[Hole in the Wall] Say Mucho Domo Arigato to Wafu of Japan
Mucho Domo Arigato
The samurai burrito at Wafu is neither prepared by a samurai nor is it a burrito. It’s just a thick, uncut sushi roll wrapped in soy paper instead of rice and encasing crab, tuna, shrimp tempura and avocado, with a delicious sauce drizzled atop it as if the concoction were really a wet burrito. But chalk up this bastardized version alongside Imperial Burgers’ pastrami burrito, Mos II’s teriyaki-with-horchata bowl, Gringo Bandito and Avanti Cafe’s margarita as OC examples of foreigners not only appropriating Mexican culture, but also transcending it. This is a meal that combines Mexican heft with Japanese deftness—Mexinese, if you will. Or Nippocano.
I’ve seen Wafu’s sign screaming “SUSHI” off Bristol for years, but just recently visited because it’s within walking distance of the Weekly’s new world headquarters. This isn’t just a safe fallback for industrial-park drones who forgot their sack lunch; even in a city where great Japanese restaurants are as prevalent as Minutemen council members, Wafu stands out as the dive that’s perhaps the best bargain. Eaters pack its tiny sushi bar and seven or so tables during lunch and dinner, gorging on both sushi (of the nigiri and roll kind) and cooked meals. You know things are not business as usual upon getting presented with your miso soup: less salty than other examples, bobbing with still-soft cubes of smooth tofu.
The sushi chefs are also atypical for Japanese restaurants: friendly, not imperial. They don’t even bother with your sushi list if you sit at the bar; just state what you want, and they’ll soon hand you compact treasures, offerings that accentuate the fish you select while offering savory surprises in the crevice between rice and fish that properly complement. The saba (mackerel), for instance, rewards your tongue with a creamy, oily flavor; the toro is all about the dance of fat on your palate. I usually combine the nigiri with one of their signature rolls: Chief among them is the Hawaiian roll, spicy tuna topped with albacore, and then drenched in a garlic ponzu sauce that actually has a bite. It might not be the most authentic Japanese experience, but did you read the beginning of this review?
You can also go the safe route with teriyaki chicken, poke bowls and enough California-roll variations to give you a crab-meat allergy. And if you don’t like fish, no worries: Stick with the ginger pork or the curry. The latter comes in a pork or chicken incarnation; the shared ingredient is a thick, sweet curry sauce you’ll want to take home and use as a spread for your sandwiches. And is the ginger pork a wonderful, affordable mound of sauteed pig with caramelized onions? Are we in a recession?
Wafu of Japan at 320 Bristol St., Ste. G, Costa Mesa, (714) 641-7321.
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