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The Gossiping Gourmet Bringing authentic Japanese dining to O.C.

January 26, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Yoshio Shirai, the executive chef at Kappo Sui in Costa Mesa, prepares a dish on Tuesday.
Yoshio Shirai, the executive chef at Kappo Sui in Costa… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

The other night we dined in Japan without having to board an airplane.

We feasted on monkfish liver, mountain potatoes and inaniwa udon at a strip mall restaurant in Costa Mesa. Kappo Sui's daily menu is in Japanese, and we were the only patrons who couldn't read it.

Not to worry, there always is a charming and patient waitress who will guide you through the specials, and there's also a regular menu in English, as well. Kappo Sui is a great spot to try delicious authentic Japanese dishes of all types. You can get sushi and combo plates, but the kappo dishes are truly unique in Orange County.

Traditional kappo style refers to small plates that are served at the counter, where there is an interplay between the chef and the customer. Food is served directly as soon as it is made (a sushi bar is similar but is considered a special type of kappo, since they only serve cold food from the bar).

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In addition to the long counter, the restaurant has a black leather banquette on the opposite side, as well as tables in the rear. The understated décor is all in black and forest green, with mirrors along the walls and movable area dividers for privacy.

We wanted to sample something from each method of preparation: boiled, steamed, sautéed, fried and grilled. We began with fried oysters on a pile of shredded cabbage that had a hint of flavorful dressing. The batter was nice and crunchy and the oysters were sweet, but not particularly plump. The tonkatsu dipping sauce was well balanced, not too intense as it often can be. We followed this with a palate refreshing salad of cucumber and wakame (seaweed).

Monkfish liver tastes like fishy foie gras. It has that creamy texture and buttery flavor, but a slightly fishy aftertaste. If you're not a fan of foie gras, you probably won't enjoy this, either.

Inaniwa udon features thin udon noodles and mushrooms in a bonito broth. There is something irresistible about well-prepared udon in all of its chewy splendor, particularly when the broth is magical. Such is the case here, and especially nice on a winter's evening.

We chose two grilled dishes and both were mouth-watering. Butterfish is aptly named, as its texture is meltingly tender and rich as butter. Sweet white miso glazed this small but satisfying piece of fish, however we felt that there was a bit too much of the glaze. It overpowered the delicate fish. Still, this is a must-have dish.

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