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Sushi bard



I'm staring at the most gorgeous menu I've ever held.

Yes, the sushi rolls all sound delicious, but I'm talking about the menu itself: It's bound with a black, felt-lined interior and an elaborate gray floral stitched jacket. A commanding metal plaque affixed to the front displays Zen Fusion Sushi & Bistro's logo, and thick plastic sleeves inside are lined with a snazzy silver border.

I feel as if I should be selecting a swanky spa package, not food.

Nan Hui Kim, wife of sushi chef/owner Young Min Kim, procured the menus from Korea, the couple's native country. For anyone who holds the silly prejudice that a sushi chef need be Japanese, consider Kim's 20-plus years with the food art, including nine at the Centennial Boulevard Ai Sushi & Grill.

Cleanly redecorated since the space was inhabited by NYPD Pizza, Zen is Kim's move to operate his own kitchen. He's brought with him all the delicate presentation points inherent to masterful sushi, as well as complementary Korean and Japanese entrées.

A special Sunshine Roll ($12.99) perhaps best exemplifies Kim's prowess: Timed beautifully with the season, it's a California Roll base topped with a thick strip of salmon, to which an impossibly thin cut of raw lemon (rind and fruit) is added. It's all decoratively doused in olive oil, sweet rice wine and a house wasabi sauce, and served with a segmented strawberry garnish.

The sharp citrus and buttery soft salmon lead, yielding to the fatty avocado, crisp cucumber and pasty crab pocket; residual rice wine sweetness and a mild nasal registry of the wasabi follow, as does a profound new appreciation for lemon on sushi.

Lemon is also nice in thick rounds under sesame-seed-dusted spicy garlic shrimp ($13.99), smartly fanned in a circle with tails pointing inward at two broccoli florets. The overdramatically named Salmon on Fire roll ($14.99) places baked salmon with green onion and masago (Capelin fish roe) under a spicy aioli, delivering a mild throat burn on the back end. An $11.49, nine-piece, chef's-choice Nigiri Mix makes for a fair and fresh lunch special, though I could have gone for more diversity than doubles on salmon, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna and snapper, plus one shrimp.

For apps, the Monkey Brain and Heart Attack (both $7.99) are pleasant and practically interchangeable, save for their vessels: The former uses a jalapeño, the latter an avocado. Each is fried and stuffed with spicy tuna and a touch too much cream cheese, then quartered and served elegantly on a blue glass plate.

Kim wouldn't disclose his dressing recipe on the light, lovely salmon skin salad ($7.99), featuring crispy strips of the skin with a little meat still attached over greens. But an eight-months-pregnant Nan did sweetly come to make sure we knew how to eat our traditional Korean stir-fried pork belly ($13.99; $5 extra for wrap ingredients), by wrapping hunks of the fatty goodness and seared onion in lettuce leaves with raw garlic and jalapeño slivers and a killer hot chili sauce. Your breath will stink, but it's more than worth it.

Plus, you can fight the heat with a fun Asian Mojito ($7.99), which subs sake for rum with the traditional muddled mint, simple syrup and lime. And finish with a texturally satisfying tempura cheesecake ($6.99) whose crisp, warm tortilla-paper shell reveals a cool, rich center. It fortifies the notion that pretty much everything at Zen looks good on paper, and in practice.

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