Fresh Catch

Mandarin eatery serving upscale Japanese dishes in low-profile digs

//photo by Agnes Lopez

Japanese restaurants are a dime a dozen around these parts. You’d be hard-pressed to find a slice of town that doesn’t have at least one hibachi-style eatery and sushi bar—albeit, the kind that are tucked into strip malls and provide little in the way of Japanese ambience or character.

Kazu is different. Here, the strip mall exterior belies the cozy décor and stunning plates of sushi being served inside. There are no hibachi tables, though the menu does have some popular Japanese items, such as teriyaki and katsu dishes. The interior is warm and inviting—cozy up to the sushi bar for a selection of maki rolls and sashimi, or take a seat at a table if you’re dining with a larger party.

Most of the dishes at Kazu serve as a lesson in simplicity. Yellowtail with jalapeños is just that, but somehow the components—thinly sliced fish, yuzu ponzu sauce and sliced jalapeños—come together to create something that’s fresh, slightly spicy and melts in your mouth. Agedashi tofu is a delicious bowl of soft, tempura-battered tofu swimming in a flavorful vegetable and soy-flecked dipping sauce. For something a little more hearty, try the Kazu tuna crackers—a blend of spicy tuna tartar with tobiko, mango and scallions, served on crispy wonton skins and sprinkled with pinenuts.

The sushi selections are, of course, the real star of the menu and at Kazu. Purists can dine at the same table with California Roll enthusiasts. The standard maki rolls are all included—spicy yellow- tail, scallop, and the requisite California—and they are certainly worth a taste, if you want to stick to what you love. But the specialty rolls are the standouts. Kazu sushi chefs don’t weigh all the rolls down with spicy mayo and shrimp sauce (toppings that are often used to mask not-so-fresh product). Instead, the fish is the star, as evidenced by the Jaguar roll, a blend of crunchy spicy tuna and avocado, topped with seared yellowtail, tuna, sliced jalapeño and wasabi yuzu. Tiger Roll, stuffed with salmon, shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber and tobiko, is another example of Kazu’s use of fresh ingredients and minimal accoutrement.
If you haven’t quite acquired a taste for raw fish, there are options for you, too. Katsu (panko-encrusted meats and fish) dishes are available, as are Japanese favorites like Unagi Don (barbecued eel atop rice) and dishes from other far-flung locales (such as spicy Thai basil chicken). If you happen to visit on a cold night, indulge in a bowl of udon soup (the seafood yaki is brimming with mixed vegetables, making it a particularly stick-to- your-ribs choice). Seafood specialties, including seared tuna steak and seafood teriyaki, are also popular with the non-sushi set.