The Gossiping Gourmet: Japanese delights at Slow Fish

Slow Fish is an attractive little storefront sushi bar and restaurant tucked away in a Huntington Beach strip mall.

Its imaginative small plate menu impressed us most. The most spectacular offering seems to appear on almost every table, and it is called the Fat Avo.

From a distance it resembles a green apple, but it is actually thinly sliced avocado formed around a core of lightly seared, seasoned albacore. It's topped with a tall cracker-like leaf, a sprig of greenery and, for color, the brilliant red of an anachronistic maraschino cherry.

Remove the cherry and dig in to this luscious faux fruit. Avocado and tuna make the perfect couple and the beautifully textured, creamy avocado marries deliciously with the slightly spicy, silky, diced fish. Fat Avo is lovely to look at and delightful to devour.

Another small plate featured three, medium-sized, sautéed scallops in a very flavorful orange miso sauce. We enjoyed this California/Japanese fusion sauce, which was new to us, and it added some liveliness to the rather ordinary scallops.

Soft shell crab season doesn't come until May so what you get now are the frozen variety and they're never quite as good. From May through July, we get them shipped fresh from the East Coast, and they arrive fresh, sweet and juicy.

In Japanese restaurants, soft shell crab is traditionally battered and fried. We blame ourselves for ordering them out of season, but Slow Fish must take responsibility for the taste of overused oil that made the batter taste greasy. The accompaniment was a pleasant little salad that had a refreshingly tart dressing.

Elle has been enjoying hamachi collar since she discovered it umpteen years ago on her first visit to Japan. However, this under-appreciated delicacy has recently been getting a lot of attention in this country, and deservedly so.

Hamachi (yellowtail tuna) is a sweet-flavored, fatty fish, and the collar is the most tender and tasty part. The fish is salted, broiled and always served on the bone, which makes for a bit of work when eating it but is certainly worth the effort.

Here, the meat right next to the bone was the juiciest, but the thickest part was oddly a bit dry, although still tasty, especially when dipped in the very lightly sweetened soy-based sauce beneath it.

Sometimes, an extensive sushi menu can be mystifying. To save you from embarrassment at the bar, Slow Fish has provided a brief description of each roll on the back of the menu.

Another unique feature of their sushi menu is the use of black rice, an ingredient that was once served exclusively to the royal family. It has a mild nutty taste, similar to brown rice and is glutinous (sticky). This rice is known for its high nutritional value and is touted as having disease-preventing properties.

The eponymous Slow Fish roll is made with a thin layer of black rice beneath its soy paper wrapper. The rest of the roll is generously filled with a luscious baby lobster mixture accented with tiny masago eggs (flying fish roe). Bits of red bell pepper on top provide color and crunch and a sweet and salty eel sauce is piped over all for the final fillip. The roll was a lovely composition of harmonious flavors.

We finished off our meal with a steaming bowl of udon noodle seafood soup. The broth was rich and tasty, with onion, thinly sliced mushrooms and a few quivering bonito flakes. The chewy noodles were just right, but the shrimp and mussels were a bit lackluster.

For those who like a little something sweet at the end, there is an ice cream menu, mochi, and fried bananas with more ice cream.

The contemporary décor features a black and red color scheme and creates a nice warm ambience. Girl friends, get together at Slow Fish on Wednesday nights for a 20% discount on your meal!

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 m_markowitz@cox.net.

Slow Fish

Where: 16051 Bolsa Chica St., Huntington Beach

When: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 5 to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays. Items need to be ordered 30 minutes ahead of closing.

Prices:

Small plates : $4-$16

Big plates: $8-$15

Sushi: $4-to $8

Desserts: $3-$10

Wine:

Glass: $6-$11

Bottle: $22-$115

Sake: $8-$26

Corkage Fee: $15

Information: (714) 846-6951; slowfishusa.com

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