Monday, November 10, 2008

"Sunshine Snow" Sashimi


Talk about a complexity of flavors.

The name alone intrigued me. Curiously titled “Sunshine Snow,” one particular sashimi dish stood out above the rest—maybe because its description read “Ice Cream Sashimi.”

“Is there actually ice cream on this one?” I incredulously asked the waitress, who replied, “Yes, there is…and she makes the ice cream herself.”

Miki Izumisawa, owner and executive chef of the mini Laguna Beach restaurant known as 242 Café Fusion Sushi, is far too busy to answer questions. With her head bowed and a propane torch in her hand, she quietly and efficiently prepares each signature dish with her own unique style, while a staff of about six are assigned to assist. You can walk right off the beach into this one. It’s located next to an art gallery and across the street from sandy resorts, but its beachiness isn’t just geographical. Inside, your chopsticks stick out at you from the holes of beach rocks placed on the bar, while bohemian decor and a laid-back casual beachgoer’s attitude pervade the tiny place.

With a nature & Earth theme, the house specials boast names such as “Moon & Sun,” “Lava Flow,” and “Prarie.” Miki sees her work as art, the plates being the blank canvasses with which she expresses herself.

Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, whitefish and albacore meet serrano chili and green onions in this fanciful order of sashimi known as Sunshine Snow, and it’s drizzled with spicy olive oil right before the flame licks everything. As with most of her trademark entrees, the obligatory torch sears this one till it’s fragrant with with the smoky smell of scorched sauces. She stops right as the fish are slightly blackened at the edges, then dabs on the vinegar wasabi sauce and vanilla-like ice cream.

The wasabi sauce, however diluted with vinegar, is still highly piquant, and it can overwhelm the effect of the sweet ice cream if you don’t scrape some of it off. (That is, if you would prefer the taste of ice cream on fish as opposed to the traditional use of Japanese horseradish.) I for one am not opposed to this most unusual integration of ingredients…it is sassy and daring, and the tart frozen treat seems to resemble a slushy sweet sauce that doesn’t conflict with the part-raw, part-seared fish.

I begin to see the Sunshine implied by the sunburst-shaped arrangement, while the Snow is obviously represented by the glops of gelato. It costs $20 to attempt this bold taste venture, but I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Seared Beef Roll

Wait! No Soy Sauce!

You wouldn’t think of ordering a Beef Roll at a restaurant specializing in seafood, but then again you wouldn’t expect such a roll to taste so exceptionally divine, either. It all goes back to the sauces, which Miki creates and combines like an artist mixes paint—she is so passionate about her own flavorings, in fact, that there is even a sign that says “Wait! No Soy Sauce! Try My Own Special Sauces…” I somehow wish all the restaurants would do this, thereby forever ridding of the trite and unimaginative soy sauce, which has been far overused and misused.

Miki’s famous Soy Onion Garlic Sauce soaks into this seared beef carpaccio and shredded Daikon radish-topped roll, the inside of which consists of only avocado and cucumber. It makes sense, since the meat and sauce are so strong in flavor that the balancing side needs to be something simpler, plainer, greener. The Beef Roll costs $16 but tastes like a million bucks.

The Leafy "Laguna Canyon"

The Laguna Canyon Roll...

With its leafy headdress, the lettuce-spiked Laguna Canyon Roll is a visual banquet. Crispy fried noodles add the final touch to the rainforesty crown, and while it may look like a fine mess with its crumbling roof and sagging foundation underneath, the sauces save the day again, for this would otherwise be just a plain California Roll topped with seared fish and rabbit food. Spicy olive oil and soy vinegar sauce pool at the base of this one, an orange-colored oily sheen that sings in your mouth…go figure!

Not surprisingly, Miki is a former protégé of Nobu Matsuhisa, known for the famous namesake restaurant chain. But what Nobu may have invented, Miki perfected. Her outrageous creations don’t reflect Nobu’s simpler, streamlined style, but rather expand upon it. Her beachy, nature-oriented take on sushi is refreshing, and quite opposite of Nobu's trendy approach and upscale affectation.

Lest you forget the street address, it’s in the name! 242 Café Fusion Sushi is located at 242 N. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. It is open only for dinner from 5:30 to 10pm, Monday through Saturday. Miki also has another location at 2201 Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach, appropriately called Sushi Gallery Miki.