Sunday, June 30, 2013

ROC: Nana-San (2nd Post) - The Amazing Sushi Restaurant with a Bipolar Personality

Nana-San is certainly one of my top favorite sushi restaurants in Orange County. They serve sushi using some of the freshest fish they can get their hands on. In addition to my amazement, they serve fish out of seasonality such as Katsuo (Bonito/Skipjack Tuna) during times other than their peak season of summer yet it still tastes as if it were. Be that as it may, they certainly like to stick with the seasonality of ingredients in general as they are able to bring in some of the "more Japanese" ingredients that some Americans would find quite bizzare such as Shirako (labled as "cod milt" which is the cod sperm sac that Anthony Bourdain raves about, including me). It certainly, in terms of deliciousness and quality, contends well with the other great, yet stylistically different sushi restaurants in Orange County such as Ohshima and Ikko (my personal favorite) as both of these restaurants serve all of their sushi completely seasoned as if it were in the manner of the traditional Edo-mae style. In addition, the sushi at Nana-San can be either dipped in soy sauce or served seasoned by the chef either with yuzu juice or ponzu which I highly admire Nana-San for doing so as I love acidity in food.

However, if there's one thing I've noticed that's fundamentally unlike the other two previously mentioned places, they actually also cater to those that only prefer the "rolls"; essentially for those completely new to sushi and/or just not the adventurous types when it comes to food in general: the picky eaters. Because of how Nana-San caters extremely well to both opposing types of eaters, for those those that are picky for not wanting anything too unusual or foreign in their mouths, and for those with discerning palates only wanting the most authentic, the most exciting, and the highest quality of both ingredient and preparation such as myself; the restaurant itself has quite the bipolar personality (I mean that figuratively of course unlike the actual, medical definition of bipolar disorder involving manic/depressive episodes). Of course, I do eat the Americanized sushi rolls from time to time. However in my perspective, the situation where I do such a thing is more like a tweaker who's either broke on cash or had his local lab raided by the DEA who can then only get his hands on the cheaper meth made in Mexico. Aside from that, when you enter into the restaurant, you can see the visible schism, a deep divide between those at the tables who typically go for the rolls and committing various sushi restaurant faux pas such as rubbing chopsticks and mixing wasabi into the soy sauce, and those dining at the sushi bar wanting both the traditional, unique dining experience and the most authentic items on the menus only native in Japan. By the way, the author of this post knows quite well that he's being over the top with his examples and similes.

For this trip to Nana-San, I've taken a friend who too is a big fan of Ikko and wanting authentic sushi. As we both wanted an authentic experience and it was out of all days and times of the week: a Friday night, we ended up waiting for more than an hour just to dine at the sushi bar. After the wait and both of us being extremely hungry especially with me not eating anything all day, I definitely would say that the wait was worth it. After ordering some beer and sake, I accustomed my friend that when dining at the sushi bar at Nana-San, one would verbally let the chef in front, as they are three of them, know what he or she wants a couple individual sushi orders at a time just like some of the more much casual sushi restaurants in Japan. Also, the sushi that were already seasoned by chef will be given to the customer in their own plates whereas the sushi that needs a dip in the container of soy sauce will be placed on the wooden geta (sushi tray).

The first two sushi pieces were the Red Snapper (Tai) and the Halibut (Hirame). Although initially asked by the chef if we wanted them to be garnished with jalapenos, we went for the more traditional garnish of only yuzu juice.  As both of these fishes are lighter in character, the acidity from the yuzu carries out their delicate flavors. While the red snapper was much more softer, the halibut was firmer in texture which gave it more solidarity within its flavor which gives itself more tolerance when garnishes are applied.

Next came Chutoro: although not as marbled as Otoro, the chutoro that was provided was of a near optimal ratio for those that want more of a meat flavor as with Akami but also wants some of the butteriness from the fat as well. This of course needed to be dipped in soy.

 The Kanpachi that came was topped with yuzo-kosho (fermented yuzu). Along with the yuzu-kosho providing both an acidic and salty contrast to the fish, the Kanpachi had a flavor that was crossed between the delicate flavors of red snapper and the buttery, fat content of hamachi which is why the yuzu-kosho worked so well with the fish, even without the soy sauce.

