June 12, 2007

242 Cafe Fusion Sushi [Laguna Beach]

When I was in my sushi craze two years ago, I stumbled upon this Laguna Beach gem right off of PCH. It used to be my go-to Orange County sushi joint, but I've since eaten sushi that was more creative, more fresh, and less expensive. Our late-night dinner of two rolls, one hand roll, and a small salad set us back $60 before tip. Talk about sticker shock.

Chef Miki is one of the few female sushi chefs you'll ever come across and her sense of aesthetic is felt in every detail. Whether it is a mother of pearl dish, the zen rocks, or sushi that is too pretty to eat, there is a delicate exquisiteness to everything she touches.

As the name may imply, 242 is not the type of place for traditional nigiri or sashimi. The restaurant certainly offers top quality fish to your choosing, but where the kitchen really shines is in its daily specials, which are listed on a plate. The descriptions are perplexing, though I've never ordered anything bad from this menu. Be cautious, though, since prices are never listed. You can expect the rolls and sashimi off the plate to set you back at least $15 per dish. However, these dishes are larger by sushi standards and oftentimes embody the meaning of the culinary arts in their presentation.

On this particular night, we started with the Saku Saku [$20], which was a seared and marinated albacore sashimi with radish, avocado, potato, and smelt roe. We chose the dish because we thought the potato would be interesting, but it was more like a deep-fried potato string garnish. Regardless, the dish was very well executed and light, though it could've used more heat to give a kick.

They brought out our Prairie Roll ($16) next and we were somewhat disappointed with the presentation. It was basically a California roll inside and topped with peppered salmon and spicy tuna and came in its own spicy vinaigrette. There was pile of shredded lettuce thrown on top, which added a textural contrast to the buttery avocado and crab meat, but took away from the colors of the dish. My SO remarked that maybe it was supposed to look drab--after all, it was named the Prairie. The roll seemed a bit sloppier than usual, but then again, Chef Miki wasnt in on this particular night.

You can see the Sexy Handroll ($6) in the background of the previous photo and it is one of the few items that is consistently listed as a special. After our first two rolls, which both came in spicy soy sauce vinaigrettes, we were ready for a different taste sensation. The Sexy handroll provided just that, with its sweet combination of crab, avocado, scallop, and tuna. The scallop and tuna are piled in on top, so make sure you ration so that you end up with more than just a California roll when you get to the tip of the cone.

Lastly, we finished with a soft-shell crab salad ($10), which I remember as being better the last time we had it.

Overall I've found 242 to serve quality sushi that is both inventive and flavorful, but I've since learned that better can be had for much less. Service was brusque on this particular night and though we didnt feel welcome today, I wouldnt say that that's the norm. The restaurant is tiny with a sushi bar and five skinny tables. They don't take reservations, though I don't often have trouble nabbing a seat.

242 Cafe Fusion Sushi
242 N. Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 494-2444


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