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).
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.
The grilled chicken wings are simply prepared with a little grill flavor and a bit too much salt. The wings were very tender and moist, but for a bit more punch we sprinkled them with the table condiment called togarishi shichimi, which is red chili, orange peel and black and white sesame seeds. It added a complex mild heat. Wow, so good!
Our favorite dish of the evening was something we had never eaten before but are now looking forward to eating again soon: mountain potato, served here with black cod in bonito broth. This white-fleshed variety of yam was once considered food exclusive to the nobility, and is also rumored to be an aphrodisiac. Finely grated into the soup, it formed a mashed potato like mound, though lighter, stickier and more glutinous than potato. It soaks up the flavor of the broth and is quite addictive. Bits of black cod flecked the soup.
Each of us has been to Japan and the meal invoked delicious memories, dining on food that was completely new and ordered mostly by pointing to pictures or to dishes at other tables. Try Kappo Sui for something different and very good.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ADDRESS: 20070 Santa Ana Ave., Costa Mesa
HOURS: Monday-Saturday: 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday: 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Small plates: $5-$19.50
Combo dinners: $16.95-$20.95
Sake: House: $3.25-$5.25 Premium $7.75-$25.75
• INFO: (714) 429-0141; kapposui.com.