Muramoto rolls

The Muramoto roll, left, and Ecuador roll, right, at Muramoto Downtown.

A few weeks before the Downtown Muramoto left its elegant home on the 200 block of King Street last November, I had one of my best meals of all time there.

In the new Muramoto location, which opened a block up King Street on Feb. 6, I had another unforgettable meal. It was so good, in fact, I made a return visit to the sushi and Asian-fusion restaurant later in the week.

Muramoto’s prized miso black cod ($15) is famous for a reason. The sweet, broiled, miso-marinated fish with its blackened skin, was so tender it broke apart from a simple touch of the fork. My companion called it the best fish he’d ever had. “This is unreal,” he said.

Also successful was the poke du jour ($10), a small bowl of fresh tuna cubes served over wakame seaweed salad and shaved onion, and dressed in barbecue sauce with sesame oil.

Both dishes were under a “dinner” section of the menu, which confused customers who wanted to order those items for lunch. Now that big category has been renamed “edibles,” but should instead be called small plates.

From that section, two plump, perfectly seared scallops ($16) on top of puréed cauliflower shouldn’t be missed.

Surprisingly, brisket and fried chicken show up here, and even though the brisket ($12) seemed out of place among the sushi rolls, it was worth ordering. The three large chunks of meat had a sweet-salty miso sauce that really enhanced it.

Muramoto interior

Since the room is long and narrow, Muramoto Downtown is laid out similarly to both 43 North and Cafe Continental, before it, with all of the tables in a row.

The new Muramoto Downtown is in the former location of owner Shinji Muramoto’s 43 North restaurant, which he closed last summer. Since the room is long and narrow, the layout is similar to both 43 North and Cafe Continental, before it, with all of the tables in a row.

The long, wooden bench that stretches the length of the restaurant is more comfortable than it looks. Strips of wood are suspended from the ceiling for cool effect.

Muramoto crafts a mean cocktail. Trading the Asian herb shiso for mint in the shiso mojito ($9) gave it a distinctive element without dramatically changing its character. The same could be said for the matcha mule ($10). Matcha green tea gave the gingery Moscow mule a pleasant twist.

The seaweed salad ($7) was different from most in that it was served over mixed greens with a delicious soy vinaigrette. The miso soup ($4) was packed with tofu and wakame, but the flavor was a little thin.

Some of the rolls were unimpressive. The signature Muramoto ($16), wrapped in yellow egg paper, didn’t have much taste. But it did have tuna, shrimp, squid and shiso (like a cross between mint and basil), with sprouts protruding from the ends. It was topped with salmon roe and the plate drizzled with shiso mayo.

While I wasn’t sold on the Muramoto roll, my companion was. “What I love is how different it is,” he said.

Another specialty roll, the Ecuador ($16), was better, but still not worth the hefty price. Recommended by the bartender on my second visit when I sat at the bar, it had tuna, yellowtail, avocado, jalapeno and scallions. It also had masago mayo — made with capelin roe — and a bit of Sriracha for a slight kick.

Better were the more conventional rolls. The spicy tuna roll ($8) and Alaska roll ($5), with salmon and avocado, did the trick. My friend’s teenage daughter had a California roll ($6) with crab meat, avocado and cucumber, and enjoyed it. “You can really taste the crab,” she said.

The wasabi wasn’t super strong, which I appreciated. The pickled ginger, meanwhile, was unusually assertive and I didn’t use as much of it as I normally would.

Muramoto exterior

The new Muramoto Downtown is in the former location of owner Shinji Muramoto's 43 North restaurant, which he closed last summer. It doesn't have much for external signage.

Serving dessert in mason jars is all the rage these days, and Muramoto does it well. A ginger flan with miso caramel ($7) was spectacular. It blended great flavors with the ginger really lingering.

We could see owner/chef Muramoto and executive chef Bee Khang, who moved from Muramoto Hilldale, behind the bar doing something with a blowtorch. Turns out they were melting a candle to the jar’s lid because our waitress overheard that my friend was celebrating a birthday.

In a recent phone conversation, Khang said the restaurant had a rough start. It did well on Valentine’s Day, then settled into a slow period from mid-February through mid-March, as many places do. But things have been picking up lately with warmer weather, he said. “I’m anticipating for us to be a lot busier within the next couple of weeks,” he said.

I’m sure Khang’s right. The move across King Street has given Muramoto Downtown a new focus and a new vitality.

It’s a restaurant that’s going to have many happy returns.

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.