Slow Fish as Slow Food in Surf City
Who knew that Huntington Beach or "Surf City,” as it’s known for being a wave paradise, is also home to more and more topnotch sushi places? Located on the coastline, the crowds there are adventurous and ready to have fun, so you’re always in good company in restaurants.
One of the newest places is SLOW FISH restaurant. It’s a terrific, friendly place for regulars if you live in the city. It’s perfect for Los Angelenos headed south or just out for a pleasant drive 40 minutes outside of fast-lane L.A.. Slow Fish is a straight shot west down Bolsa Chica road off the 405. Caution: it’s easy to get to and visible from the road, but also easy to pass by in the middle of a small shopping center at Edinger.
Young, likeable Korean owner John Lee is there to wave you in, though, and greet you at the door. The bright, minimalist eatery seats 14 at the sushi bar with 30 at tables with comfy, spiffy white leather chairs. “Organic and upbeat” describe the woodsy décor, complete with beautiful red and gold platters and on the shelves miniature Korean boats to hold sushi. Soft jazz plays in the background.
Slow Fish has a menu of sushi and sashimi and also a long list of healthy dishes intended to "be savored" in an atmosphere as easy and friendly as its “surf city” neighborhood. A list of sakes, soju (Korean vodka) and beer drinks are available.
Host John is eager to explain that the restaurant is named for and honors the principles of the International Slow Food Movement. In John’s words, “we want our guests to take their time and savor our food." The place was even created with as much sustainable and recycled equipment and materials as possible. We agree with his motto after dining there: "Live to Eat."
Actually, foodie and former computer engineer John Lee opened SLOW FISH because, in his words, “I love the great cooking of two of my friends from Boston. We three knew each other from Boston University days. He laughs, "This way I can eat their food every day.”
These days Kriz Chong of Boston and New York mans the sushi bar. His fans, several of them top MIT professors, trailed him from Boston to New York and back, most of them eating his food every day. He tells us, “one of the professors was so dedicated to what I prepared, I had to let him try his hand at it every once in a while, too.”
Handsome Chef Sean An creates the Pan-Asian, California infused Kitchen dishes. You may know Sean from his wild creations at Zip Fusion or East Third Steakhouse in the Los Angeles downtown Arts District. Chef Sean An creates the Cal-Korean dishes. The son of one of Korea’s most highly respected architects (and brother of a top Asian model) , Sean’s car design and engineering background influence his intricate, artistic dishes with straightforward, appealing flavors.
“Fat Avo” (seared seasoned albacore tuna wrapped in avocado slices to look an apple) from his acclaimed Zip fusion repertoire is featured on the Avocado Commission website. His signature, succulent kiwi marinated Short Ribs are featured in the book, “New Asian Cuisine.”
We went in to Slow Fish to try their new Black Rice sushi menu. John told us that the three guys did extensive research, and located the finest form of Black Rice from Korea, also known as the healthiest form in the world.
John Lee explains, “novel Black foods, such as black soy beans and black sesame biscuits, are currently the rage in Asia because of their cholesterol lowering and weight control benefits. This should make California diners nutritionists happy,” says Lee smiling, though he and his two cohorts are fit and trim. ” Black rice also is known for being high in fiber and mineral content (including iron) and, like most rice, important amino acids.
We appreciate all this health information but as non-rice lovers, we were startled to experience the deep, nutty taste and rich, silky texture. When black rice cooks up, it turns an intriguing, intense purple-chocolately color. Stunning in Kriz’ tear-shaped little California rolls that he arranges into a pinwheel. It would suit me just fine as a satisfying dessert.
But, that’s only the beginning. The long list of appealing Little, Medium or Big Plates is hard to choose from, with almost all of them generous enough in portion size for sharing. It’s a good thing that so John is only too happy to guide diners through the menu. For extra help, a mark identifies spicy dishes, and the chefs are happy to make them really zing.
For diners who want to explore a full meal experience chosen by the chefs, a changing five-course is available ($40 food or with a snazzy Signature sake or suju cocktail $45).
