Biz Beat

Miki features new look, taste

It might seem as though a lot of restaurants are going out of business these days, but don't despair. There are still plenty of options, some old, some new, some reinvented.

One longtime Modesto eatery that's getting a makeover is Miki Japanese Restaurant at 180 Leveland Lane. It faces McHenry Avenue and is tucked into a shopping complex just north of the Rite Aid and Dollar Tree stores. Miki has been in Modesto for more than 20 years. The current owners -- Mike Bugayong; his father-in-law, Jisei Nitaira; and Nitaira's son Jeff -- took over about six years ago.

Over the years, they've made some changes and tweaked the menu, which features Japanese cuisine and sushi, the house specialty. But during the holidays, the partners shut down for a week to remodel the interior and revamp the menu.

They put in new tile flooring and repainted. They replaced the old furniture with new booths, tables and chairs that matched the updated look. It's all designed to give the restaurant a fresh, modern feel, but incorporates plenty of Japanese accents to preserve some of the traditional style.

The water fountains the elder Nitaira created after his family took over Miki remain a focal point. The full bar is on one side of the restaurant and the sushi bar is along the opposite wall. The owners removed a wall at the rear of the building, eliminating a private room in favor of opening up the space and expanding the main dining area.

Miki will continue to serve many traditional Japanese dishes and all its signature sushi offerings, but the owners are moving to more Asian-fusion cuisine featuring lots of California influences: Japanese tacos, lobster stuffed mushrooms, spicy tuna won tons, avocado egg rolls and miso salmon. There will be beef and

chicken dishes for the not-so-adventurous customers.

The owners hope that by refining their offerings, they will add diners to their loyal customer base. To that end, the new Miki, which has been open since the first of the year, it will be offering samples from its new menu at a special event Monday. So save me a spot near Mel Gibson. The actor's been to Miki before, and his presence caused quite a sensation. If he doesn't show, that's OK. I'm more interested in the food and saki, and I don't need a Braveheart or Road Warrior to help me with that. For more details, call 524-3555 or go to

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