Watsonville residents love their sushi. One of several Japanese restaurants in the area is Imura, a busy eatery that brings people together around good Asian food.
There were at least two birthday parties taking place in the restaurant on Saturday night, one in each of the large dining rooms. Balloons were festooned at the birthday tables, and there was much laughter and talk. Customers were lined up and waiting by the door. We were lucky to get in just in time.
Both lunch and dinner menus feature bento box and other meal combinations, as well as lunch and dinner salads. And of course, there is a large selection of sushi, sashimi (sliced raw seafood) and nigiri (sushi rice topped with raw seafood), made fresh at the sushi bar. For drinks you can choose among many types of hot and cold saki, plum and apple wines, and even a gluten-free beer.
It may be a surprise to hear that Imura serves Korean food. According to owner Jee Kajihara, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, many Korean families moved north, and some settled in Watsonville. One of these was hired as a chef at Imura, and he produced the Korean section of their menu. It was included it as a way to welcome and honor the Korean community.
The servers were fast, friendly and efficient. For a change, I decided to forego the sushi and ordered a bento dinner; Michael ordered Duk Man Doo Gook, a Korean rice cake soup. From the list of 22 appetizers, we chose a simple oshitashi: broccoli lightly steamed and seasoned with sesame oil. Michael had a small salad comprised of cabbage, lettuce and a tomato. To his surprise the subtly sweet mayonnaise dressing was seasoned lightly with cinnamon. He found it tasty, although there was a bit too much—it pooled into a watery mixture at the bottom of the bowl.
My bento dinner was served in a beautiful, large, black-lacquered tray containing beef teriyaki, saba shioyaki (salt-broiled mackerel), tempura and salad. I especially enjoyed the tender and juicy mackerel, which was slightly crisp on the surface; the flavor was scrumptious. The crispy batter-fried tempura was cooked just right to bring out the individual flavor of the vegetables. I found the beef teriyaki—sliced thin, marinated, and grilled—good, if not notable. My salad, similar to Michael’s, contained a dressing that was a bit too watery.
The Duk Man Doo Jook was served steaming in a large white bowl, accompanied by condiments: Korean-style black beans and pickled radish. According to Michael the broth was very light, and it was difficult to tell if it was made with meat or vegetable broth. The soup contained generous amounts of glutinous rice cake, delicious meat dumplings, vegetables—carrot, onion, zucchini, and asparagus—and was sprinkled with what appeared to be nori and hijiki seaweed.
For dessert, I ordered a tofu cheesecake to go. It was a sweet ending to an enjoyable dinner.
According to Kajihara, Imura has been at its location on Main Street for 20 years. The word “Imura” combines the image of a water well with a village. Kajihara views the family owned restaurant as a place that helps sustain its neighbors. In fact, rather than advertise, they prefer to donate their time and food. In this way, Kajihara said, "we can give back to the community." Providing locals with a warm, friendly atmosphere and good food, Imura has definitely found a respected place in Watsonville.
1994 Main St. Hours: Mon.—Thurs. 11 a.m.—9 p.m. (Fri. to 9:30 p.m.); Sat. 12 noon –9:30 p.m. 831-320-9417. www.imurasushi.com