The Gossiping Gourmet: Enjoy Eurasion-fusion at Bistro Anju

Some of the best food we've eaten lately has not been at high-end, highly-hyped, haute cuisine establishments but at small, neighborhood, chef-driven restaurants. Most of the time, tip-offs from readers have led us to delicious meals.

This week it's Bistro Anju in Laguna Niguel. The name doesn't conjure up sushi but that's all the sign says. When you get inside, a big sign on the wall lets you know you are in the right place.

Actually, the best food here is not the sushi but Chef Saito's fusion Japanese dishes. We were blown away by the inventive, exuberant flavors of the mouth-watering omakase (chef's choice) dinner. With a background in both French and Japanese cuisine, Eurasian-fusion would best describe his cooking.

First out was an appetizer plate that exemplifies his style: three amuse bouches, one tastier than the next, really awakening our palates.

A chunk of excellent pate de foie gras was served on a big cracker. Even more intriguing was the scallop, cut and reassembled in four pieces for easy eating with chopsticks, topped with a sliver of earthy truffle and nestled in an outstanding sweet miso sauce.

Best of all was the alchemy of flavors in the rolled salmon slice, enveloping tiny cubes of avocado, onions, tomatoes, chopped salmon and pine nuts, accompanied by a lively sweet and sour soy-based sauce.

We were still oohing and aahing over our first course when the second arrived. It too left us punch drunk with pleasure. A portly lobe of fresh foie gras (that politically incorrect French gift to gourmets) came barely seared, resting on a ruby-colored compote of strawberries, blueberries and finely diced apples.

The fruit made an exquisite counterpoint to the luscious fattiness of the liver and its juices. We were particularly pleased that the fruit sauce was not overly sweet, as is frequently the case when fruit and foie gras are paired.

Tuna carpaccio in a pool of soy flavored oil consisted of some slices of un-extraordinary bigeye tuna with an extraordinary yuzu (Japanese citrus) pepper "salsa" that we stirred into the sauce. Floating in the liquid as well, were small cubes of earthy, steamed monkfish liver, sweet Tokyo white onion slivers and a few slices of crispy fried shallot. The imaginative combination of ingredients was perfectly felicitous. We just wished the tuna itself had been more flavorful.

Like most people, we love Chilean sea bass, but we have never had it fried in a crispy rice cracker coating that looked like lots of tiny, little white balls — it was definitely something new to us, very delicious and seemingly greaseless. The tender juicy fish rested on a "tater tot" that kept it from getting soggy in the balanced, tart, soy oil sauce. We've had better tater tots, but everything else was delectable.

Next came the mystery meat. Two small pieces of strangely tender beef were coated with a very dark, shiny sauce. The meat was so soft, it was hard to identify which part of the cow it had come from; we are guessing the cheek. The sauce was cloyingly sweet and not to our taste.

The final course was five kinds of nigiri sushi, a fairly traditional finish to an omakase dinner but neither the fish nor the rice were particularly good. Sea bream was the only exception to the lackluster selection. We much preferred Chef Saito's excellent fusion preparations, for which we will definitely return.

The fusion dessert, green tea crème brulée, was also a winner. The creamy custard had a lovely, lingering aftertaste of green tea and the crispy bruléed sugar was perfectly done. Sliced strawberries and blueberries provided the final accent.

The ambience is quite pleasant and very friendly. We were happy that we followed up on a reader's tip and discovered for ourselves this delightful little restaurant.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

Bistro Anju

Where: 23964 Aliso Creek Road, Laguna Niguel

When: Closed Tuesdays

Lunch: Noon till 2 p.m. Monday through Friday

Dinner: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays

5 to 10 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays

5 to 9 p.m. Sundays


Soup, appetizers and salads: $1.50-$9.50

Rolls: $6.75-$14

Seafood meat and tempura (a la carte): $6.50-$15

Complete dinners: $6.50-$20

Omakase: $50

Desserts: $3.50-$4.50


Sake: $3.75-$100

Bottles: $27-$68

By the glass: $7-$11

Corkage Fee: $9

Call: (949) 716-8882

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