Taking a break from the sushi course, I ordered the Monkfish Liver (Ankimo) appetizer. The garnishes of the refreshing green onions, daikon, ponzu, kelp & watercress along with the saltiness of cod roe (tarako) went will with the distinct, buttery flavors of the cooked monkfish liver. Granted, this is definitely for those who are adventurous as the flavor of Ankimo is a taste that needs to be acquired.

Although Spanish Mackerel (Aji) is known to be quite fishy in flavor, especially the standard Mackerel (Saba); if bought from a proper source, there will be minimal of that unpleasant taste we associate mackerel with. That certainly was the case at Nana-San. Even though the green onion, ground ginger and ponzu masks out the slight fishiness, the garnishes really bring out the distinct flavor sushi traditionalists love in Aji.

Bonito (Katsuo) is something that Nana-San is able to bring year around even though the fish's peak season is summer. The sear of the fish gives it its pungent smoky flavor along with the garnishes of green onion, ground ginger and ponzu contributing to the polar opposite of acidity and freshness from the vegetables.

We then ordered the Live Sweet Shrimp (Amaebi). It was served with its head taken off right before us in ordered to be served with miso soup later on instead of as fried. Even though with most places amaebi would be dipped in soy, it was served with a lemon wedge. With the simple seasoning of lemon juice, it was able to bring out the delicate flavors of the amaebi as soy sauce wasn't necessary.

In a mood for some fish roe, Flying Fish Roe (Tobiko) was served as a gunkan maki. With a little dab into the container of soy sauce, the simple components of roe, sushi rice and nori together make it a fantastic combination as the Tobiko was fresh.

Next came the roe with more deeper, intense flavors: Salmon Roe (Ikura). Even though I had enjoyed recently for many years, it only occurred to me that it was actually marinated in mirin an sake a couple years back when that No Reservations episode of Hokkaido aired. The flavors of the Ikura were luscious as the texture of each single egg were consistent with freshness as they were all plump not wrinkly as with ikura way past its prime.

Nearing the end of the sushi meal, Conger (Sea) Eel (Anago) was served with a slight brushing of a strong, heavily reduced tare; not your typical, very sweet eel sauce used for Freshwater Eel (Unagi). Not only were the savory flavors of the eel brought out from its broil were very delicious, its texture was firm yet moist signifying its freshness.

Our miso soup with the head from the Amaebi we had previously enjoyed boiled together was served before us which is a great way to conclude a sushi meal. In Asian food culture, soup is usually served at the end as its savory, umami loaded flavors is a great way to wash down a meal and to aid in digestion. The flavors from the head melded well with the umami of the well made miso soup. This isn't your run of the mill, instant kind right from the packet.  After slurping all of the soup from the bowl, not with a spoon,  we both went in for the good parts of the "head" which actually is its body as the tail is pretty much its legs. Along with all of its the yummy, gooey parts, there was definitely a fair amount of meat inside which was of course very delicious as it was not over boiled.

I know I went on a tirade regarding American-style rolls. However in my defense for the following spicy crab hand roll, this is certainly, at best, borderline as not an overwhelming amount of Japanese mayo was used to make the crab mixture. Granted, this wouldn't be considered traditional but the crab hand roll is already present at some of the traditional style sushi restaurants over here; not sure about Japan as it's highly doubtful. As I just mentioned that there wasn't an overwhelming amount of mayo, it was actually pretty good for a guy who primarily goes for the traditional when it comes to sushi. I'd imagine they had used Sriracha as its spice component.

As it's standard for Nana-San to give a complementary dessert at the end, we were given a citrus gelatin (assuming the citrus was orange) as a literally sweet way to end a sushi meal loaded with umami flavors. Like with most Asian desserts, it was not overwhelmingly sweet to which I highly admired. In addition, the springy texture of the gelatin was too appreciated as the lightness of both its flavor and texture was a great way to end the meal.

If you want more of a casual setting in both sushi style and dining environment while also wanting the freshest fish and the kinds that are primarily enjoyed by sushi traditionalists in Japan, Nana-San should definitely be in your consideration. While they do serve American-style rolls, it's because of Nana-San's more traditional offerings, like with Ikko and Ohshima, that its strong presence offsets the notion of not being able to get traditional sushi here in Orange County as it's already loaded with sushi restaurants primarily serving "rolls" such as a spicy tuna roll, caterpillar roll or a "banzai" (insert any Japanese word) roll.

Nana San on Urbanspoon

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