Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sushi Wasabi (Tustin, CA)

Sushi Wasabi
14460 Newport Ave #F, Tustin, CA 92780
714.505.3496 (review, restaurant has no website)
Sat 02/17/2007, 07:20p-09:00p

Sushi Wasabi is a place for purists only; neophytes need not apply. That means no California rolls, no Philly rolls, no rolls whatsoever actually (save for a couple hand rolls). And forget about getting teriyaki, tempura, or even miso soup. Nigiri is the name of the game here.

We arrived relatively early at 7:20 and were shocked to find a "Closed" sign hanging in the window (I later found out this was a relatively common occurrence). Undeterred, we ventured in and asked owner/chef Katsu Aoyagi if they were still open. After consulting with his wife (I believe her name is Tomomi, but don't quote me on that), he let us stay and we were led to a small table in the back corner. Tomomi warned us early on that Wasabi was a serious, "sushi only" place. We obviously knew that already, and quickly did away with the menu and ordered omakase. When we asked for sake, Tomomi first brought out a few low-end bottles. Much to her surprise, I dismissed those bottles and asked for Kubota Manjyu by name, which she quickly brought out. I think that was enough to convince her that we weren't sushi newbies.

Signs warn of the impending danger within. Chef Katsu has been referred to as the "sushi nazi," though I usually reserve that particular title for Nozawa.

The bar seats about a dozen patrons while there are tables for about twenty. Overall, the decor is warm, cozy, and inviting. The group at the end of the bar was a Chinese family (I heard them speaking Mandarin); I applaud them for exposing their kids to sushi at such a young age. Certainly my palate was not nearly as advanced at their age.

To my left, a group of loud-mouthed, Dior-wearing, high-maintenance-looking Vietnamese girls. To my right, the somewhat eclectically decorated corner.

This was actually my second time having Kubota Manjyu, a junmai-daiginjyo from Niigata. They say it's the best sake in the world, and I would tend to agree. Smooth, clean, crisp, this is my epitome of sake. And at $75, it was a downright steal; Urasawa charged literally twice that.

When the Kubota ran out, we had to quench our thirst with something else: Asahi, Japan's number two beer. Interestingly enough, I recently found out that the Asahi we get here is actually brewed in the US under license.

The wasabi was quite strong, and we thought it might have been real grated wasabi root. It was definitely a bit different from the paste you get at most sushi places. Good ginger as well.

1: Albacore Sashimi
Canadian albacore with citrus ponzu and scallion. I think this might have been my first experience with non-seared albacore before, but hopefully not my last! Quite tasty.

2: Tai
Served with tobiko, scallion, and a dash of ponzu. Very nice.

3: Mebachi
This was actually bigeye tuna. Absolutely beautiful ruby red color, classic tuna taste.

4: Baked Scallop
Baked with creamy mayo, similar to a "dynamite" I believe. The shell was held to the plate with a dollop of rice on the bottom. When we asked to keep it, Tomomi seemed rather surprised and we quickly withdrew our request.

5: Uni
I'm not a big fan of uni and usually shy away from it, but I must say that this was my best uni experience ever. It was smooth, mild, very much like foie gras (which I'm also acclimating to incidentally).

6: Blue Crab Hand Roll
This is Wasabi's signature dish, real crab meat and a touch of mayo, wrapped in toasted seaweed. This was the first time I've had hand rolls in this unique "cigar" shape.

7: Kumamoto Oysters
Remembering our request on the scallop, Tomomi asked if we wanted to keep the shells (we did, but ended up forgetting to take them). In any case, the oysters, topped with ponzu, scallion, and tobiko, were very fresh, sweet, and subtle.

8: Hamachi
This is yellowtail from Japan. Tomomi was very diligent in telling us the origins of our fish.

9: Hirame
The quintessential expression of halibut, from the East Coast.

10: Mirugai
Jumbo clam from Seattle. These had a nice, fresh crunch and a mild, not too ocean-y taste. I think I'm starting to warm up to clam.

11: Toro
This was not true toro, but cheek of toro or toro tartare as they called it. It was very smooth and soft, but not as oily as regular toro. I'm not sure why we didn't get the normal toro; I'm guessing that Katsu ran out since we came relatively late.

12: Aji
Spanish mackerel from Japan, topped with tobiko, scallion, and a touch of ponzu. This was definitely a unique expression of mackerel, it had a much milder taste and didn't have the typical mackerel fishiness.

13: Hotategai
Firm, fresh scallop from northern Japan. Tasted even better with a sprinkle of the included lime.

