Thursday, July 26, 2012

ROC - Ikko, best sushi in OC

Now, everyone has their own opinions on what's the best. However, Ikko, a Japanese restaurant serving traditional Edo-mae style Sushi (pre seasoned sushi with wasabi already added without the separate saucer for soy sauce and wasabi mixed in which by the way is a huge faux-pas at traditional sushi restaurants, but essentially required at the Americanized places) has, in my opinion, the best sushi overall in Orange County. Alongside with the sushi, they serve fusion Japanese dishes which can be a hit or miss. Aside from the fusion dishes, this restaurant is an amazing example of how the vast majority of the time  traditional/ truly authentic foods greatly triumphs their Americanized counterparts. In support of my claim of Ikko being the best sushi restaurant in Orange County, I've taken all of my friends here and they immediately love the place. Ikko even performs miracles of having people who were originally not into sushi or anything raw into fanatics having revelations of what they've just put into their mouths. Many people don't expect Orange County to have restaurants serving amazing food like this but Ikko easily rivals sushi restaurants in San Francisco, New York, even Los Angeles.

Walking in the restaurant, the environment is very dim and intimate versus the strip mall that Ikko's in. Reservations are highly recommended. On Fridays-Sundays, depending on their quantity, they offer live Ama-Ebi (Sweet Shrimp, but more like a prawn) which is amazing but for $14 a piece. In addition, I highly recommend seating at the sushi bar where your sushi can be served throughout a one-by-one progression instead of the tables where they would deliver all of your sushi orders at once where some of the pieces have been sitting out for a while. Also, if you're on a date, being at the bar would extend the date and make the experience a great conversation topic as the sushi chef would describe each sushi. It is very important to eat the sushi once it's in front of you.

For my first appetizer, I had ordered the Carpaccio with Citrus Vinaigrette. Usually they would used to make it with Red Snapper (Tai). However, the tragic 3/11 Tohoku earthquake devestated the region where they would get the red snapper and it was taken off the menu. You would have to ask the sushi chef himself for this dish and he would replace it with a similar fish in which I got "Chicken Grunt" (I know, odd name if you're not into the nomenclature of fish; also known as "Izaki" in Japanese). Although not traditional, this is an amazing dish that I would order every time as the fermented Yuzu, herbs, sea salt, olive oil, and the citrus vinaigrette would complement the fish. This is also the dish that hooks my friends to Ikko as it would be the first thing that they have.

The next appetizer that I ordered was something from their fusion menu which is a Miso-Marinated Cod with a Mustard Hollandaise. I was so surprised that this dish work out so well. With the butteriness from both the cod and the hollandaise, the dish tasted so amazing that I thought it was Michelin quality.

Onward to the sushi course, the chef would place each sushi one by one and I would take a piece of ginger (Gari) as a pallate cleanser in between. From the order that you would fill out on the sushi chart they would provide, the chef will course the progression from light to heavy sushi. The first was Rock Cod (Mebaru) imported from Kyushu, Japan. It was topped with no sauce as there was only fermented yuzu and sea salt. The rock cod was very light, clean tasting.

Second was tuna (Maguro/Akami). It was seasoned with soy sauce. If you love Akami (Lean Tuna), then you'll love their preparation at Ikko as the seasoning would complement its subtle flavors.

The next was Albacore (Shiro maguro - lit. white tuna) seasoned with Ponzu (citrus seasoned soy) and topped with a fried garlic chip and scallions.

Bonito (Katsuo) was offered this time on the list as the fish was in season in Japan. It was seasoned in ponzu and then topped with scallions and something else (sorry, don't quite remember). Some of the other sushi restaurants might offer it year around but Ikko serves it when it's the best during the summer.

The next sushi diverges from tradition: Iberico Ham. It was first cross-hatched, seared with a blowtorch, and then topped with a fried garlic chip. With the saltiness from the cured ham and the smokiness amplified by the blowtorch, this tasted amazing! This cooked sushi would serve as a great transition to get someone into sushi.

