Sushi is on a roll-everywhere and in every incarnation. Purists sit at a sushi bars, with Japanese trained sushi chefs working their magic, while others are content to have it made by just about anyone who has learned how to slice fresh fish or incorporate an un-sushi ingredient, such as cream cheese, into a roll. For some, it's a social experience-schmoozing with their favorite fusion sushi chef-for others it's take-out to feast at home. I tend toward the purist side where freshness of fish and other ingredients create textures, in taste and presentation so deceivingly simple, yet complicated to achieve.
Good fresh sushi can dent a budget, so a couple of enterprising guys, Andrew Berlin and Gino Thiers, figured they could serve innovative sushi by deleting the customary sushi bar, thus saving on overhead. They created Sushi Fix in Carlsbad, a mostly take-out and delivery place with a small sit-down area in the Vons shopping center, just a few signals away from La Costa and the Forum shopping area. Thiers sold his share to Berlin and moved to San Francisco, leaving Berlin with chef Brian Turner, who creates the menu. In the next few weeks, they'll open a second location in Little Italy at the corner of Cedar and India streets.
A couple of things I really like about Sushi Fix: you can order half rolls (four pieces instead of eight) so you're able to enjoy a greater variety of flavors. They use surimi (imitation crab), but you can substitute real crab for an additional $1.25 per roll. And they present many of the rolls a bit differently by putting some main ingredients on top instead of inside the rolls. For example: the Red Head roll is shrimp tempura with crab and topped with spicy tuna and tempura shavings. The Cobra roll has spicy tuna and avocado with unagi on top and a slather of eel sauce. A salmon skin handroll is crunchy with the skin, cucumber, avocado and spouts and a simple salad of peeled, seeded, halved and thinly sliced cucumbers with a light vinegar dressing. Two pieces of hamachi (yellowtail) sushi are fresh and buttery-the rice under each piece is without the dab of wasabi, which is served on the side with pickled ginger so you can add your own level of heat. Most of the specialty rolls run $6.50 to $9.50 for eight pieces; figure about half that for four pieces. Two pieces of Nigiri costs $2.25 to $2.95. All the food is fresh and made to order-in the kitchen, not in front of you. If you do eat in, it's on plastic plates. 7720 El Camino Real, Suite B, Carlsbad, 760-632-8787, www.sushi-fix.com .
Zensei in North Park is a favorite among the locals. Here you can sit at the sushi bar and listen to the chefs speak Spanish as they create nouveau fusion rolls (many with cream cheese-too over-the-top fusion for me). Zensei was a finalist in 2005 (along with winner Café Japengo) in the First Annual California State Sushi Competition, in which fusion reigns in the presentation and ingredients.
At this comfortable corner restaurant, two of us found a menu with everything from oysters on the half shell and tempura jalapeños filled with crab and cream cheese to standard nigiri and quirky rolls such as pizza (baked smoked salmon, avocado and dynamite sauce) and yellow submarine (eel, crab, cream cheese, avocado, golden tempura and eel sauce, with a slice of jalapeño if you desire). Imitation crab is used, though the real thing can be substituted. Not your purist place.
We enjoyed crunchy roll with shrimp tempura, crab, cucumber, cream cheese (avocado substitutes for the cream cheese). Also pleasant was the crunchy salmon roll with cucumber, gobo and bonito flakes. These rolls run $9 to $11. If fish isn't your thing, the kitchen produces a multitude of noodle, chicken and meat dishes with unusual twists. Service is attentive and the room is hopping throughout the night. Happy hour is Monday through Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. 3396 30th St. at Upas Street, North Park. 619-546-6171. www.zensei sushi.com .
Up Interstate 5 at Via de La Valle is Flower Hill Mall, home to newly opened (and still working out a few kinks) Paradise Grille. The restaurant is comfortably appointed, with an open kitchen and a fabulous patio area, a fire pit, outdoor bar and some couches along with tables for seating. The place was packed on a recent Tuesday night, for good reason: Flatbread "Al Pastor" is chef Justin Hoehn's homage to tacos he ate while on a surfing trip near Puerto Vallarta. A silky perfectly seasoned (not over salted) black cod on udon noodles, with the light crunch of barely a handful of shaved celery, cabbage and slivers of red pepper in with the noodles, it's clean on the palate and just great. 2690 Via de la Valle, Flower Hill Mall. 858-350-0808. www.paradisegrille.com.
If you love wine and photographs, the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts has its Vintage Weekend March 31 to April 2. I've enjoyed the Grand Tasting and Wine Auction for years-a great way to sip wines and support the museum. www.mopa.org/pages/