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Dec 18th
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Far from Plastic

dining_SushiTotoroIn the mood for Japanese food, I sauntered into the little Totoro Sushi on Mission Street. Presented with both a lunch and special sushi menu, I knew immediately what I wanted. Something I had first seen, but made of plastic.

In Japan it is common to see plastic food samples in an eatery's windows. The idea for these replica foods materialized in the 1920s when a young entrepreneur made wax molds to help restaurants show customers how new western dishes appeared. Faux food has since grown into a huge industry. Each dish is custom made, based on photographs and sketches of a chef's dish. A silicon mold is taken of the actual food, and expert artists make plastic sauces, condiments and garnishes. Sometimes, the replica appears more appetizing than the original.

I appreciated this replica food: it was good for pointing at when my dozen or so Japanese words would not suffice. And at a train station on the outskirts of Tokyo, I so gestured at a bowl of Pork Tonkatsu Donburi.

At Sushi Totoro, ice water and hot miso soup were immediately delivered to my table. The soft reggae music would be replaced by Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face', to which the sushi chefs sang accompaniment. On the lunch menu, teriyaki, ribs, and Korean BBQ Bulgogi are some of the choices in two-item ($8.95) and 3-item ($11.95) Bento boxes. Wheat flour udon noodle soups are also available.

Seaweed Salad ($4.95) featured translucent emerald strips of wakame with sesame seeds and aromatic sesame oil. The Donburi ($8.95) arrived in a cavernous bowl half-filled with rice, and topped with chopped, breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu), sautéed onions, carrots and scrambled eggs. The aroma of leftovers on the drive home almost revived my appetite.


Sushi Totoro, 1701 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 426-6660. Beer and wine. Serving lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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