Sushi, there’s no shortage of it in Gainesville and now there’s a new kid in town. Volcanic Sushi & Sake is located in Haile Village Center next door to Limerock Road (5141 SW 91st Way Suite I-101). This small restaurant is located inside a former Chinese take-out restaurant, and has about five tables, a small sushi bar, and bench seating. They opened this past week with no advertising, no Facebook posts, and no announcements, becoming the only restaurant in the area dedicated to sushi and mostly Japanese fare.
See, while the restaurant is new, chef and owner Nestor Espartero is no stranger to the business. He has worked as a sushi chef on cruise ships, some of the best spots in Miami, owned and operated Sushi Bistro in Ocala, and more recently was the sushi chef at Sabore before their chef change. The seasoned vet explained he wanted to open the restaurant with no announcements so he could work out the kinks. But here’s the thing, there wasn’t much wrong with the place…and I’ll explain.
Not particularly being a big sushi fan, I brought along a trusted confidant who has consumed more sushi than Jeff Driskel has thrown interceptions. And for you non-football fans, that’s a lot. He commented on the uniqueness of some of the sushi, and that the quality of the fish was good and on par with places like Ichiban Sushi. The plating was also beautiful with tremendous attention to detail (the wasabi was shaped into leaves!!!). More specifically, the Spider Roll ($9 - soft shell grab, asparagus, avocado, and mayo) was the best value, the Sweet Monster ($12 – cheese, krab, salmon, squid, and white fish breaded and fried) was a unique dish but more of like an appetizer, and the Red Dragon Roll ($12 – shrimp tempura, cream cheese, avocado topped with tuna tartare) was also unique and delicious. If you’re feeling saucy, there’s even a $20 Lobster Roll that is a katsu lobster tail strip, lettuce, avocado, and crab.
We also had the opportunity to sample non-sushi items like the Chicken Yakisoba ($10 – choice of meat with stir-fried noodles and veggies), which was a generous portion and one of the better Yakisoba’s in town. The Duck Curry ($20) was half a boneless crispy roasted duck with pineapples, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, bamboo shoots in a red curry sauce and a side of rice. Despite not being Japanese (like some of the other items on the menu), it was very well executed and the curry was on point, despite the duck being a bit dry (I like Bangkok Square’s better).
The lunch specials in particular, really stand out here. There are several sushi combos available ranging from $9 to $13, and seven different lunch bowls that range from $8 to $12 featuring items like Chicken Curry, Teriyaki, Noodle Bowl, and a Sashimi bowl. The “Raw Bowl” as it’s called is $11, and includes your choice of tuna or salmon sashimi, with avocado, cucumber, scallions, sesame seeds, and wakami salad over seasoned sushi rice. The portion was again very generous and with very fresh ingredients. Though I would have liked to see it with some eel sauce or spicy mayo on it (comes with no sauce), Volcanic will happily provide you with some.
Most of the menu is between $10 to $20 and priced well for the portions. Some of the other items of note include a Shrimp or Scallops Ceviche ($10 – with onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro in a ginger lime sauce), Tuna Tartare ($12), and a Lobster & Shrimp Curry ($22 – with bamboo shoots, bell peppers, onions, basil, and coconut milk). You’ll also find the usual Teriyaki, Stir Fry, Fried Rice, and Katsu dishes as well.
While the food is great, there are some issues like I previously mentioned. For one, their name would imply they offer a large selection of sakes. But there are really just a handful of choices that are not listed on the menu. Though in their defense, the house sake we had was fantastic. I’d like to see a dedicated sake menu with a bigger selection. The dining room was nice, but they kept the boring old tables and chairs from the Chinese takeout place and I would have liked to have some music to break up awkward silence.
All in all though, Nestor and his team are seemingly letting their food do the talking, and it’s doing just fine. The issues we found were minor and this is a good example of a restaurant that opened when it was ready, who didn’t make excuses for bad food. In Haile Village, where the food options are otherwise uninspired, this is a very welcome addition. Anyone living in the Haile area like me, won’t have to go out of our way now to get decent sushi or Japanese food.
Volcanic Sushi & Sake is open Monday through Thursday from 11 AM to 3 PM then 5 PM to 9 PM. Fridays are 11 AM to 3 PM then 5 PM to 10 PM. Saturdays are 11 AM to 10 PM and Sundays 5 PM to 9 PM.