Sono Bana 

303 S. Orchard St., 208-323-8822; Open Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Tue.-Thu. 5-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.; Sun. 5-9 p.m.

Most folks assume that humans have four basic types of taste receptors on their tongue. We actually have five—the fifth being the sensation of "umami"—the Japanese word for savory. Sono Bana, an old Boise standby that has recently changed its name from Tsuru, offers plenty of umami. Though the joint is rather plain in appearance, it is evident that they have forgone the all-too-common practice of style over taste and instead devoted their energy to making economical and savory Japanese cuisine.

I rolled into Sono Bana with a friend who spoke Japanese. With her as my secret weapon, I hoped to gain some insight into the Japanese culture and, perhaps, learn the secrets of sushi.

We were seated quickly by one of the sweetest waitresses in Ada county—Itsukl. My friend immediately began chatting with her in Japanese. Through translation, I learned that nearly everyone that works at Sono Bana is Japanese. I suppose I could have easily learned this in English—but it was cooler to hear it another language. When Itsukl asked if I'd like something to drink, I replied "Konnichiwa!" which made her turn to my friend and laugh. "I'll have a Kirin (12 ounces, $3.50)," I declared. My friend went with the large version of an Asahi (22 ounces, $6.50).

Our beers showed up in no time. With them, we were also served a type of tsukemono—a simple palate cleanser of crab, lemon, cucumber and noodles. While Itsukl and my dining partner were giggling and exchanging Japanese phrases, I looked over the diverse choices of both sushi and other traditional entrees. I noticed that for lunch, Sono Bana serves a classic bento box ($6.85) that is a mix of sushi, shrimp tempura, chicken and other items.

We started with some age tofu ($5) and miso soup ($1.50). The tempura shells of the age tofu pieces were thin, allowing the white of the tofu to peek through in places. The soy-based broth was a little heavy, but the soup was better. They were filled with ample amounts of tofu, which is sometimes lacking in most miso soups.

We followed up with a series of rolls, including the waitress-recommended geisha ($8)—one of the most expensive rolls—and a rock and roll ($4.75). The geisha was a varied collection of snowcrab, shrimp and avocado on the inside and alternating pieces of tuna, salmon and hamachi on the outside. The best part of both rolls was how well they were put together—not one piece came apart in my uncoordinated chopsticks. After finishing the first rolls, we ordered a disco roll ($4).

It was at time that we noticed a laughing, chattering table behind us. As we turned around, a stately Japanese man—whose name we learned was Hida Sun—motioned for us to come over. He was visiting friends in the area. In a most charming and non-threatening manner, he started hitting on my date in Japanese. My sense of defeat was replaced with excitement as more food, sake and beer began showing up. Suddenly, Sono Bana was transformed from a relaxing restaurant into a rollicking good time. I was also learning more Japanese phrases and colloquialisms. (Did you know that grabbing your earlobes means you have a crush on somebody?)

When our bill showed up, my blood pressure jumped a bit—I've opened bills at sushi joints before. I opened it up and saw a $37 total. I smiled, and in a rare show of generosity, paid for dinner.

We bid sayonara to our new friends and ventured out. As we were leaving, Itsukl asked my name. I confidently exclaimed, "Ryan Sun!" and everyone in the restaurant erupted in laughter. I guess the "-sun" ending is the equivalent of "sir." I blushed a bit, furrowed my brow, said "rabu rabu," and walked out into the night.

Sono Bana has umami, friendliness and smiles, and the next time I'm craving sushi, that's where I'm going. The place makes me genki.

—Ryan Peck is frequently lost in translation.

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