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Sushi Dreaming in Capitola

[whitespace] Masayuki's
George Sakkestad

On a Roll: Chef Masayuki Watanabe shows off his sushi creations.

Masayuki's once again charms with its combination of gorgeous sushi and casual atmosphere

By Christina Waters

IT'S HARD NOT to think of that vintage hearth of regional, homegrown cooking--Suzanne's by the Sea--whenever I stroll down the hill to have sushi at Masayuki's in Capitola. Back in the '70s, the cozy white cottage cafe offered the first locally grown salads, splendid made-from-scratch soups and a soothing dose of beachside vibes that made us all feel at home.

I'd like to think the spirit of that grassroots establishment still dwells in the stone fireplace of the cottage, which has been busy for many years now making a new landmark name for itself as Masayuki's. Sushi cognoscenti have widely regarded Masayuki's as the most consistent Japanese sushi experience available in the area, and from the looks--and flavors--of our recent meal, the reputation is humming right along.

Katya, weary from her recent digital workshop in Belgrade, was thrilled to wrap her mouth around some hamachi again, and we toasted our meal together with piping-hot sake. Is it an authentic Japanese custom that diners must pour each other's sake into those little thimble-sized cups? No, Katya murmured reassuringly, it's an old New York custom. I never question Katya when it comes to drinking customs.

Even when Masayuki's fills up with locals, who love to sprawl out along the banquette seating and the central tables and chairs next to the L-shaped sushi bar, service here moves right along. With a smile, and a sharp eye, our waitress took our order for a quartet of appetizers that quickly joined our sake.

The gyoza ($4.50), at once succulent inside and crisply scalloped on the outside, were definitive. I love to dredge these classic filled wonton starters in the accompanying soy, lemon and sake sauce, and then quickly follow with a sip of sake. All the flavors are bright, opening taste buds to full throttle.

An order of tsukemono ($1.75) brought thick wedges of pickled vegetable, in this case daikon radish, on a tiny blue-glazed plate. These pickles are earthy, pungent and mouth-puckering, with almost extraterrestrial flavors that ricochet all over the mouth with each bite--i.e. they're addictive.

Veggie tempura ($4.75) was also right on target, crispy and yet yielding in the center. A few, like the broccoli florets, were clumped with a bit more batter than was absolutely necessary. Others, like a superb slice of sweet potato, were impeccable. Everything's nice with that light sake dipping sauce. We even liked our rather tame agadashi tofu ($3.95), featuring fat pillows of teriyaki'd tofu in a mild broth topped with radish sprouts. Tame, but not boring.

The main attraction arrived in a spacious black enamel tray, its round shape a nice contrast with the mosaic slices of Capitola roll ($4.25), impeccable crimson nigiri rice rolls frosted with generous slices of ahi tuna ($4) and one of those specialty tempura rolls ($4.25) the house does so well.

I love the mixed metaphor of crisp interior elements--goba, asparagus, prawn and avocado--all wrapped in tofu and tempura fried. This deliciousness is then encased in the classic sticky rice and sliced into beautiful rounds that we dip into our blend of wasabi and soy and then sigh with pleasure.

Katya--known in Asia as the tall, blue-eyed hamachi princess--was as impressed as I was with the Capitola roll, tightly packed with alabaster hamachi and peppery shiso leaf and topped prettily with scoops of neon orange tobiko (a.k.a. flying fish roe).

I suppose we could always have green-tea ice cream following a dinner at Masayuki's. But as Katya says, "When in sushi land, let the flavors of soy, sake, wasabi and pickled vegetables linger long on the palate." And I never argue with Katya.

Address: 427 Capitola Ave., Capitola
Phone: 831/476-7284
Hours: Dinner Sun.-Thu. 5-9:30pm, Fri.-Sat. 5-10pm, closed Tue.
Specialties: Sushi bar, Japanese cuisine
Ambiance: ** 1/2 A cozy cottage cafe wrapped around a lively sushi bar, where conversation and satisfied regulars create a moveable feast.
Service: *** The sushi chefs flash their knives briskly, and table service is intelligent, focused and friendly.
Cuisine: *** Excellent sushi stylings blend with well-made appetizers and noodle classics.
Overall: A neighborhood treasure.

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From the October 1-7, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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