Izumi’s is short on flash, big on fresh

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Izumi’s Restaurant
2150 N. Prospect Ave.

If you like a lot of flash with your sushi, Izumi’s is not the spot for you. Its rather no-nonsense décor and quiet dining room are not for the trendy. But Izumi’s is one of the best eateries in Milwaukee for experiencing true Japanese cuisine,

Izumi’s isn’t cheap (be wary of any restaurant that sells inexpensive sushi, because sushi-grade fish is expensive). But it’s a good value. To get sushi and sashimi any fresher, you’d have to pull it out of the water yourself.

Service is authentically friendly and knowledgeable. Our young server was an ocean of knowledge about fish. She capably steered the veteran sushi and sashimi fans among us through the extensive menu and assisted the novices with excellent suggestions.

For those not fond of sushi, there are numerous bento boxes (combination plates) offering such standards as tempura, dumplings, salads, teriyaki and katsu (breaded and fried meat cutlets).

If you’d like to branch out, try starting your meal with Japanese eggplant served with miso glaze, sunomono (cucumber salad with rice wine vinaigrette – and a bit of octopus in Izumi’s version) or gomae (blanched spinach or asparagus with sesame sauce).

If you’re feeling daring, opt to kick off your meal with one of Izumi’s signature dishes, a marinated and broiled cod dish known as miso zuke. Speaking of miso, Izumi’s is the best I’ve had in Milwaukee.

All dinners are served with miso and fluffy steamed rice. The chicken and salmon teriyaki are both flavorful and generously portioned. The beef is even better, but since it’s Wagyu, it is a bit pricey ($34 for 8 ounces.) Combination plates range in price from $17 to $33, and the “Izumi Special Dinner for Two” is $58 and includes sushi, sashimi, broiled fish, tempura, chicken or beef teriyaki and dessert. You may upgrade the beef in the combination to Kobe for $15 more. This isn’t cheap, but it’s a relative value given the quality and quantity.

If you’re looking for something a little more unusual, try either the nabemono or shabu-shabu. This is small pieces of vegetables and meat cooked at the table in a fondue-like pot filled with boiling broth. At the end of the meal, you drink the broth. It’s a fun date-night thing to do. Yosenabe is a seafood variation of the same dish, except that the cooking is done in the kitchen. It’s almost a Japanese bouillabaisse.

Of course, most food is available served atop udon or soba noodles, donburi or sticky rice.

For me, the maki rolls proved to be the stars of Izumi’s menu. In addition to the usual varieties (spicy tuna, salmon skin, California, etc.), the specialty rolls are exceptionally good. The Melissa Maki features real crab, avocado, scallop, masago (spicy Japanese mayo) and cucumber. The dragon maki is wrapped with unagi and stuffed with shrimp tempura. A word about unagi (grilled freshwater eel): Many folks are hesitant to try this delicacy, but this is a case where it really does taste just like chicken, in a great teriyaki-like barbecue sauce.

For those who won’t do raw fish, there are plenty of maki featuring all cooked ingredients or just vegetables, including smoked salmon and cream cheese, pork cutlet or the “Ume Jiso,” which features thin slices of cooked beef rolled around rice.

Usually I’m not drawn to desserts in Asian restaurants, but the green tea ice cream is terrific, as is the vanilla, which arrived tempura-battered and topped with caramel sauce. There’s a great selection of wines by the glass that are very reasonably priced, along with Japanese and American beers.

The Bottom Line: Dinner can run about $30 per person or more with tax and tip. Lunch offers bento boxes for less than $10.

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