Sushi became a part of Mauro Camera’s life when he entered his 20s. Having grown up in a few family-owned eateries, he was no stranger to the restaurant business. But it wasn’t until he began working under a Japanese immigrant in Argentina that he was introduced to and later fell in love with the craft.
“Sushi is not just a food,” he said, in between slicing up rolls. “It’s an art. It’s a combination of elegance and variety.”
The self-taught chef found his way to the surf town of Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, on an extended vacation and decided this was where he’d open his own sushi restaurant.
“It felt right,” Camera, 36, said about his decision to open Sushi Club in March.
Though his restaurant is buried in the embrace of a hotel, a good walk from the main road, it’s become the must-try eatery in town. Talk of his sushi has reached the social circles of longtime locals and tourists alike.
“I kept hearing of this place, and it took me this long to come,” said a young North American visiting from New York City on a three-week surfing retreat. “I’m glad I did, because this place rivals the restaurants in Manhattan.”
A mere four tables in a poolside bungalow at Hotel Luna Llena, the restaurant offers a boutique dining experience complete with personalized service and an open kitchen.
Lantern lights drop down at each table. Specials are outlined on chalkboards above the bar, and little details, such as lime-green chopsticks set atop bamboo place mats, add a stylish touch.
Menu items are limited to sushi rolls and other Japanese-themed plates, but there is a panoply of choices. Appetizers include miso soup, edamame and gyoza dumplings ($3 to $4). Then you can choose from a slew of maki, sashimi and nigiri sushi ($3.50 to $6).
The rolls range from $4 to $9 and feature everything from a traditional California roll to a more unique Sushi Club Hot Roll.
Adding a small touch from his home country, the drink list includes a full selection of Argentine wines, along with cocktails and natural fruit drinks.
A late Tuesday evening found the seating area quiet, but not deserted. Camera was dressed in a chef smock behind the counter, consumed with the roll he was piecing together, and his wife, Agustina Bartolelli, 29, was attending to tables.
We slid behind a table near the back wall and quickly listed off our choices: a few fruit shakes and three or four rolls.
To start, we had the fried gyoza dumplings, which were flavorful, but far from overpowering.
We also ordered a Sushi Club Hot Roll, a riceless roll of tuna or salmon, avocado, cucumber, scallions and cream cheese covered with fried panko breading; a rainbow roll, which came in a colorful arch that lived up to its name; and a simple avocado and cucumber selection with smoked salmon.
A perfect balance between the rice base, the ingredients nestled within and the slight stiffness of the nori seaweed binding achieved what Camera was hoping for: an art form.
Hoping to end the night with something sweet, we ordered the banana tempura with vanilla ice cream ($5), a pleasant clash of hot and cold.
Though a little distance from the well-trodden thoroughfare of Tamarindo, Sushi Club is worth the exploration. Once there, you’ll find an unassuming, Manhattanquality restaurant in the backyard of this beach community.
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. every day except Monday.