RESTAURANT REVIEW:

One of the many reasons I enjoy sushi is that it is so fun to experience the atmosphere.

The greetings by the wait staff when you walk in or the sincere thanks when you leave; the banter between chefs and customers, and the conversations that always seem to pop up between total strangers when sitting at the sushi bar are all reasons why I like the cuisine so much.

Kura Sushi has added another dimension to the experience. The restaurant is unique and has several advantages.

The revolving belt or lane, as the restaurant calls it, provides a carousel of sushi and other items parading before your eyes.

The system is actually pretty efficient and allows diners to eat on their schedule. I found it very advantageous. I didn’t have to time my requests with the chef, or get bombarded with all my selections at once as many sushi places so often do.

I was in the mood for something I hadn’t had before and fortunately Kura had plenty that fit my criteria.

The first dish was the candy roll. It was a California roll but had salmon and cream cheese on top.

This was a different take on the California roll, and I enjoyed it. The salmon was fresh and the cream cheese was just the right amount as to not dominate the sushi.

I saw some albacore roll on by and grabbed a plate. The fish was lightly seared and garnished with scallions. It was so soft and tender it almost melted in my mouth.

A spicy crab salad was next, and though I abhor imitation crab, this was good, though a bit bland and not that spicy.

The shrimp shumai seemed intriguing, and I figured I would mix in a little dim sum with my sushi. Sadly, the shumai was soggy instead of being firm.

Another dish that was a disappointment was the Cajun salmon. The spices put on the pieces of seared salmon were not sufficient to give the fish any real kick. The fish was good though, and it got spicier when I put it in the wasabi and soy sauce.

I was looking for some sashimi after that, but didn’t see any. A trio of yellowtail, salmon and tuna went by, though, and I nibbled on that, picking off the rice it was on. All three pieces of the fish were incredibly fresh and tender.

I was able to try Japanese scallops. The texture was firm, and they worked well in the ponzu sauce that is available at the counter.

The constant theme was the freshness, and I wondered how they were able to offer such quality.

I learned later that the restaurant has a microchip in the plates that tells when they were put on the conveyor belt and after a certain amount of time the food is taken away and thrown out.

About the only fish I didn’t find to be that fresh was the whitefish. It was a bit chewy, but not bad.

I toyed with the idea of finishing with the spicy squid salad. It is a mixture of squid and Japanese vegetables that have been marinated in a spicy sauce.

There was a couple sitting next to me who had plucked it off the assembly line and I asked their opinion of the food.

They both enjoyed it. The longtime couple were recently able to marry legally in California in June and they were amicable and a pleasure to talk to. Just the reason I go to sushi bars by myself.

I would come here again alone. The portions here were a lot less than usual places, and I was able to sample a lot more of the food.

Plus, I met two new friends and learned a lot about their lives. It was an enjoyable meal all around.

KURA SUSHI

ADDRESS: 212 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa

PHONE: (949) 631-3200

CUISINE: Japanese

SPECIALTY DISH: King Kong roll

ALCOHOL SERVED: wine, beer and sake

ENTRÉE PRICE RANGE: $1.25 to $3.75 for sushi on the belt

FAMILY FRIENDLY: yes

CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED: American Express, MasterCard and Visa

RATING: ***


JOHN REGER is the Pilot’s restaurant critic. His reviews run Thursdays.

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