First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sushi restaurants are seemingly as prolific as Thai restaurants, popping up in vacated storefronts all over town. Blink and there’s another one. Some are great, others are also-rans.
If figures tell a story, here’s a dramatic one: The numbers-centric website www.statisticbrain.com reported in June that 3,846 sushi restaurants do biz in the U.S., employing 20,274 people and taking in $2 billion a year. Which is driven by this statistic: Sushi consumption in the U.S. rose 40 percent between 2000 and 2005, a figure that presumably has risen since then.
Mizuki Sushi, which debuted about five weeks ago and held its official grand opening Saturday, is a calculatedly modernistic place with a sense of excitement and fun, and a lengthy, well-engineered menu that’s still being tweaked.
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Menu: The literal menu cover is handcrafted from polished leather, a touch reflective of Mizuki’s upscale tone. Inside it are appetizers (seared salmon, mixed tempura, baked green mussels); sushi and sashimi made with seafood (from four vendors) so fresh it seems to move on the plate; 23 variations of nigiri (octopus, salmon roe, sea urchin); stir-fried noodles and udon noodle soups; and cleverly named rolls assembled from a dazzling array of ingredients.
For instance, the Freaky Friday roll is snow crab and tempura shrimp topped with eel and avocado, with smelt-like masago, two sauces and green onion. For drama, the TNT (crab, shrimp and tuna) is brought flaming to the table. For the more conservative eaters: tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet), bento boxes (rice with chicken, salmon, beef and more), teriyakis, skewered grilled chicken and stuffed mushrooms.
Price point: Prices are up there but fair, given the quality of the dishes and quantities on the plates. Three bucks will buy a heaping bowl of boiled, salted soy beans; Mizuki’s “large boat,” a feast for a crowd, goes for $95. Rolls will be half-off for “a limited time.”
Ambiance: “We personally designed everything from the ceiling to the floor, and had it all custom-built, including the tables,” said manager Ella Ly. She and her brother, head sushi chef Gan Sanbuudorj, co-own Mizuki with other family members.
The feel is high-energy modernistic, with LED lighting in changing colors, polished cement floor, high ceilings, and banquettes and walls in patterns of black and gray. Techno-pop music was playing loudly on our visit. Did someone remake the film “Blade Runner” when we weren’t looking?
Sushi lovers at the seven-seat, state-of-the-art sushi bar bantered with the four sushi chefs, who moved nonstop. Like samurais, their sharp blades flashed in expert moves as they skillfully displayed their art.
Drinks: Red and white wines join sake and Japanese beers, with the “sake bomb” and oyster or scallop shooters adding pizazz. Uh, what’s Coors Light doing there?
Service: Despite the crowd that swarmed in to take advantage of the grand-opening promo specials, our attentive, informed servers delivered plates quickly and gracefully, taking time to ask if everything was OK.
First impressions: Mizuki, which translates to “beautiful moon,” is a hit. Landing on our table were pork-vegetable gyoza, crunchy outside, creamy inside; succulent tuna, salmon and shrimp, which we touched up with wasabi and ginger; and grilled chicken strips served with marvelous house-made teriyaki sauce. “It’s not intense in sweetness, but it is intense in flavor,” said a lunch pal.
Out of curiosity, we ordered a squishy “sushi burrito” – crab, tempura shrimp, cream cheese, avocado and cucumber in a soy wrap. Its sweetness was tempered by the heat of the house-made condiment of diced carrot and jalapeño marinated in vinegar, olive and sesame oils, and citrus sauce. “It’s the Japanese version of salsa,” Ly said.
Try it if: You want to elevate your sushi experience to another level.
Forget it if: You’re put off by noise and action.