The barely foot-long monster, colorful green and silver-brown skin glistening under the soft light, beckons me with its black, scaly face and green sprout antennas. My chopsticks predatorily attack its segmented body. After I have the steely head in my grip, I dip one corner in my wasabi-soy mixture and toss it into my mouth. One swift motion devours this texturally complicated creature till there’s no more to spare, and I’m left dreaming of more.
Sushi Kawa is like the neighborhood convenience store, the type of place that coaxes my return—cozy, comfortable, and serving food that restores my mojo. The food here doesn’t sit like a rock in my gut, an important fact after a weekend in Sin City living on burgers, prime rib and steaks. Here, I can splurge and eat to my heart’s content while keeping the calorie count in check.
As is Japanese custom, Sushi Kawa is gung-ho on hospitality, from the first moments the sushi chef shouts “Sumimasen!” enthusiastically behind the sushi bar at newbies to the wait service throughout the evening, with waitresses ushering food and drink over like silent mind readers. Refills of water and hot tea magically appear when the well runs dry, all amidst the chatty backdrop of the sushi chefs and his customers. In one conversation, a customer at the bar asks whether the guys eat sushi all day long, to which the chef heartily chuckles “until the pizza arrives.” Japanese sushi chefs admitting to ordering pizza in front of a paying patron? It’s all about trust, baby, and Sushi Kawa has mine—buy the sushi chef a sake or round of beer, and let the fun begin.
Unique to this place is the Special Box Sake ($8.95 – $16.95 per bottle), which is served in a brown floral box that you get to name, color and store on a special shelf behind the sushi bar till your next visit. By the time you leave—on wobbly legs—everyone will know your name.
The mile-long sushi list spans ocean depths, and includes interesting choices like the Iron Chef roll (yes, it’s real) and the Rock’n Roll. Party poopers in the crowd don’t have to stick with raw sashimi—they can always order watered-down favorites like teriyaki chicken bowls and the plain Jane California Roll. My family and I are dirt poor after our bounty hunting trip, so we make do with the Diamond Roll ($9.95) and the Paradise Roll ($10.25), a side of gyoza (pan-fried pork dumplings), a chicken bowl, and a kiddie combo, with teriyaki chicken and egg rolls served in an elegant bento box.
The sushi served here bears uncanny resemblances to tradition, but with a twist. Take my Diamond Roll, a regular California Roll (rolled inside-out sushi with crabmeat, cucumber and avocado in the center) with whitefish and a lemon slice garnishing it—plain and simple. But the chef adds in a piece of tempura asparagus in the center. Throw in the ponzu sauce with scallions, and all of a sudden, the citrus in the ponzu and the lemon unify the different textures and flavors of the Diamond Roll as a cohesive whole.
The Paradise Roll is a different take on the unagi roll—crisp and sweet barbecued freshwater eel alternates with avocado slices on the outside, while the California Roll inside gets mixed with smelt eggs and tempura asparagus. Every bite reveals another layer of taste, and the scallions that garnish the roll add a hint of oniony flavor. I’ve always liked unagi, but this one brought a near orgasmic pleasure—buttery and sweet, rolled into a pretty, artistic package.
I leave Sushi Kawa with fond memories, and the urge to stuff myself ala the Vegas buffets on my next visit. Tucked away in an obscure corner of a strip mall, Sushi Kawa may have been difficult to find, but it beats all those terrible of memories of imitation crab out of your head.
SUSHI KAWA, 469 MAGNOLIA AVE. #101, CORONA, (951) 280-0398. DINNER FOR FOUR WITHOUT DRINKS, AROUND $50.