It’s been 10 years since Miki Izumisawa opened 242 CafÃ© Fusion Sushi on North Coast Highway. Since then, she has become a mini-restaurant mogul or, to be more precise, a mogul of mini-restaurants; locations have opened in Manhattan Beach and, most recently, in San Clemente. The Laguna location is the smallest, with its 22 seats, but not by much. The other two are each called Sushi Gallery Miki, and all three feature art by Miki and her friends. As well as being one of the few female sushi chefs, she is also an artist, was an accomplished softball player in her native Japan and is a devotee of Tai-chi, Buddhism and New Age spirituality.
This tiny little bistro has virtually no room for dÃ©cor other than a few works of art by the chef and a few wine bottles on some shelving, a few more sake bottles and a collection of random “stuff." The open kitchen is not of the show kitchen ilk but rather a real working kitchen, now headed by sushi chef-surfer Takahiro Jitsumoto, a former gourmet French-Italian chef in Japan, while Miki cooks mostly in San Clemente.
The 10 seats at the sushi bar and the four tables are pretty much full every night with a local crowd of regulars who enjoy her inventive take on traditional Japanese sushi and sashimi. First-time visitors may find the menu a little difficult to puzzle out because of the many categories: appetizers, salads, soups, sashimi, fusion sashimi, nigiri, fusion nigiri, rolls, fusion rolls, ancient rolls, cooked and vegetables.
There are also nightly specials to further confuse you.
What may amuse you are the inventive, although not necessarily descriptive, names of the dishes. For instance, “Spicy Jewelry Roll," “Hot Rock," “Dessert Desert" or “Feather in the Sky."
If you love sushi but your friends don’t, you can bring them along for the Canyon de Chelly, which is seared beef carpaccio on a vegetable roll. Non-meat eaters are well cared for here with a separate vegan menu. “Joshua Tree" combines deep-fried avocado, cucumber, macadamia nuts, spring mix and spicy grated radish with soy/vinegar in a rice roll. “Protein Mineral" is a seaweed tofu salad roll with soy, vinegar, sesame oil dressing.
Your waitress or the sushi chef will help you make a selection or you can choose the $22 sushi sampler with 14 pieces or the $55 omakase (chef’s choice) dinner.
With a few recommendations from our waitress, we began with “Gives You Energy," six large slices of yellowtail sashimi accented by serrano chili, garlic and cilantro in a spicy sweet miso sauce. The lovely presentation was like a flower with petals of buttery yellowtail on a vivid background of red"“orange sauce. Each “petal" was decorated with a cilantro leaf topped with the thinnest round of serrano chili and a sliver of paper thin raw garlic. We folded each slice of the very fresh fish over the garnish, ran it through the perky sauce and popped it in our mouths for a tongue tingling treat with just the right amount of heat.
We ordered all our dishes at once, and they came out of the kitchen one at a time in no particular order. However, if you select one at a time, you can enjoy a more leisurely dinner in the order you prefer. One tip is that the unique fusion rolls in particular, while rather expensive, are much larger than any we’ve come across elsewhere. One would certainly function as an entrÃ©e.
We chose the special super crunchy fusion roll, which is the crunch roll on steroids. Stuffed with almost every fish in the kitchen: shrimp, scallop, eel, krab and tuna as well as avocado and organic rice, it came with two pieces of fried shrimp, wrapped with avocado. However, the only crunchiness came from the tails of the shrimp and the thin strips of fried wonton skins scattered on top. We remembered this roll from a previous visit as having fried battered shrimp inside, providing lots of crunch. There were so many items in the filling, yet none of them were distinctive. They just all blended together. There was no variety of texture or flavor and the sauce was too mellow to take up the slack.
Much better was the sexy hand roll with spicy ahi, scallops and krab with mayonnaise, mixed with spring salad, cilantro, mint and avocado. All were bathed in a spicy olive oil and vinegar sauce, then, wrapped in soy paper. In this case the predominant taste came from the tuna and the creaminess from the krab salad and the avocado. The simple sauce gave everything a slightly spicy lift. Altogether, it made a luscious fusion.
The best dish of the evening was the “King of Tangy," a combination of sautÃ©ed black cod and foie gras. It’s hard to go wrong with two of the most delicious ingredients on the planet. They’re even better when well prepared as they were by Takahiro. The cod had a crispy skin and succulent, satiny flesh, while the addition of sublime foie gras made the dish sinfully decadent. (It’s no secret that we are unapologetic suckers for foie gras.) A delicate sauce of soy, miso and balsamic vinegar was drizzled on top, which gave the dish a finishing touch of sweetness and salt.
Only desserts get short changed here, as they have no fancy names and the selection is limited to three but if you just don’t think it’s dinner without dessert, you can try the black tea or black sesame ice cream or crÃ¨me brulÃ©e.
If You Go
What: 242 CafÃ© Fusion Sushi
Where: 242 N. Coast Hwy.
4:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Appetizers: $4 to 14
Menu items: $6 to $23
Bottles: $35 to $38 Sake: $9 to 70
By the glass: $9 to $10
Corkage Fee: $15
Information: (949) 494-2444, fusionart.us or 242 CafÃ© Fusion Sushi on Facebook
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet foods and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.