From the not-too-distant District vault:
PHOTO by RICK POON
Slowfish seems a negative space, one where all the usual sushi-house whites are underexposed into medium grays and endless blacks. The restaurant embraces this, though, as you can’t even see into the place—the windows are blacked out by a limousine-level tinting so dark that you can’t spot a single silhouette.
Inside, that black wraps its way across the dining room. There, most of the white porcelain gets the grayscale treatment, swapped out largely for dark discs that look ready to absorb the food into their blackness. The tables, too, seem to be cut straight out of the shadows. Even the soundtrack stays on the coolest jazz, the kind of hard-boiled sounds tailored to a place so deep in the noir.
But the most important dark matter comes from Slowfish’s kitchen: black rice. You can opt for black rice with any of Slowfish’s dishes, and it’s really the most requisite item at the restaurant. With minds trained on the sticky white rice usually paired with sushi, the black rice inverts entire ideas about what makes a meal. On the side, the rice seems to disappear; it’s virtually indistinguishable from the bowls that hold it. Ordered with a couple pieces of nigiri sushi, the rice plays an even more interesting trick, making it look as though the fish were simply resting on little river rocks.
But the black rice isn’t just a gimmick—it’s an essential component of Slowfish’s subscription to the slow food movement. As a follower of that philosophy, the restaurant emphasizes sustainable foods and careful preparation, the kind of slow-going elements often lost in the modern eat-and-run assault. And black rice is a big part of that, a grain that takes longer to cook than its white relative and one that’s filled with more nutrients, too.
Most important, though, is black rice’s flavor, which conceals some nutty notes that pair perfectly with the natural sweetness of the sushi bar. The rice works well with virtually any order, which means it’s only up to preference, though the eel is especially good.
Slowfish’s rolls, however, don’t offer anything particularly new. California rolls and crunch rolls ship out with rote certainty. Even the eponymous Slowfish roll feels familiar, with its tempura exterior only adding to the general muddling of flavors. Still, the place does slice up some superb fish. And order anything with black rice and it at least becomes a visual experiment.
The restaurant feels far more comfortable in its small plates. Here, there are all the things like gyoza and seaweed salad, but the fat avo brings in top billing—and rightly so. The dish relies on a careful craft, a whole avocado trimmed away into centimeter-thin slices, then stacked back together and reassembled into what looks like an apple. But the fat avo also conceals an edible core—in this case, seared albacore. The fat avo is about as Californian as it gets, but the dish is also Slowfish’s most blatant display of skill, a precise plate that builds yet another sensory trick.
Among Slowfish’s so-called big plates, the beef ribs easily eat best. The menu anoints them as award-winning, and the ribs certainly deserve plenty of praise. As one of the big plates, the ribs come with sides of both salad and rice (again, black rice is still best), but it’s the beef that, of course, is the centerpiece, perched on thick bones that serve as sturdy supports for the wobbly blocks of meat. Braised at what’s surely the highest heat, the ribs are tender enough to mimic even the fattest pork belly.
Deep inside the restaurant’s darkness, Slowfish manages a simple image, a place conceptualized in everything from the black rice to that dark dinnerware. There’s a certain seriousness here, but also plenty with which to play. The most important trick, though, is that the restaurant serves a number of great dishes, many of which leave you lingering until the sun dips down and everything dissolves into the night.
SLOWFISH 16051 BOLSA CHICA ST | HUNTINGTON BEACH 92649 | 714.846.6951 | SLOWFISHZ.COM | OPEN TUES-THURS 11:30AM-11PM | FRI 11:30AM-1AM | SAT 5PM-1AM | SUN 5-10PM | FOOD FOR TWO $40-70 | BEER, WINE, SAKE