatoes with some trepidation, but to my relief it was set for Western tastes and not nearly as dangerous as I had anticipated.
I was disappointed in the rather pale ginger pieces until I was told that they were the natural ginger color. Those bright orange pieces you get elsewhere are dyed.
Dessert was tempura ice cream, not unlike the Mexican treat, fried ice cream. As for the sake tasting that I mentioned, it was held a month or so earlier. This tasting event treated a number of local media types to the varieties of Japanese rice wines available at Ra.
Like Western wine, there are many varieties from many locations. There are even very good sake brands from right here in California. Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned that evening was (Ian Fleming not withstanding), sake is best served cold, like revenge. There are very few hot sakes served today.
Like other wines, different sakes pair well with different foods. There are even sparkling sakes out there. Sake should be served in small cups but the cups should be filled to overflowing. The overflow dribbles into a “masi box” which looks not unlike an ashtray. This is a Japanese symbol of good luck; it is a symbol of having more than enough.
And yes, you can drink the overflow in the masi box as the wood enhances the flavor. Just remember that it is considered bad luck to pour your own sake. Have someone else pour it for you. (Maybe your designated driver.) Sake is potent stuff with 40% alcohol. That’s 80 proof.
By the way, the Japanese toast for sake is “Kampai.” Loosely translated it means “Cheers.” There are currently two Ra Sushi Bar Restaurants in the Inland Empire. One is off of I-15 in the Promenade at Dos Lagos. The other is in the Shoppes at Chino Hills off of C-71.
Originally founded by young entrepreneurs in Arizona, Ra is now owned and operated by Benihana who has been responsible for the company’s expansion since 2002.
They hold special fund-raising events for local charities and also arrange for special holiday promotions with specialty drinks and dishes.
For more information, check the Web at www.rasushi.com.

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