The Place: Hamamori Restaurant & Sushi Bar, 3333 Bear St., Suite 320, Costa Mesa; 714-850-1549; www.hamamorisushi.com.
The Hours: Every day, 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
The Deal: Signature cocktails and sushi rolls for $7; assorted appetizers up to $9; house wine and sake for $5.
The Scene: Quietly occupying a corner at South Coast Plaza, James Hamamori practices a refined and well-respected cuisine he's dedicated over
two three decades of his life to. The crisp white walls and deceivingly comfortable chairs offer a scenic view of not only the Bridge of Gardens but the bustle of Bear Street below. Oddly enough, their enclosed patio is more spacious than the dining room. Patrons unwind after busy afternoons, allowing the minimalist setting to calm the senses.
The Sauce: Order the cocktails, as they are more potent than sips of wine. Their signature Hamamori-tini is an eye-catching shade of blue with vodka, St-Germaine Elder Flower and yuzu juice. The Stefani-sounding Harajuku, consisting of lychee sake, mandarin Absolut and orange juice, has more of an impact. Or go for a mildly refreshing Cucumber-tini. Tequila seekers stick to a Margarita San, while rum runners drift towards a Mojito de Japon.
The Food: Get your serving of vegetables, thanks to a trio of jumbo asparagus coated in crumbled okaki rice crackers. Chewy, crunchy, on-a-stick happiness is only improved with a dab of Himalayan shichimi salt and squeeze of lemon. We reluctantly order a California roll, but discover delicate blue crab and avocado to be more sophisticated than standard versions (we didn't think that was possible). Spicy tuna lovers request the seafood pizza on a bed of crispy rice as its "crust", accented with Parmesan. The changing appetizer trio appears pricy at $9, but ours included albacore. Your umami sense is heightened with shiitake mushroom frites, tossed alongside salsify nibbles and paired with truffled creme fraiche. Remember the Kurobuta pork belly, rich in flavor over braised daikon; it will push you into feeling sated.
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The Verdict: Visit for the serenity. Linger for the food. Throw back a few cocktails. Forget for an hour-plus that you're even in a shopping center. Life isn't so terrible when you can people-watch from a cushioned perch. We could go for a couple more beverage options, though.
The Grade: B+