Friday, July 15, 2011

Ikko (Costa Mesa, CA)

Ikko Sushi Restaurant
735 Baker St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714.556.7822 (restaurant has no web site)
Fri 07/15/2011, 08:45p-10:50p

Ikko Exterior

This past weekend, Angelenos braced themselves for the wrath of Carmageddon, which turned out to be not such a big deal--more of a Carmaheaven actually. Nevertheless, we didn't want to risk braving Carpocalyptic traffic conditions, so we limited our dining options to within the Orange Curtain. After making our way down a shortlist of potential eateries, we settled on Ikko, a well-regarded Japanese "fusion" kappo in Costa Mesa, located behind The CAMP in quite possibly the world's dimmest strip mall. Ikko is the brainchild of Chef/Owner Ikko Kobayashi, who opened up the place about eight years ago with his wife Masako (who also manages the restaurant).

Ikko Interior
On the inside, you'll find a cozy space replete with a 10-seater sushi bar and a sextet of tables.

Ikko Menu: Small Appetizer Ikko Menu: New Wave Sashimi Carpaccio Ikko Menu: Salad Ikko Menu: Appetizer
Ikko Menu: Appetizer Ikko Menu: Soup + Desserts Ikko Menu: Beverages Ikko Menu: Cold Sake
Ikko's menu is surprisingly vast, and features a large selection of interesting dishes, many of which showcase Ikko-san's facility with Western ingredients. Click for larger versions.

Ikko Specials Menu Ikko Specials Menu Ikko Sushi Specials Menu Ikko Sushi Menu
To best convey Ikko's "free form" cuisine, the restaurant offers up omakase at $60, $80, and $100 price points, and of course, we went with the third option. However, if you'd like to go à la carte, I'd recommend focusing your energies on the daily-changing list of seasonal specials, which includes a number of interesting sushi selections. Click for larger versions.

Scallop, Sea Urchin, Black Truffle
1: Scallop, Sea Urchin, Black Truffle
We kicked things off with Ikko's suitably luxurious "signature" starter: a couple dollops of uni, set atop a disk of hotate sashimi, all garnished with a few shaves of black truffle and a sprinkle of pink peppercorn. This was a great way to start the meal. I loved the heady, pungent attack of the truffle, and how that interacted with the sweet, creamy lusciousness of the urchin and scallop combination. Meanwhile, the peppercorn left a lovely, lingering spice that I absolutely adored.

Ikko-made Yuzu Cheese, Cherry Tomato & Fried Wild Arugula Caprese
2a: Ikko-made Yuzu Cheese, Cherry Tomato & Fried Wild Arugula Caprese
Next up was a riff on the classic insalata Caprese, one that substituted yuzu cheese for mozzarella. This made for a delightful tanginess on the palate, which was deftly balanced by the juicy sweetness of the tomato, while the arugula added a touch of astringency to things.

Edamame Mousse Stuffed Fried Potato Tube
2b: Edamame Mousse Stuffed Fried Potato Tube
Along with the reimagined Caprese salad came one of my favorite things of the night. I loved how the essence of edamame was so expertly captured in the light, fluffy mousse, replete with bits of soybean thrown in for extra textural variation. At the same time, the key was the potato, which contributed a perfect countervailing saltiness and crunch to the dish. I didn't get too much from the ikura though.

Sashimi Selection
3: Sashimi Selection
Ikko's presentation of sashimi recalled that of a less over-the-top Urasawa. From right to left:
  • Porgy - I started with the Kyushu-sourced porgy, otherwise known as madai, which had an expectedly snapper-like character: tender and delicate, with a flavor that was really brought out by the application of soy sauce.
  • Yellowtail - Hamachi was fatty as it typically is, with a rich flavor beautifully moderated by the sprigs of chive.
  • Bonito - Also hailing from Kyushu was the katsuo, which had a simply fantastic mouthfeel. Its flavor was quite strong as well, and thus went marvelously with a dab of ginger.
  • King Mackerel - I closed with the king mackerel, which some refer to as sawara. It was surprisingly mild for mackerel, and had a nicely supple texture that made for wonderful eating.
Wild Arugula Salad w/ Smoked Chashu Berkshire Pork Cheek, Balsamic Garlic Vinaigrette
4: Wild Arugula Salad w/ Smoked Chashu Berkshire Pork Cheek, Balsamic Garlic Vinaigrette
Pork was surprisingly tender, with a great smoky sweetness that recalled the essence of cold BBQ. The meat was deftly augmented in flavor by the paired balsamic dressing, and I appreciated how the arugula served to temper the dish. I really enjoyed the crunchy bits on top, too.