Listed as Fatty Bluefin Tuna, I've received in what I think was Chu-toro (medium fatty) compared to O-toro (most fatty). Usually they would sear it in order to caramalize the fat in the fish but I usually prefer it raw. Be warned that as it's listed as market price, it's usually around $18 for two pieces. The sushi came out pre-seasoned with soy. I definitely tasted the fattiness of the fish as I immediately compared it to Akami.

Now when I took the photos, it was a rainy day. Therefore, my most favorite sushi, Sea Urchin (Uni), was unavailable as they would harvest it off the Santa Barbara Coast. I was so devastated as Ikko has definitely the best Santa Barbara Uni I've tried in the States. I imagine they were able to get the best grade. Here's a pic from one of my previous trips (sorry, I ate a piece) served in a "nigiri" style (fish on top of rice) unlike its Gunkan (Battleship roll) preparation with the seaweed wrapped horizontally. I understand that uni is a very acquired taste but if you have developed the appreciation for uni, you must definitely order it at Ikko.

Next was Salmon Roe (Ikura) served as a Gunkan. Roe from any fish tends to be very salty. If you can take the saltiness of roe, then you'll love Ikura.

The chef then asked me if I wanted to try anything else. I decided to order scallop (Hotate) from Hokkaido. This dish would have been placed earlier within the sequence. Even though there's no sauce pre-seasoned, I would not be intimidated to try Hotate raw as the fermented yuzu and sea salt complement well with the Hotate's butteriness and surprisingly clean flavors.

During Lunch, Ikko serves chirashizushi (scattered sushi over a bowl of sushi rice) in addition to having nigirizushi available. They also serve noodles and cooked lunch specials as well. For their chirashizushi, they have three main ones: Assorted (serving fish from America), Shellfish (Uni, Ikura, Ebi, Whelk (Tsubugai), smoked salmon), and Premium Assorted (Serving Japanese and American fish, along with Uni and Ikura). They are around $25, $35, and $45 respectively. In addition to the mentioned chirazushi, they have a Bluefin Tuna Chirashizushi special which has raw lean Tuna (Maguro/Akami), Tuna Tataki (Seared outside, raw in the middle), Negitoro (Chopped tuna belly (toro) with green onion mixed in), and Tamago (Egg). For a very reasonable price, the special runs for $18. The following are pictures of the Bluefin Tuna Chirashizushi along with seaweed salad, miso soup, and Japanese pickles that come with any of the Chirashizushi. Prior to being served the previously mentioned, a salad with a vinaigrette is given (sorry, I forgot to take its picture).

People would think sushi, with it being raw, as very fishy which deters people away from trying it. However, the best sushi itself would be devoid of that preconceived notion as fresh raw fish should taste very clean. Whenever I would take friends who were not originally fans of sushi to Ikko, they've used to have past thoughts of sushi being slimy, fishy and/or loaded with mayonaise and tempura batter. Their perceptions have changed to the opposite as how they surprisingly realized that sushi tastes clean and now can appreciate the subtle flavors of the fish along with the sushi chef delicately pre-seasoning it in order to create a harmonious sensation for one's mouth to enjoy.

After taking many people here to Ikko, I've came to realize that a significant amount of people who haven't before appreciated haute cuisine or international delicacies, let alone spend money on it, is that they've never tried them at their best, usually in their authentic form. However, there are also certainly people that just flat-out don't enjoy and can't appreciate them. Although I admit that I don't understand them, I'm not trying to say that they're awful people just because of that. I know that there are those that have satisfaction or just comfortable eating what they're used to. However, there are people further along the spectrum that just eat to ward off hunger, not caring about taste (not referring to vegetarians/vegans) and find zero pleasure in eating (I can't imagine myself being compatible with these people) even though they're financially able to eat something delicious. We humans are fortunate to have the neurological capacity to enjoy food as it's one of life's greatest pleasures. I hope one day in their lives that they are willing to get out of their comfort zone and just simply try the many different foods that are out there. If you want to experience the best sushi in Orange County prepared in an Edo-mae standard or if you want to change people's perceptions to realize how divine sushi can be, make a reservation to Ikko. Their address and phone number are 735 Baker Street  Costa Mesa, CA 92626; (714) 556-7822

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