242 Cafe Fusion Sushi
Chef Miki Izumisawa with her exotic "Lava to Flow to Green Hill" roll with crab, salmon, tuna and Macadamia nuts rolled in organic red chard.

_Imagine arriving to work everyday to a blank canvas. It's your job to create something new; your original idea inspired by your environment, your friends, your family, the movies you see, the books you read. You inspire others, many of whom are strangers, by sharing your creation. Sounds like the quintessential description of an artist...and a female sushi chef who's living out her dream in Laguna Beach. Miki Izumisawa associates food with the earth. And it's her obvious zeal for life and this planet that has her making the most exotic and artistic sushi I've ever eaten.

_It's show time when you arrive to 242 Cafe Fusion Sushi. Prepare to be wowed. Miki is performing center stage under the spotlight in this small theater with just four tables and a long bar. The celebratory mood is set with balloons and everything from salsa to reggae coming through the speakers. This rare talent is equipped with sharp knives, a propane torch, the freshest sushi and most importantly, a passion for her profession.

_Just as the bread is a precursor of the meal to come in many restaurants, here the strong, fresh-brewed green tea gave us a good indication. Her opening act is pepper-crusted salmon and albacore sashimi served in a spicy marinade. There's no need to dress this dish up with soy sauce, or for that matter most of the dishes. Her fusion flare is flavorful enough. Act two is yellowtail with spicy Miso sauce ($12) exquisitely presented with finely sliced jalapeno, garlic and cilantro. You won't find this one on your next trip to Japan. Miki also puts her spin on Spicy Tuna Tartar ($8.50) stacking layers of chopped Tuna, avocado and cucumber with rice chips. She expresses her connection to the earth with the "Moon and the Sun" - salmon, shrimp and tuna sashimi. Each piece is topped with a peppercorn representing the moon and a dab of hot sauce symbolizing the sun then seared with the torch.

_Miki is a protege of famed sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa. While she may have learned much from this master while working under him at his Las Vegas restaurant, she's definitely evolved with her own unique style.

_The show is in full swing when the sushi rolls arrive. This is where Miki has even more fun with titles and unusual concoctions that pleasantly surprise the palate; such as the Conifer roll with albacore, Japanese pickle, pine nuts and curry sauce. Or the "Lava to Flow to Green Hill" roll with Macadamia nuts, organic red chard, crab, salmon, and tuna. There's the "Sexy Hand Roll" which you'll have to see for yourself (blush) and the "Enjoy Shitake Feeling" (with the famed Japanese mushrooms). Miki is always changing these specials, inventing something new, so expect a slightly different show each time. She says her goal is to create, "a festival in the mouth." She uses mint in the Cherry Blossom roll and mango in the Aloha roll. Hawaiian shirts inspired this tropical-theme. It's sweet, colorful and also includes tuna, Japanese mint and Macadamia nuts; a fantastic finale.

_There's a small staff of women who assist at 242, but Miki makes it all, monitoring each dish that's served. Her attention to detail and creative endeavors are apparent throughout: ginger and wasabi served on an oversized banana leaf, chopstick holders made out of rock, an herb garden in the window, artfully-destroyed forks on the wall and scattered stones and crystals. It's no surprise when we discover Miki also creates permanent works of art that are now on exhibition. It's her fusion of life experiences that will have you not only satisfied, but also inspired after a meal at 242.

_242 Cafe Fusion Sushi, 242 North Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. (949) 494-2444. Tuesday-Sunday, 5:30-10 p.m.