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Years ago, the Weekly’s then-calendar editor consistently relayed messages to me from Sushi Zen in Costa Mesa. They left e-mails and voice messages for her, asking when would I review their place. The only things I hate in food writing more than presumptuous restaurants are food poisoning and restaurants bugging my co-workers to get me to write about their businesses, so I decided to hold off for a while.
1875 Newport Blvd., A100
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Region: Costa Mesa
But now is the perfect time to give some love to Sushi Zen, not just because of this nation’s continuing economic woes, but because it’s located in the tomb known as Triangle Square. It’s a testament to Zen’s strength that it’s one of the last businesses standing in the shopping plaza, along with Sutra, the Yard House and, I think, a movie theater—like so many other county residents, I haven’t bothered to visit or notice anything else besides those businesses at Triangle Square for the past decade. And there’s no guarantee that Triangle Square’s new owners will keep Zen, although I can’t imagine getting rid of the spot, as it fits its location perfectly.
I enjoyed the place, a culinary bridge in Costa Mesa’s sushi scene between the Ango Teis and Ikkos of high dining and the Sushi Boxes and Marukais of less-expensive fast fish—think RA Sushi, except without the bad food and racist promotions.
This is sushi for the besotted—low lights, good DJs, across the street from a couple of bars. And the menu is straightforward: spider rolls, tuna, California, the regular offerings of a dive trying to please the masses. Where Zen excels is its happy-hour half-off specials, as a blinking marquee on its window facing Newport Boulevard reminds you 24 hours a day. Most of the rolls qualify, and all of them are top-grade fish: the tuna glistens and melts like the proverbial stick of butter, the mackerel’s fishy essence lingers on the tongue, the soft-shell crab crunches. The special rolls also work: The fire crunchy roll is as spicy as you’ll get in sushi—jalapeños and Sriracha crammed into an otherwise-regular crunchy roll, a combination of Asian heat you’d only find in a bánh mi. And the namesake Zen roll—tuna, salmon and scallop chunks enlivened by fried jalapeño and avocado slivers, cooled with cucumber and sprouts, all wrapped in soy paper—is like four-bite-sized cioppino, so hearty it is.
Congratulations, Sushi Zen, on not having contacted me for a couple of years. And a reassuring word to other good restaurants—eventually, Edwin or I will find you. Patience, gentle hippies, patience . . .
Sushi Zen, 1875 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-2520.
This column appeared in print as "At Last, Your Moment of Zen."
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