#144: Mikuni Kaizen

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Last Sunday evening I finally visited Mikuni and now only have one last sushi place on my list (Raku Sushi).  I chose the Fountains location because I’ve never been to it.  This one is called Mikuni Kaizen.  Their website has this to say about it:

The Japanese word “kaizen,” which translates to “continuous improvement,” truly reflects the concept behind this newest Mikuni location. While the menu features a host of exquisite sushi rolls made popular at the restaurant’s other locations, it is also highlighted by an extensive selection of small plates and tapas-style dishes- each more exciting and compelling than the next. Guests are treated to a visual feast, as well, with vibrantly colored decor and a one-of-a-kind sushi bar. Artwork by Sacramento urban performance artist, David Garibaldi, and metal sculptor, Terrance Martin, further enhance the sense of pulsing excitement that makes Kaizen a must-visit restaurant.

First off, I’ll say that it’s a very nice looking place.  There’s a nice little waiting area outside and a large patio (which was only half setup this day, probably because not many people choose to sit in the 95 degree weather).  Just inside the doors you pretty much see the entire restaurant that runs all the way to the back to the building.  The sushi bar is tall and runs about half that length.  Once you get to the end of it the place opens up a bit.  The back looks like a large room that can be closed off for private parties.

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Next, as for all the tapas talk, it didn’t feel to me when I looked at the menu that it was significantly different than a normal Mikuni menu.  Basically it looked like they took the appetizers (or small plates) part and called it tapas, then expanded it.  It felt like they wanted to take advantage of the growing popularity of tapas by talking a lot about it, but it’s pretty much just a normal Mikuni menu with some extra stuff added to the front.

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I met my friends Anne & Justin at about 4:45PM for dinner and we were promptly seated.  The hostess gave me the option of table/bar/patio and I chose a table.  We were brought not far inside where there are a handful of booths along the left side.  Right away I realized we were going to want to move.  It felt a little more cramped than your average booth.  Adding to that the seat cushions were very soft, so you sort of sank down several inches, making the table feel like it was really high.  Finally, the table had enormous legs underneath which I started to fight with to get past before I just said screw it and headed back up to the front to see if we could be moved to a table with chairs.  They were very understanding and took a moment to reassign the table in their system before showing us to a new table just past the sushi bar.

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After a couple minutes we were greeted by our server who brought us all water and took any additional drink orders.  Justin ordered a Sculpin IPA (from Balast Point, which was on a rotating tap)[$6.50], Anne got a soda [$2.85] and I decided to try out a random sake.  I’ve had sake a few times before and generally liked it, but I don’t know a lot about it.  I picked one out that was middle of the road price-wise, and also one that I would be able to drink on my own without staggering out the door.  This was the $15, 300ml, 16.5% Suijin Junmai.  It was described as “very dry on the palate” and said it paired well with sashimi (although I didn’t end up ordering any).  We also ordered a veggie tempura appetizer [$8.50] for the table and I got a bowl of miso soup [$1].  I kind of wanted to get BBQ Albacore as well, but thought it would be too much food.  Now that I’m reviewing their menu again I see that there is a smaller 3 piece BBQ Albacore.  Kinda wish I got it.

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The server brought us all of our drinks and he poured the first glass of my sake, replaced the cap on the bottle and headed off to give us a little more time to look at the menu.  It was chilled and had very floral sent to it.  I would describe sake as a more alcoholic white wine to someone that’s never tried it.  Justin hadn’t, and he agreed.  This was definitely dry, but I would say that it was more noticeable on at the end.  It had a light sweetness to it as well.  I enjoyed this thoroughly.  We ordered soon after.

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Maybe a minute after we had ordered, my miso soup arrived.  It was much paler than I’ve seen elsewhere and it did seem to be a little less salty and flavorful.  There were a ton of tofu cubes at the bottom.  The vegie tempura came just a few minutes later and was pretty good.  The selection of items was harder to identify than usual.  Often I might look at a couple things and wonder what they are, then figure it out once I’ve bitten into it.  On this plate however, there was at least 2 or 3 things we never figured out for sure.  Of the things we did there was an onion, a mushroom, a jalapeno (or some other kind hot pepper) and asparagus.  It was a little while (about 13min) before the next item came out, an order of unagi nigiri (cooked freshwater eel with a sweet BBQ sauce)[$5].  This was delicious, warm, sweet & savory.

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Another 6 minutes or so and our rolls arrived.  Anne & Justin ordered a few.  The Japanese Mafia (Scallop, shrimp, crab mix, cream cheese, avocado, salmon, sauce, torched, masago and onion)[$14.50] had a lot going on in it.  I gave it a try and it was pretty tasty.  Though I’m not crazy about scallops, there were enough things in the roll that I had to focus to notice them at all.  Next up was the Philadelphia (Smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado [masago is also standard but they asked for none])[$8.95].  I also tried this one and it was very simple with it’s three ingredients but quite enjoyable.  Smooth is how I would describe it.  Their last one was the King’s Roll (Sesame chicken, soy wrap, sauce and sesame seed)[$11.50].  We all agreed that the chicken was pretty dry in this.  I think if it were moist that it would have been really good.  I liked the crunch of the fried batter on the chicken, and the sweet sauce was nice.  We left about a third of this on the plate uneaten.

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My roll was the Train Wreck (Chopped eel, seared tuna, spicy avocado blend, crab mix, panko shrimp, spicy sauce, sesame seed, onion)[$16].  This is my favorite Mikuni roll and I get it most of the time I go to one.  Similar to the Japanese Mafia, this has quite a lot going on flavor-wise.  The most prominent one is the unagi in it’s sweet BBQ sauce.  This is layered along the top and you usually get a good amount of it with each piece.  The panko shrimp provides a nice crunch to contrast the other, softer textures within.  I took my time with this while I sipped the remaining sake.  Our server was very patient, refilling the soda once and clearing plates here and there, along with other employees as they passed by.  Once I eventually finished, the plate was cleared within a minute or so and he soon delivered our check, also mentioning that if we wanted to add anything it was no problem.  Clearly he had been keeping a close eye, waiting for me to be finished, but we didn’t notice at all so he was being at least somewhat discrete which was appreciated.

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If this were just some small little sushi place I might say I was really impressed with the food and service, but Mikuni has been doing this for a while so it pretty much met my already high expectations.  The only disappointing points were dry sesame chicken in the King’s roll and, to some extent, the weak miso soup.  For a Sunday night the place was pretty busy when we arrived and got even busier by the time we left.  Quite a few people had opted to sit outside despite the heat.  Two or three times there was someone celebrating a birthday that got up to spin a wheel which had a bunch of prizes on it.  Some of the things they could land on were chopsticks, glow sticks, hats, shirts, pine glasses, shot glasses and a bag of rice (really?).  Kind of fun, but it really felt like it’s something that belongs in a TGI Fridays, not Mikuni.  Anyway, I still feel as though Mikuni is one of the top sushi joints in the area, and we have several excellent ones to choose from.

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