Nearly everything about Issay Restaurant is transplanted: Owner Michiko Soffer came from Japan 17 years ago, chef Paulo Pestarino hails from northern Italy, and the restaurant itself--a charming century-old wood and glass beach-house--was moved some years back from the environs of the Newport Pier to its present mainland location on Old Newport Boulevard.
But however well-traveled its components, Issay (which appropriately means first generation in Japanese) immediately feels like home. The relaxed charm--so relaxed that the wood floor sags at one end of the restaurant--is abetted by Soffer's attention to every detail: The soft hues of the color scheme, the Sarah Vaughan tapes on the stereo, the special blend coffee or mango ice teas and the fresh herb garnish on every plate.
All of which is entirely incidental to Issay's most irresistibly inviting quality--the cooking. The menu--which changes monthly, joined by some eight nightly specials--abounds in seafood and pasta, with some chicken dishes. There's no red meat, not for health-conscious reasons but because Soffer is influenced by a long-standing tradition in her homeland's restaurants of specializing in what they do best.
Chef Pestarino most certainly has a way with fish, fowl and semolina. It's his sauces, though, that bring it all home. Rich porcini mushroom brown sauces, arrabiattas, pestos, balsamics, and puttanescas are balanced to leave each bite just short enough of heaven to compell the next bite.