14: Sake
This was a great cut of salmon, which was made even better with the sesame. There was also something along with the sesame that I couldn't identify.

15: Amaebi
Sweet shrimp from Boston. This was not quite what I expected. This actually was very creamy and a lot like the shiro ebi from Urasawa, though I still prefer the traditional amaebi.

16: Spicy Tuna Hand Roll
A hand roll with tuna, scallion, and rice, again made in the oblong, cigar shape. This had a slight spiciness that I quite liked.

17: Shiro Maguro
They called this albacore belly, and I'm pretty sure this was my first time having it. It's not like normal albacore, but quite a bit richer. Picture a cross between albacore and toro.

18: Ankimo
Monkfish liver with shiso and tobiko. Along with the uni, I was a bit wary of this dish, since my previous experiences with ankimo weren't great. But like the uni, this was also my best experience with the ingredient. Think of it as fishier foie gras.

19: Unagi
Freshwater eel, our last course. Again, the was unlike the eel I typically have. The flavor was noticeably milder, and the fish not as strongly sauced. The spices sprinkled on the eel really added a nice contrast.

A lot of people say Wasabi has the best sushi in the OC, and I can believe it. The quality of the fish cannot be faulted, and I appreciate the flourishes that Aoyagi adds to many of his dishes. Though at the same time, his sushi is a bit different from the norm, being smaller, more kawaii if you will, and using wetter rice. I definitely recommend Sushi Wasabi, just make sure you know what to expect and go for the omakase.


Blogger ilikejane said...

Kevin! Guess what? After showing your blog to some friends, I've hook-line-and sinkered them into joining me for Sushi Wasabi tonight! I can't wait - this is going to be my official 200th Yelp ( :-) thanks again for your great blogs - i actually read them when i have insomnia and i always go to sleep happy! i'll let you know how wasabi goes...jane

Friday, November 28, 2008 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Jane! I think you'll be pleased with Sushi Wasabi. It was my best sushi experience in OC.

And if this is your 200th Yelp, then clearly your 300th must be Urasawa! Actually, I may be going back to Urasawa in the next couple of months, so I'm looking forward to that. ;)

Friday, November 28, 2008 5:34:00 PM  
Blogger ilikejane said...

Hi Kevin :-) Here's my YELP! Hot off the press:

By the way...please let me know when you go to Urasawa...I'm not 100% sure I'll be able to join (lol - i'm inviting myself ;-) ) but i would like to join your group if i may!

Thanks for the inspiration :-D

Saturday, November 29, 2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Hey Kevin,

This is awesome review. Great photos too! I would have gone with Jane to this place last night, but you know... it was "LADIES night out". Great job on the review, now I have to pony up some dough for this omakase.

Saturday, November 29, 2008 3:09:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

ilikejane: I'm glad you had a good time! Looks like what you had was pretty similar to what I ate, though the order was different. I'll let you know about Urasawa in the coming months!

Pepsi Monster: Thanks. Next time just have a GUYS night out instead. ;)

Saturday, November 29, 2008 9:41:00 PM  
Blogger ilikejane said...

can i tell you a secret? i actually LISTED on a piece of paper ALL the SUSHI WASABI dishes YOU had from your blog!!!

then, i used the list and checked off each item one by one. it was so funny, and i think it surprised Tomomi and Katsu, especially because they didn't realize they completely skipped out on the oysters and scallop until i showed them YOUR list!!! LOL

i also wanted to tell you that with the exception of aji (they ran out) we did have everything on your list, but (as you noted) in different order.

good thing i had your list to keep them in check! LOL.

Monday, December 01, 2008 9:30:00 PM  
Blogger ilikejane said...

btw, kevin, check out my yelp for Wonjo (spicy korean seafood stew):

i KNOW you would LOVE this place in my hood (cerritos). let me know if you're interested and i'll take you and 2 others.

also, i know you're keen on bibimbap...i'll get back to you w/ some tips after i talk to my umma and apah.


Monday, December 01, 2008 9:34:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I like the list idea. Very organized. Seems like something I would do!

I just read the post on Wonjo. Looks like a great deal for only $20! Let me know when you're going.

Monday, December 01, 2008 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Wow, I can't believe Jane did that.

Hey Kevin, at least you have to admit she was very organized to every details. When I was with her one time, she actually tried to measure her plate of beef compared to my plate of beef at a restaurant for dinner.

She wants everything that is on the list. I couldn't believe she called out the chef by pointing out what you had. LOL

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 12:54:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Hopefully she didn't require a redistribution of beef to achieve equity!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 4:23:00 PM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

just curious, how much was this place? perhaps more reasonable than places in LA?