For the Little Plates, we started with the aptly named “Slow Starter” ($16), a combination of three of Sean’s most popular dishes. The Fat Avo drew “oohs” and “ahs” and had everyone at the table sighing, “it’s too pretty to eat.” Even the ponzu couli is dressed up with little red chirracha chili-centered hearts made of sesame seed dressing. .
The Ascon is a retro cocktail party favorite of fat asparagus spears wrapped in the most flavorful and substantial bacon you’ve ever tasted. The Jalatuna is another “star” dish, whose points are hollowed out jalapeno peppers filled with spicy tuna and coated underneath in a double crunch tempura.
John introduced us to the Signature Seaweed Salad, now a must at every meal. Three different kinds of marinated seaweed, along with slivers of toasted nori accompanied by shreds of carrot and daikon radish, and seseame seeds, for crunch tossed with an Asian aioli sauce ($6). The salad is also available as a Medium Plate, topped with fresh crab and shaped into a tower.
Though it’s making the rounds of many menus, we loved the Soft Shell Crab ($7) that Slow has year round. Its combination of tender and double crunch textures ($7) are flash-fried to perfection and served with a ponzu dipping sauce. Another classic favorite worth a try is Hamachi Kama: broiled yellowtail collar ($MP) served with chef Kriz’s "secret" sauce.
All we know is that the Korean tastes have all the same combinations of sweet, sour, salty and tart as Thai food to please the palate, and with an enticing extra bit of "edge."
A little more unusual to the American taste though common on Asian sushi menus is the Vegetable Croquette ($5.5), deep fried breaded mashed potatoes.
The combination Sushi platter ($8) : (tuna, hirame, kani, ebi, tamago) is local and affordable, as is the sashimi (tuna, salmon, whitefish and tako) ($12.5).
A number of “slow” salads featuring grilled seafood or chicken make up the Medium Dish Kitchen ($7-$12) menu, available in half or full portions.
A preview of the Asian marinated meat entrees is found in the lively “Dancing Porky Salad” topped with spicy marinated pork on the top. The spices do make your mouth dance, and the chefs are happy to pump up the beat if you ask. These toppings become full-fledged main dishes in the Big Plate section.
Chef Sean’s Imperial Ribs were recently introduced on the menu by popular demand. The juicy, fall-off-the-bone ribs are Asian Pear or kiwi marinated overnight, braised and grilled off for a refreshing, finishing crunch. ($15)
If you think of tempura as ordinary, at Slow Fish the Jala-tuna will change your mind. The coating gives notice for a choice of outstanding tempura dishes either the shrimp, veggie or combo ($11). Shrimp or veggies inside are cooked ahead, then battered in a Signature mixture that fries up golden brown with a double, double crunch.
Reminding diners that this is a Korean based restaurant is Bulgoki ($13), thin sliced Korean style marinated beef with salad and rice. And to remind diners that is this is not your ordinary Korean-based restaurant, Shrimp Ravioli made with wonton wrappers (which a top executive chef at a hotel chef admires, he told me, for cooking up tender and tasty for ravioli) are heavenly with a rich creamy sauce ($14).
At the sushi bar Kriz’ showstopper on a small scale is the signature “Slow Fish,” a mosaic of salmon, tuna, crab, asparagus, avocado and a few other veggies for crunch in the middle of a cucumber slice. The lemon dressing alone will make you reorder. Moving on to grand scale, a “Slow Boat” of 5 kinds of fresh sashimi, 10 pieces of nigiri sushi, California rolls and one special roll ($45). From the looks on the people sitting on the chairs in front of him, Kriz seems to be able to satisfy any palate after 15 years behind a sushi bar. “I live to do this,” he grins, and that’s, obvious.
Just to make sure the experience was consistent, we visited two more times. Consistency is a sure thing. With Kriz and Sean working in the same place, new dishes are created on a regular basis. And we were happy to try more new things on the long menu, too.
For information on Slow Fish, their monthly special dinners and prix fixe meals, please contact Media 8 at Mediaate@aol.com.
16051 Balsa Chica Road 92649 (714.846.6951) Huntington Beach, California www.slowfisz.com