Like the cherry blossoms from which it takes its name, Sakura Japanese Sushi Restaurant sprang up suddenly on Riverside Avenue.

Like the cherry blossoms from which it takes its name, Sakura Japanese Sushi Restaurant sprang up suddenly on Riverside Avenue.

It quickly replaced Shiki Four Seasons at 1206 N. Riverside Ave. when that restaurant moved to a larger space closer to downtown on Fourth Street. Shiki was well-liked in both its new and old locations, so my husband and I decided to check out this replacement, which state business records classify as a simple name change.

Attached to the drab Rumors Lounge, Sakura, which opened in January, doesn't look like much from outside. The interior is welcoming, though, with seats at a sleek sushi bar, tables and booths, all accented with a subtle, repeated motif of blooming cherry branches. Service is friendly and knowledgeable.

The menu is extensive with more than 200 items listed. A vast array of these are specialty rolls loaded with crispy, fried things and multiple sauces. While wildly popular, these aren't my favorite, so I skimmed over that section quickly.

I also wasn't feeling particularly tempted on this day by udon, ramen, tempura, teriyaki, tonkatsu or bento. However, it is nice to see a well-rounded menu like this, offering something for every taste.

We ultimately zeroed in on a combo consisting of a spicy tuna roll accompanied by six pieces of nigiri for $14.75. This seemed like a perfect way to sample the simplest of sushi offerings. It was even better when the friendly waitress explained that we could pick which types of nigiri came with our combo, thereby eliminating the chance that I would gobble up the best pieces of tuna and salmon, leaving my poor husband to eat the pedestrian shrimp.

We selected flavorful mackerel topped with a hint of shredded ginger and delicate bits of green onion (his favorite), red snapper, salmon (always a favorite of mine and recommended by the charming waitress), maguro, hamachi and albacore. The fish was fresh, but the rice was a little on the mushy side, marring the overall experience.

Exploring the appetizer section of the sprawling menu, my husband discovered a rather novel treat we had to try: "monkey brains," a deep-fried avocado stuffed with crab salad. While I had seen these whimsically named, fried tidbits on other menus outside the Temple of Doom, I'd never tried them.

The three pieces we got for $4.95 were perfectly cooked, with a shell of crisp batter encasing creamy, warm avocado and a meaty mix of real crab, not surimi, inside. Generous drizzles of spicy mayonnaise and savory teriyaki-style sauce that usually highlights grilled eel, known as unagi, added an extra hit of flavor.

We doubled down on our crisp-fried-treat gamble and hit another winner with tuna peppers, priced at $6.50 for six pieces. Fresh jalapenos are stuffed with a mixture of spicy tuna, then battered and fried. They are cut into wedges and topped with the same sauces seen on the monkey brains.

Perhaps I dismissed Sakura's specialty rolls too soon, as the chef clearly knows how to use a fryer.

Sakura is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, from noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 541-779-8889.

— Anita Burke