Sumiko augments Indochine's Vietnamese menu with sushi and more
By Erica Wayne 12/04/2013
When Indochine opened a decade ago as the then only Vietnamese joint in town, its menu was minimalist as well, with only eight pho, six bun and four com dishes. Its offerings expanded over time but were always limited to traditional Vietnamese dishes. Nowadays, with several newer competitors, the restaurant's new proprietor obviously felt it was time to take the menu international. Sumiko (loosely translated, it means "beautiful child") now offers many of the old Indochine dishes plus sushi, sashimi and even a couple of Korean "daily specials" like kalbi ($11.95) and seafood bibimbap ($10.95).
Sumiko's spring rolls ($6.95), fashioned from translucent rice paper rolled around shrimp, pork, beef or chicken, with crunchy bean sprouts, lettuce, crisp rice noodles and mint, served with a tangy peanut dipping sauce, are quite good. Deep-fried "golden" tofu ($6.75) is also delicious. And, in keeping with the new pan-Asian theme, edamame (soy beans - $4.50), gyoza (Japanese dumplings - $6.95) and a Thai green papaya salad ($7.95) have been added to the starters.
Sumiko's list of sushi, sashimi and rolls takes a whole page. On our first visit, we kept it simple. Having split the aforementioned spring rolls and tofu along with an enormous portion of shrimp/pork bun, we also shared the lunchtime special sushi/roll combo ($10.95), which comes with a steaming bowl of fragrant miso and a salad of baby greens dressed with citrus vinaigrette. Four generous slabs of fish (tuna, salmon, yellowtail and shrimp) blanketing rice beds were paired with a simple California roll stuffed with avocado and, alas, fake crab.
Sumiko's diminutive sushi "bar" is adjacent to the cash register at the back of the restaurant. I didn't notice any stools, so I'm surmising that only table service is available. The roll list, while not nearly as extensive as many in eateries devoted solely to Japanese food, does include several classics, including spider, rainbow, and caterpillar with prices ranging from $4.95 for a simple cucumber roll to $14.95 for a dragon roll.
Beverages at Sumiko range from the pedestrian (Coke, Sprite, iced tea - all $1.50) to the exotic (taro or honeydew melon shakes - $3.50). The beer and wine license allows for brews from Vietnam, Singapore, China and Japan (and Heineken). Sake (including Silkroad raspberry sake by the bottle - $30) is also on hand. Desserts, though limited, include jackfruit or banana over warm sweet sticky rice flavored with coconut milk and topped with crushed peanuts ($4.95), a wonderful finale if you can find the room.
Overall, the quality of Sumiko's food and service is perfectly acceptable. But I wonder about the strategy of combining the two cuisines. Sumiko isn't the only restaurant to have tried such a combination. Wok n Roll in Old Pasadena coupled Chinese and sushi; Chada Thai on Holly Street wedded Thai and Sushi. Oishii, on East Colorado, attempted the same marriage. All eventually gave way to establishments with more narrowly focused menus. No matter how good the food, the term "jack of all trades" comes to mind.
For example, Sumiko's Vietnamese offerings are somewhat limited, especially in condiments and herbs. Top restaurants often provide Lazy Susans loaded with different kinds of lethal chili (dry, wet, red, green, fresh, pickled) along with a number of X-rated bottled sauces. Sometimes there's an extra bonus of chopped peanuts or dried shrimp. Soups and rice platters usually come with a huge bowl of unwieldy greenery - not just lettuce and mint, but cilantro, green onion, lemon grass plus a few botanical unknowns.
And while I don't find the overwhelming number of specialty rolls with cutesy names and oddball ingredients (beginning to be de rigueur at hip sushi places) particularly appealing, my guess is that most sushi aficionados won't seek out Sumiko for their fish fixes.
So, although I wish Sumiko well, I wonder about its chances for major success. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, however, it's a fine, unpretentious place to ward off the coming winter chill with a nice bowl of hot noodle soup.
950 E. Colorado Blvd.,
Unit 204, Pasadena
Beer and wine