4/5 Stars

Nestled in an inconspicuous corner of the Canyon Crest Towne Centre lies Starfish Sushi, an establishment that has the potential to be an afterthought amongst the hustle-and-bustle of the nearby Rite Aid and Ralphs’ clientele.

“Seat yourselves,” exclaimed a busy, but somewhat apathetic employee at the far side of the restaurant as I made my way through the front door. A slightly vexing departure from the above-average hospitality usually found at many other Japanese eateries.

Upon entry, the spacious interior allowed for an all-inclusive view of the restaurant, with its modestly-sized sushi bar coupled amongst a sea of generic wooden tables and chairs, two televisions tuned to ESPN on opposite ends of the restaurant — and not much else, disappointingly. The lack of patrons at the dawn of peak dinner time brought about a further tempering of my expectations for Starfish, ostensibly reminiscent of your run-of-the mill, suburban sushi joint where California rolls and chicken teriyaki are the law of the land.

After receiving and browsing the menu for quite some time, the crunch dragon roll and the salmon teriyaki combo ultimately ended up as the items to be put under the microscope. With hunger pangs in full force after a meal-less day, the anticipation mounted with every passing minute between the order and receipt of the food.

After about 15 minutes came the first item, the salmon teriyaki combination, which consisted of the named item, a small mound of rice, vegetable and shrimp tempura and a meagerly-portioned side salad slathered with a tart sesame dressing. As a whole, the dish proved to be a solid menu item, with the salmon cooked to near-perfection (just a tad bit overcooked, however) combined with the light, flavorful teriyaki sauce as opposed to many Japanese restaurants with their thick, viscous teriyaki sauce that holds the consistency of year-old engine oil. The side dishes acted as a polarizing supporting cast. The shrimp and vegetable tempura’s crisp exterior gave way to a perfectly airy intermission followed by a stimulating, flavorful taste on the inside. While on the other hand, the over-seasoned salad was nearly inedible.

Much to my chagrin, the dishes arrived in staggered, nearly 10-minute intervals from each other, forcing other members in my party, including myself, to wait nearly 20 minutes from receiving the first dish to finally begin eating.

The crunch dragon roll consisted of a shrimp tempura and imitation crab interior topped with fried eel and avocado and an aesthetically pleasing drizzle of a dark-brown, sweet eel sauce. From the first bite, I immediately recanted all my preconceived notions about the restaurant’s quality and repented for my sin of judging a book by its cover. The perfectly cooked shrimp tempura and eel brought a more-than-satisfying crunch, combined with a flavorful burst of the aforementioned ingredients.

The imitation crab tasted less like a slab of shredded rubber bands held together by mayonnaise (I’m looking at you, Asahi), and more like a subtle contrast to the eel and shrimp. As an added bonus, the resilience of the wrapped sushi roll was a pleasant surprise, as each piece stayed intact despite the various mishandlings of chopsticks that occurred throughout the course of the meal.

The conclusion of the meal brought an unprecedented satisfaction never before seen in my experience with Japanese cuisine in the city of Riverside. If not for the subpar service and disappointing salad in the salmon teriyaki, Starfish Sushi would be the undisputed holy grail of local Japanese food here. Despite its minute shortcomings, though, Starfish is still a catch.