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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
January 24-31, 2007

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Miyuki

Happy together: Like being guests in the Miyuki family living room.

A Lavish Goodbye

Miyuki's intimate atmosphere and fresh ingredients bring the flavor of Japan to South County

By Selene Latigo


We were saddened to hear about the impending move of our two closest friends, Dennis and Emily. Over the years, the four of us have created traditions, mended injuries and breakdowns and celebrated countless occasions--all of this revolving around lavish feasts. To commemorate Dennis' last day of work, we met up at a favorite sushi destination in Watsonville for a feast that would pay homage to our beloved sushi expeditions of the past.

The early evening hour and out-of-town location did not dissuade crowds of others in the know to pack into Miyuki's single room dining space, so we waited patiently for our table, content to observe the culinary art happening behind the small sushi bar. Our table, located near the back by the display of sake sets and ceramic doll collections, maintained this view of the sushi bar, consistent with every other table in the dining area. The lighting, the fresh tulips and the random Japanese kitsch lent even more credence to the feeling that we were all guests in the Miyuki family living room, gathering to eat and drink and enjoy each other in this casual and extremely friendly restaurant.

After ordering all the necessary beverages. Asahi beer poured into bent cylindrical glasses and hot tea and sake to fend off the record-breaking winter cold outside, we set about deciding on dinner from the comprehensive and reasonably priced menu.

Our appetizers were settled on immediately. The homemade gyoza ($3.95) retained a welcome chew; not too rubbery and not too fragile, encasing a simple ground pork filling enhanced by the pool of soy-based dipping sauce. Not on the menu, the Dynamite scallops ($8) were outstanding and more memorable than most dishes I've sampled recently. Four large oyster shells were bursting with an egg custard that held thin bits of raw mushroom and tender scallops suspended beneath its broiled, sweet caramelized skin, similar to a savory crème brûlée hinted with green onion, rich cream and hot pepper spice.

We also decided to split a dinner-size order of mixed tempura ($11.95) that included salad, soup, and rice. A generous pile of lightly coated and fried items arrived, including four large shrimp, one for each of us, which seems to be the first tempura ingredient skimped on in most establishments. There were also rounds of eggplant, sturdy sweet potato, crisp green beans and soft zucchini spears, the bubbly, crackling skin soaking up the dipping sauce well. The miso soup bloomed and steamed with healthy goodness as we dipped into our little covered pot of hot, sticky rice and our small bowl of salad coated in a creamy, tangy miso peanut dressing that made it worth eating the iceberg chunks underneath.

We scurried to decide on the rest of our meal, our catching up chatter having taken attention away from the choices at hand. We also had some questions about the lengthy sushi list, trying to decipher some of the-less-common titles before we hastily jumped into old classics. One of these was the saba gari ($3.95), mackerel with ginger instead of the more typical shizo leaf. The ginger's earthy spice mingled with the oceanic purity of the fish in a new and interesting way, less bright and grassy yet more grounded.

The communal sushi board adorned with fluffy wasabi and a pickled pink ginger rose also held some old standbys. The hamachi nigiri ($4.25) was like a mouthful of melting butter, the essence of the fifth flavor, "umami," shining through like a star on top of small rectangles of compact rice. The spicy tuna roll ($4.25) was everything it should be if a little bit too mild, with a touch of mayo (not too much) and silky blended tuna. The Unagi avocado roll ($6.50), the largest on our platter, was moist with barbecue sauce and topped with ripe, rich avocado, the eel adding a dark, almost soil-like flavor. And finally, one of my favorite basic no-brainers was the shiitake maki ($3.30), tightly rolled with sweet, toothy mushrooms and rice inside of the toasty nori.

We also shared a bowl of vegetable udon ($8) that was packed with broccoli, eggplant, onion and zucchini in a subtle, delicate broth. The plump, thick noodles were long and slurpable, giving us all added warmth and fragrant sustenance.

Impressed with the level of quality, freshness and cost here, we all walked out beaming, happy to have one more satisfying sushi extravaganza together before our big goodbye.



Miyuki

Address: 452 East Lake Ave., Watsonville

Phone: 831.728.1620

Hours: 11:30am-1:30pm 5-9pm Tue-Fri, 5-9pm Sat, 4:30-8:30pm Sun

Price Range: $3-$18.


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