'Chawanmushi' Steamed Egg Custard, Sea Urchin Sauce & Black Truffle
5: "Chawanmushi" Steamed Egg Custard, Sea Urchin Sauce & Black Truffle
Of all the chawanmushi that I've had over the years, this was arguably the most decadent. The course showed off an intense, aromatic nose of uni, and the combination of the urchin and egg custard worked flawlessly in concert with the earthy relish of truffles. An über-luxurious interpretation of a classic dish.

Sour Plum Paste and Shiso Roll
Sour Plum Paste and Shiso Roll
At this point, one of Ikko's regular customers, who was sitting next to us, offered us pieces of his ume and shiso maki roll. This was a tangy, piquant bite that served as an effective palate cleanser of sorts.

Oven Grilled Cod Marinated in Saikyo Miso + Simmered Beef Tongue w/ Miso Demi-glace sauce
6a: Oven Grilled Cod Marinated in Saikyo Miso
Cod, not surprisingly, was fatty, oily, and unabashedly rich, with a nicely flaky consistency to boot. Its fishy flavor definitely made itself known, and was adroitly moderated by the subtle sweetness of the cod's saikyo miso marinade.
6b: Simmered Beef Tongue w/ Miso Demi-glace sauce
Next up was Ikko's tongue, which was quite unlike any other that I've ever had. It was thoroughly tender, in the same vein as braised beef, and conveyed a marked bovine sapor tinged with just a bit of sweetness. Upon tasting this course, I was instantly reminded of Chinese-style hong shao rou!

Miso Marinated Angus Beef Belly Cube Steak w/ Wasabi, Mustard and Yuzu Kosyo + Fresh Asparagus Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp Tempura w/ Tentsuyu Mousse
7a: Miso Marinated Angus Beef Belly Cube Steak w/ Wasabi, Mustard and Yuzu Kosyo
Cubes of Angus, unfortunately, were a bit too overdone for me, muting some of the beef's inherent flavor, and were also chewier than I would've liked. They certainly weren't bad, however, and went especially well with a dab of yuzukosho.
7b: Fresh Asparagus Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp Tempura w/ Tentsuyu Mousse
A tempura of asparagus and shrimp, on the other hand, was superb. I appreciated how the shrimp were cooked though, yet still retained a pleasing consistency. At the same time, the crustacean's natural sweetness was expertly balanced by the crisp bits of asparagus, and the whole amalgamation was tied together by the crunchy tempura batter. In addition, I loved how the Chef creatively rendered the traditional tentsuyu dipping sauce in mousse form.

Sweet Shrimp
8: Sweet Shrimp
Our parade of sushi began with one of my favorites, sweet shrimp. The amaebi were dispatched right before our eyes, and showed off a perfectly fresh, snappy consistency. The use of innards and roe as a topping, meanwhile, heightened the shrimp's inherent brine.

9: Whelk
From Hokkaido came whelk, a type of edible sea snail that you don't see offered in sushi form all too often. That's a shame though, because it was rather tasty, with a crunchy yet yielding consistency and a flavor that was both sweet and saline.

Sting Fish
10: Sting Fish
Now here was a new one for me: stingfish, or scorpion fish, from Kyushu. Known in Japanese as kasago, it possessed a slightly chewy texture, along with a mild flavor that was adeptly set off by a sprinkle of sea salt.

Seared Toro
11: Seared Toro
Seared toro was a just-about-perfect example of the style: virtually melt-in-your-mouth, with a profound richness and considerable depth of flavor that left me wanting more.

Miso Soup with Shrimp Head
12: Miso Soup with Shrimp Head
The heads from the aforementioned sweet shrimp were made into soup, the ocean-y flavors of the amaebi playing wonderfully off the umami-rich essence of miso.

Iberico Pork
13: Iberico Pork
Another first for me, pork sushi! And not just any pork, but butaniku made from famed ibérico hogs. As expected, the meat was suitably sumptuous, a great mix of fatty and savory flavors tinged with a subtle smokiness from the char. Very nice--I'd like to see this at more places.

14: Tamago
We concluded the savory portion of the meal with the traditional closer of tamagoyaki. Ikko's interpretation was light on sweetness, with a nice bit of vegetal tanginess from the inclusion of scallion.

