Cheap eats

Sushi and more, naturally

(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge
July 21, 2010

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This is not the most auspicious home for sushi, wedged between a Sleepy’s mattress store and SavMor Spirits. But Genki Ya, the first outpost of a popular Brookline sushi restaurant, manages to defy the strip-mall ambience and create a verdant oasis beside an asphalt parking lot.

Genki Ya is trying to ride the natural, organic wave into the sushi market. That strategy has worked well in Brookline, where the two-year-old restaurant uses the same bamboo-shoots-as-decor, vibrant greens — including the most beautiful takeout bags we’ve seen; no drab plastic here — and a nearly identical menu. Organic and all-natural sushi means this: organic vegetables and rice, and fish either caught in the wild or raised naturally. In its quest for healthiness, Genki Ya doesn’t go as far as Snappy Sushi, replacing all white rice with brown. Here white rice is still the default, but diners can also order brown or multigrain (a mixture of 15 grains, from Job’s-tears to amaranth) for an additional 50 cents per order.

Genki ichiban ($8.95, pictured), one of the house specialties, is an unusual combination of maki filled only with rice and fried, then topped with spicy tuna and tobiko, or flying fish roe. Yet somehow it works, the tuna sandwiched between the saltiness of the fried seaweed and the fish eggs. Airy vegetable tempura ($7.95) contains asparagus, onion, broccoli, sweet potato, and our favorite, mushroom, each lightly battered and crisp.

Genki Ya also offers more interesting choices for purely vegetarian sushi than other restaurants that rely on avocado and cucumber rolls, and here, even an avocado roll can be ordered with spinach tucked inside. The mushroom tempura roll ($7.75) is earthy and as rich as steak. Flying fish roe with quail egg nigiri ($6.45) is not for the squeamish, from the salty roe to the raw egg. Genki Ya also offers fruit sushi, with bananas and mango often making an appearance. We prefer the savory maki but are pleased with the fruit roll ($5.75), a combination of mango, banana, and avocado.

The bill at Genki Ya adds up quickly and some things seem unnecessarily pricey, like a $4 bottle of Naked Juice for a child. Maki is more budget-friendly at lunch, when two basic rolls can be ordered for $10, and three for $13. Our servers deliver a small complimentary dessert for those who have not ordered a final course, tapioca and a dash of various ice creams — one night red bean, another ginger. But we prefer the ginger ice cream ($3.50) straight, in a bowl, all alone.

GENKI YA 231 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, 617-661-8200, All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $6.25-$11.45, maki $4.45-$15.95, nigiri $4.50-$7.95. Hours Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.- 10:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m.- 11 p.m.; Sun noon-10 p.m.

Liquor Wine and beer.

May we suggest Genki ichiban, mushroom tempura roll, vegetable tempura, flying fish roe with quail egg nigiri.