Vegetarian sushi isn't usually much of a headline attention-grabber. After all, isn't sushi all about pristine slices of hamachi and glimmering pearls of ikura?
But that is the aquatic branch of sushi. At its core, sushi is about the rice (cue the fanning the rice scene from Jiro Dreams of Sushi) and the supporting cast is there to enhance it. Sadly vegetarian sushi fillings usually are relegated to the likes of bland cold cucumber sticks that make diners try to fill up on miso broth and edamame beans instead.
Moshi Moshi hasn't forgotten that vegetarians want thoughtful sushi too. A whole section of the menu is devoted to vegetable nigiri and vegetable maki. For nigiri, opt for the house made omelette tamago infused with umami-strong mirin, or delicate tofu skin inari stuffed with rice and shiitakes.
However, you'll find the maki creations present the real excitement both with the names and the chef creations. Best was the "Half Moon," ($6.25) combining creamy avocado, fresh cucumber, firm atsu-age (fried) tofu, and perfectly crisp, not greasy tempura asparagus, all inside seaweed with an outer rice wrapping. The "Sweet Heart" swaps the tempura asparagus for sweet chili, and the "She's So Cute" pairs cucumber and the gorgeous robust notes presented by shiso leaves. For an earthier, creamier filling instead of crunchy and refreshing, consider the "Yummy Yam" with tempura yam and avocado.
As enjoyable as the various fillings are, it's the pitch perfect rice that really lifted these rolls to a higher than normal tier. The rice is slightly warm, fluffy as a pillow, and splashed with just the right dash of vinegar for a noticeable acidity. It's gorgeous rice. Everyone should give rice the respect it's given here.
A great lunch choice is the the cold soba noodles with your choice of tempura or inari and cucumber, both served with miso soup.
Moshi Moshi is a neighborhood sushi spot but it's also hard to label as only that. From the street it looks like a dive bar with no windows. Inside there are two parts: a cheery and light front dining room with a sushi bar, a dark, romantic back room that features a cocktail bar with surprisingly high mixology standards. "My Father's Revenge," a cocktail made with local Blade Gin, Amaro, and fresh blood orange juice, proves that Moshi Moshi means business beyond sushi.
The restaurant is as fun to visit as to say the name (a casual form of saying "hello" in Japanese). It's been in the Dogpatch for 23 years, long before the neighborhood became the hip enclave it is today.
It might seem as strange today as it was 23 years ago to recommend ordering fish-free sushi, but fortunately Moshi Moshi knows that vegetables can swim with excellent rice just as well.
2092 Third St., San Francisco; 861-8285.