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Gossiping Gourmet: Sushi is best from Kasen

June 22, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Kasen in Fountain Valley.
Kasen in Fountain Valley. (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Finding new restaurants to review is often an adventure and sometimes a challenge. We get press releases, read industry magazines, get recommendations from enthusiastic readers who have discovered some neighborhood spot and drive around looking for new little treasures.

When all else fails, we scour the Internet, and it was there that we discovered Kasen, a sushi bar in Fountain Valley, which customers were raving about on Yelp and Urbanspoon. What caught our eye was the unqualified assertion that Kasen has the best sushi in all of Orange County.

This restaurant serves authentic Japanese sushi. That means, according to husband-and-wife owners Susumu and Keiko Ii, no "modern style" or fusion cuisine, but rather everything as it was prepared a thousand years ago. So you will not find California rolls, spicy rolls, teriyaki, sukiyaki or tempura, and if you want anything hot besides some of the best miso soup on the planet, you must order the yakimono (grilled, broiled or pan-fried food) in advance.

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You will recognize Kasen, which is in a strip mall, by the traditional flag-like short curtains (noren) that announce a Japanese restaurant. Upon entering, you find yourself in a simple, classic setting with clean lines, shoji screens, light-colored slatted wood elements and a few framed calligraphic ink paintings. There are several tables, a long sushi bar and a tatami room at the rear for small parties.

Behind the counter, Susumu works alone preparing everything by himself, while Keiko acts as hostess as well as translator for their few non-Japanese-speaking guests. Real sushi connoisseurs will appreciate the subtleties of Kasen's food. Everyone will appreciate the freshness of the fish and the generosity of the portions. Just as the best Italian food is comprised of the finest ingredients prepared simply, so too is Japanese sushi cuisine.

A crabmeat sunomono proved a refreshing appetizer. Sunomono means a dish prepared with rice wine vinegar. Ours was really good lump crabmeat with crunchy seaweed and cucumbers in a simple, delicate marinade. The cool, brisk flavors were palate-awakening, the perfect preparation for the next course, a platter of sashimi: six different exquisitely fresh, unusually thick slices of fish resting on a large shiso leaf (a kind of mint), which were accompanied by shredded daikon radish, wakame seaweed and very mild wasabi.

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