Gen Kai. 34143 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point. 949.240.2004. www.sushiorangecounty.com.
Entering Gen Kai is a trip. En route to the parking lot, there’s an alley with black tarps covering fences around a construction zone and an empty lot filled with the skeletons of mail carts strewn haphazardly as if embalmed in a Pompeiian-level disaster. Cars whir into white noise on PCH near the doorway, which may or may not be locked judging on looks alone.
But inside is a different world. A nondescript golden oldie about love blasts over the loudspeaker as the restaurant aggressively achieves fuzzy diversity, bustling at midday lunch with people from every walk of life. It’s like a speakeasy, or maybe just something close to a sushi bar in a populated city of Japan, or at least the booze-goggled and romantic Bourdain-ified depiction of one.
The inclination is to assume it’s authentic, because the food is excellent. Gen Kai’s take on the trendy sushi burrito comes in much closer to onigiri (geometric stuffed rice “balls”) than some heinous cross-cultural Frankenstein monster. Crab meat, shrimp tempura, tuna and avocado are wrapped in soy paper and dotted with black and white sesame seeds and assembled into an easy-to-handle, burrito-like structure. The accompanying red chili, soy and sweet mayo sauces are dynamite with the burrito, imparting heat and peachy sweetness. The best bites are the ones with crunch from the tempura.