Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m. Closed Tuesday. D, MC, V. Reservations. Prices: Main courses at dinner $4.50 to $7.50.
Few storefront restaurants made an advantage out of adversity as has Matuba. The front windows show a rock garden decorated with parasols, and even if you had not intended to a stop in, you can hardly resist doing so.
Inside is a long, narrow room that has a sushi bar in progress. A few banners, a folding screen and an excess of plastic plants are about all that identify the restaurant as Japanese. While so far the restaurant is just plain, lean, carpeted and tableclothed, its future looks bright once the sushi bar is completed.
Sushi is also the brightest part of the menu. Matuba is the only local Japanese restaurant where I have found a four-piece sushi assortment (for $2.50). It is a good introduction to Matuba's sushi, but chances are you won't restrain yourself. A more realistic beginning is a 10-piece assortment for $5.50. Then you can choose seconds from your favorites. My nominations are soysauce octopus (tako), the beautiful seaweed-tied sliced omelet (tamago), the delicate seaweed-edged sea urchin (umi), the salty salmon roe with tiny wedge of lemon (ikura) and the usual tuna, flounder and sea bass. Ask the waitress to show you a poster of the sushi list if you have trouble deciphering. The full range is available from tiny seaweed rolls stuffed with cucumber or tuna to the big, fat rolls of maki.There is also sashimi -- only two kinds of fish in the serving, but a modest $3.50. And there is a glorious little raw fish and rice meal called chirashi ( $5 at dinner, $3.75 at lunch). It is a covered laquered bowl packed with the vinegared rice used for sushi, topped with a mosaic of raw fish, pickled mushrooms, strips of egg and pink sugary filaments. It is like a beautiful giant sushi, and enough reason for finding Matuba.
Other than sushi, you might try Matuba for soup and salad. The Matuba soup is on the weak side, but it is a homey chicken broth with shredded chicken, only 85 cents. And the Tokyo chief's salad is big and beautiful, precision-cut vegetables with silvers of American cheese. Among the maindishes, chicken teriyaki is most satisfying, charcoal grilled with a sweet-salty thick soy marinade. The choice of main dishes is otherwise limited to a steak teriyaki that is somewat dry, a pork cutlet that is definitely dry, or stiff, heavy tempura or fish cakes that are an acquired taste.
That's it, except beer, wine and desserts (ice cream and bean pastle-filled cakes). Matuba is a small restaurant with a small menu. Small touches remind one about Japanese graciousness. The beer glasses are frosted, the small ceramic dishes arranged like precious jewels. The greeting is friendly and the kimonoed waitresses are eager to please. Communication can be tricky, but the owner-hostess can be summoned if necessary. The important thing to know about Matuba, anyway, is the sushi-sashimi-chirashi area. And that can be communicated through pictures. At Matuba you can eat with your eyes.