Thursday, January 15, 2009 1:05:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

It was around $85, so I thought it was a pretty good value for all that I got. However, keep in mind that prices may have risen (as I went here nearly two years ago).

Thursday, January 15, 2009 1:40:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jane, Urasawa on Saturday, March 28 at 6:00pm. Are you down? We've booked the entire restaurant. Please email me if you're interested!

Thursday, February 12, 2009 5:37:00 AM  
Blogger Walt said...

Great review Kevin. Looks like this is the OC version of Nozawa!

Definitely going to try to this place next time I'm in the area. Any other Tustin/Irvine area sushi recs besides Wasabi?


Friday, February 27, 2009 11:43:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Walt. Though I haven't been, I've heard good things about Maki Zushi as well (but only if you go omakase).

Sunday, March 01, 2009 2:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin, wow, i didn't know you would be interested in sushi wasabi... ok. after comparison.... i still like Ikko better. you should definitely check it out. =)

Saturday, April 25, 2009 4:40:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Why wouldn't I be interested in Sushi Wasabi? It's considered one of the top places in OC. Ikko does look very nice though. I've heard good things and it's on my list to try.

Sunday, April 26, 2009 1:30:00 AM  
Blogger MaiBlog said...

Thanks Kevin for the great review of Sushi Wasabi. I went there after reading your review and it was awesome! At first the name kinda threw me off, it didn't sound like an authentic Japanese place more like a fast food sushi joint. I was so happy to be proven wrong. Thanks a bunch.
Have you been to Fukada in Irvine?
I'd like to see your thoughts on it. It's one of my favorites.

Friday, July 16, 2010 2:03:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Glad you enjoyed it Mai! Yeah the name doesn't seem quite appropriate.

As for Fukada, I actually haven't been there, but I've heard good things.

Friday, July 16, 2010 2:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian said...

I absolutely LOVE Sushi Wasabi. My favorite sushi spot in OC and the best. I only take real sushi lovers here =) It's definitely a diamond in the rough

Monday, November 08, 2010 8:21:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Marian, which other places in OC do you like for sushi? I heard that they don't allow photos any more though. :p

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 5:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian said...

Ikko & Sushi Murasaki. Angotei if I want good quality sushi without the fancy fuss.

Wasabi is my favorite but the one downside is that he doesn't change up his omakase menu... They're always the same.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 4:32:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Yep those are some of the names that I hear. Shibucho's supposed to be pretty good, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 3:42:00 PM  
Blogger suzn924 said...

I've been meaning to try Sushi Wasabi too, but like Marian said the Menu is not as Innovative and a lot seems to be dip in Ponzu as opposed to other places who also uses Yuzu, sea salt etc so haven't venture yet. Other places in OC to consider depending on your palate. Murasake like Marian said is good, traditional like in Japan love the Otoro here which not all places have and the Seared version is very good also. Angotei is good, but the true Angotei owner Gorosan and most of Angotei staff old owner Tanakasan actually is now at Nanasan by 73 freeway on Bristol and Jamboree. I think Hirosan is still at Angotei. We love Nasanan omakase of course overall for creativity, variety, quality, hospitality which is what we loved about Japan. They also have Kubota Manju huge bottle which they will store for you in the fridge if you dont finish for next time, but Hakkansan is also very smooth as well. Also, consider Ohshima in Orange too for traditional Japanese imports its very good. For more Modern places Hamamori (Crystal Court South Coast) and San Shi Go (Newport Beach, the parking here sucks though). As mentioned before depending on preference, Ikko and San Shi Go sushi specific omakase to me is ok compared to the rest. Based on your reviews not sure you will like the clientele at Hamamori or San Shi Go but if you like the modern sushi mixed with Fois gras, truffles, or Uni in Poach eggs then these are your places. Sibucho my friend who had Masa in NYC tried it and he said it was ok, it is by Master chef who is supposedly very traditional and strict so I'm scare to try. I'm curious to see what you think about these places.

Sunday, July 17, 2011 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Murasaki, Hamamori, San Shi Go, Shibucho, those are all on my list to try. I went to Nana San recently, and went to Ango Tei many years ago when Goro-san was still there. I definitely prefer Nana San.

I still think you should give Sushi Wasabi a try though, given all the positive press it's received.

Monday, July 18, 2011 3:05:00 PM  
Blogger suzn924 said...

Yup Sushi Wasabi, Blue fin, Sushi Shibucho all on my many places to eat. Thanks.

Monday, July 18, 2011 7:48:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

You should also head up to LA, and see how some of those compare to your favorites down south.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 4:24:00 PM  

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