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SUSHI IN THE SIERRA

Drunken Monkey has destination-worthy status.

WRITTEN BY SANDRA MACIAS
PHOTOS BY SHEA EVANS

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When a sushi restaurant in Truckee makes news beyond Donner Pass, it’s time to take notice. Sushi in the Sierra may sound like an oxymoron, but not at Drunken Monkey.

“Drunken Monkey has become a destination restaurant,” says co-founder, chef, and 30-year culinary veteran Osamu Okamoto, who goes by Sam (and says his title is only cook).

Not only locals frequent the restaurant, says Okamoto, but also travelers from Reno, the Bay Area, and cities big and small along the I-80 corridor.

The restaurant is located in a complex of buildings on Brockway Road, not far from old-town Truckee. Like Drunken Monkey’s neighbors, which include cousin FiftyFifty Brewing Co. and restaurant (both owned by Truckee Craft Brewing), it is Sierra modern in design — all wood, steel, and glass. A season-dependent patio wraps the restaurant’s front. Inside, a sake bar and a sushi bar hold court. The roomy dining area offers tables for two to four, plus two large booths. And photographs of the Sierra, taken by Okamoto himself, add color to the minimal décor.  

At the sushi bar, the chefs hand craft your personal picks from a list of 45 sushi choices. Japan-born Okamoto, a trained sushi chef (taught by his sushi-chef father), is likely to be one of them. Before ordering here, Okamoto suggests that you ask, “What do you recommend today?”

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Fresh catch

The restaurant team takes pride in serving quality, sustainable fresh fish, delivered six days a week. For those who say you can only eat sushi close to a shore, Okamoto dismisses the notion. With new refrigeration technology and advanced delivery techniques, it is possible to have fresh seafood anywhere, he says.

“I can order hamachi from Japan,” Okamoto says (and he often does), “and it will be here in 24 hours.”

He demands fresh produce, too. North Lake Tahoe distributor Produce Plus is one of his providers; another is Tahoe Food Hub, furnishing organic produce from nearby farms. Asian produce, such as Japanese eggplant and lotus root, come from Reno’s Asian Mart. In addition, his kitchen is a from-scratch operation: 23 kinds of sauces, stocks, kimchi, and desserts, all made in house.

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Tasty tips

Exploring the extensive dinner menu is a grand adventure. (The lunch menu, offered Monday through Friday, is a mini-version of the evenings’ offerings. On weekends, the dinner menu is available all day.) Below are two excellent suggestions to get you started. From there, you are on your own:

1. Try the grilled sake toro (listed under Tapas on the menu). Words can’t describe the fabulousness of this dish comprised of salmon belly marinated in chili-garlic sauce and grilled to absolute perfection. The skin was as crackly as a potato chip, the flesh rich, fatty, and moist. This dish will haunt you.

2. Another winner is the Singapore street noodles, a signature dish here. A medley of vegetables from shiitake slices to scallion slivers is quickly stir-fried before being tossed with a jumble of curry-zested, thin rice noodles. Keep it vegetarian or add shrimp or char-shu pork. Either way you’ll be happy.

It would be a huge omission not to mention the sake bar. The sake menu, which changes monthly, offers 25 varieties of distilled rice wine. Also offered: Japanese whisky, shochu — Japanese liquor, distilled from sweet potatoes, barley, or wheat — crafted cocktails, wine, and beer — including Japanese Sapporo and Omission, brewed by Widmer Brothers in Portland and processed to remove gluten proteins. The bartending staff members know their stuff and will guide you expertly, if needed.

And, finally, for those wondering how this 8-and-a-half-year-old restaurant got its name, here’s the story Okamoto related: In brainstorming for a name, a team member piped up conversationally, “My husband doesn’t know how to use chopsticks. Every time he does, he looks like a drunken monkey.”

A Eureka moment — that was it.

Memories of Tokyo’s sushi bars and hideaway Japanese restaurants washed over Reno food-writer Sandra Macias when she walked into Drunken Monkey. The roots of chef/cook Sam Okamoto are reflected in its food and ambience. And its Sierra surroundings only enhance the setting.

Resources

Drunken Monkey

11253 Brockway Road, Truckee

530-582-9755 • Drunkenmonkeysushi.com

Open 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sun. – Thurs., 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Fri. – Sat.

Reservations accepted for 6 or more

Recipe

Singapore Street Noodle

(courtesy of Sam Okamoto, co-founder and chef, Drunken Monkey in Truckee. Serves 1)

This is a signature dish of the restaurant.

3 ounces rice vermicelli or thin rice sticks, soaked in hot water 2 minutes and drained (noodles expand to 6 ounces)

3 ounces raw baby shrimp

2 ounces vegetable mixture (e.g. green cabbage, scallions, carrots, green or red peppers) cut into matchsticks

Salt and pepper, to taste

⅛ teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon ginger root, in a julienne cut

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh cilantro leaves

Pinch of cumin powder

½ teaspoon sesame oil

Heat wok (or heavy frying pan) until hot. Add oil to wok. Add ginger and cook until fragrant; do not burn. Add shrimp and vegetables, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until shrimp is half-cooked.

Add rice noodles and toss very quickly until noodles are hot. Add curry powder and toss; add soy sauce and oyster sauce to season. Add sesame oil, cilantro, and cumin. Toss quickly. Serve piping hot.

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