Traveling makes me hungry. Hungry for sushi. Sure, most of my trips center around food but I prefer to delve into the regional cuisine, so generally I don’t seek out sushi places. While excellent sushi and Japanese food can be found in most cities around the world, the same cannot be said for smaller towns or rural areas (for many logical reasons) and I was in Northwest Arkansas – ‘nuf said. I head back to the pastoral country side of the Ozarks several times a year to visit mom and even though Walmart HQ has brought in a lot of restaurants, the sushi places don’t measure up to what we have here in SoCal, so I wait until I get home to satisfy my craving.
Most recently, my sushi craving was 110% satisfied at a little Japanese Izakaya-style (a casual Japanese pub) named Dami Sushi & Izakaya in the new Village Circle on Beach shopping center in inland Buena Park – not the first place that comes to mind when seeking sushi, but worth remembering now. We Californians are lucky to have world cuisine at our finger tips and that includes many high quality Japanese and sushi restaurants in its three largest cities, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego and even in Orange County which has always been kind of lumped together with LA.
Village Circle on Beach (by Ace Realty Co.) is a 7.4 acre shopping center which officially opened in February 2014. The center is anchored by 32,500 sq. ft. H-Mart, a Korean-oriented supermarket, and parking is craaaazy, reminded us of Diamond Jamboree in Irvine. Dami is also adjacent to the insanely popular Kang Hodong Baekjeong Korean BBQ place with people lined up from the minute they open. Advice: try to find a space behind the restaurant.
Lobster sashimi – so fresh the lobster was still quivering when brought to the table.
Even though Dami Sushi & Izakaya is smack dab in the middle of inland Orange County (we’re used to challenging parking), if you love sushi and sashimi in a casual atmosphere at reasonable prices you should definitely give it a try. I don’t consider myself a sushi connoisseur, but my friend, who does, and I were impressed with quality of the seafood and their beautifully presented uni and Japanese specialities were some of the best we’ve experienced in a long time. Not an uni fan, I was smitten by the creaminess, freshness and artful presentation – it’s scientifically proven that we taste with our eyes and flecks of black sesame seeds, salmon tobiko (roe), slivers of green onion, and vibrant colored pickled ginger captivated me visually and my former objections were forgotten at first bite.
The Dami Seafood Box was very fresh and among the eight selections for two ($40) was a unique halibut roll which makes an impression in its stylistic resemblance to eye balls and cool, clean taste of halibut wrapped in fresh seaweed. Besides halibut, the Seafood Box also included three pieces each of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, mackerel, and velvety monkfish liver topped with dried bonita, and a tangle of seaweed salad – all of it tasted incredibly fresh and is easily enough for 2-3 people to share along with a few other of Dami’s specialty dishes for the full Japanese/Korean experience.
The minimalist modern space warmed with natural wood finishes and subtle Asian touches offers booths, table and sushi bar seating. The artwork and contemporary lighting adds color and design interest and flat-screen TVs give you the latest popular sporting event or news to watch. The servers are helpful and knowledgeable about the menu and reasonably attentive especially given the vast amount of food we were trying. We had one little snafu with water in a sake bottle, which we couldn’t quite figure out, but it was quickly rectified.
The dishes kept coming, the five of us were guests of owners Thomas Shin and Brandon Lee, and they wanted nothing more than to provide us with a tasting selection that covered the gamut of their Japanese and Izakaya fare. In Japan, Izakaya restaurants are casual after-work drinking establishments where a variety of home style dishes are served as a companion to drinks – very similar to Spanish tapas. While Dami’s concept is built on Izakaya style, their desire it to enhance the guest’s experience by elevating the overall quality of the food they serve and offering a variety of draft Japanese and American beers and craft sake.
Izakaya selections include deep fried and grilled items, yakitori/skewers as well as soup pots, rice bowls and casserole-like dishes such as the rainbow rice (above): Cast Iron Rainbow Rice ($11) with assorted fish (salmon, snapper, and halibut on this day) topped with tempura crunch – perfect for diners who dislike raw fish.
Cod Roe Stew ($14) of spicy cod roe, crown daisy (edible Chrysanthemum greens) and tofu in a hot chili seafood broth. The spicy broth, crunchy greens and enoki mushrooms made for a delicious amalgam of flavors, colors, and textures.
Yakitori: skewers of chicken gizzard, quail egg, asparagus and enoki maki wrapped in Japanese bacon ($2.75-$4.50 for filet mignon)
I can see why skewers and deep fried items like tempura and fried oysters would be good with a beer after work if you’re stopping off before heading home for dinner with the family but, for me, the beautifully presented, fresh-that-day, reasonably priced sushi and sashimi is the way to go if you’re dining at Dami. The only roll we tried was the Dami spring roll ($12) – a cool-as-a-cucumber roll of salmon, crabmeat, shrimp and tuna with avocado, but all the typical rolls (California, Caterpillar, Eel, Spider, Rainbow, Crunchy) plus a few Dami specialties, some with no rice, are available.
Dami also has more in the way of starters than edamame or miso soup. I liked that there are Japanese and Korean specialties such as jawanmushi(Japanese steamed egg custard), tamago (Japanese omelette), and saewoojang (Korean preserved shrimp) as well as halibut or rainbow carpaccio, tuna tataki and American favorites like Clams Casino and Oysters Rockefeller.
Also noteworthy is the Whole Grain Salad – a toothsome mix of black rice, Indian millet, lentil and kidney beans with fresh mozzarella and baby mesclun in a light soy vinaigrette that rounds out your meal with a little fiber and greens.
Sushi lovers, if you ever find yourself traveling on Interstate 5 through Orange County I suggest you take the Beach Blvd. exit in Buena Park and visit Dami Sushi and Izakaya. For OC, Long Beach and south LA County residents, make the trip – it’s well worth it. I live in coastal Huntington Beach and it was a trek, but I’ll be back with my sushi loving family in tow.
Village Circle on Beach
5151 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90621
And, for traveling sushi lovers, Travel & Leisure included restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, but also in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Austin, and Phoenix on their 2012 list of the Best Sushi Restaurants in the U.S.