Black Sesame Ice Cream w/ Hot Coffee & Sesame Seed Paste
15a: Black Sesame Ice Cream w/ Hot Coffee & Sesame Seed Paste
For dessert, you get to pick from Ikko's standard menu, and naturally, we couldn't pass up on black sesame ice cream. I really enjoyed the ice cream's pure, sugary kuro goma flavor, and adored how that played against the bitterness of the coffee. Great temperature contrast too.

Black Soy Bean Vanilla Ice Cream w/
15b: Black Soy Bean Vanilla Ice Cream w/ "Kuromitsu" Syrup & "Kinako" Soy Bean Powder
As good as the previous dessert was, I liked this one even better. The ice cream itself was delicious, but was amped up by its saccharine topping of kuromitsu "black honey," a type of sugar syrup. Simultaneously, the kinako soybean flour added a certain nuttiness to the dish that did a great job in integrating everything.

Take-san & Ikko-san
Our itamae Take-san, along with chef/owner Ikko-san.

I came in to Ikko expecting some good sushi, but came out with one of the most satisfying Japanese experiences that I've had in a while. It was great to see the Chef's "freestyle" take on traditional cuisine, and it'd be a huge disserve to deem Ikko a mere sushi restaurant. Indeed, rather than calling Ikko the best sushi in OC (which many have done), I'd posit that it just might be the best Japanese overall in the county. If you're looking to visit, I'd perhaps consider waiting until the fall for matsutake mushroom season--I hear Ikko-san makes a killer dobin mushi with it.


Blogger suzn924 said...

I agree..great post again!!! I would go here for the overall Omakase Japanese cuisine because their cooked food are very innovative and good but I don't normally go here if I'm craving mainly the more traditional/fish omakase so wouldn't call it the best Sushi place in OC either because Ikko focus is not only on Sushi like other places.

Monday, July 18, 2011 1:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Ikko. My favorite Japanese restaurant in the OC (and always a required stopover after Disneyland haha).

I've found Ikko's raw preparations to be a step above the cooked dishes with a few notable exceptions.

I've never been to Nozomi but have a hard time seeing it top Ikko.

Monday, July 18, 2011 7:29:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

You're playing a joke on us right? There's no way this is in the OC.

Monday, July 18, 2011 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Darin said...

Never seen iberico pork sushi before...I'm really intrigued.

Monday, July 18, 2011 4:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just curious how much is the bill..i pay almost 320 not including alchohol last time for 2. and only got 5 piece sushi. and ikko san wasnt there either. it was wayyy to pricey

Monday, July 18, 2011 4:28:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Susan: I agree, Ikko's not focused on sushi, so it wouldn't be fair to judge the place solely on that. The non-sushi items are really what make Ikko stand out.

Daniel: Can you tell us what the notable exceptions are? Will try to order them on the next visit. Nozomi is quite good, but more sushi focused.

sygyzy: Do I ever joke around? ;)

Darin: Same here. It really compared quite well with the likes of seared toro or seared wagyu sushi.

Anon: The omakase menu itself was $100. With tax, tip, and tipple, it was $155 all-in.

Monday, July 18, 2011 7:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Cinderella said...

Oh My Goodness, Kevin, that sounds outstanding - I have to go try it this week, thank you!

My favorite dishes that I saw here are 2a, 2b, 4, 14, 15 and 15b :)

You always find the best places to go!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 2:24:00 PM  
Blogger Fritos and Foie Gras said...

That uni appetizer looks above and beyond. Now I have somewhere I can eat while my sister insists on eating cotton candy for dinner at Disneyland!!! Thanks for another fabulous review!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 9:50:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Cinderella: Did you ever make it out? If so, how was it?

Sarah: If you're in the Disneyland area, you might also want to check out Napa Rose. ;)

Friday, July 22, 2011 1:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Cinderella said...

Good Sunday morning to you, Kevin.

I did make it out to Ikko and enjoyed the Yuzzu cheese the best and then the edeamame and the kobe beef. The black sesame ice cream was fabulous!
Waitress was very nice, too.
Thanks again for the recommendation!

Sunday, July 24, 2011 7:46:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Glad you enjoyed it--I look forward to seeing your post on the restaurant.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 12:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I love Ikko! It's a great hidden gem and on my top OC restaurant list :) Their daily specials are always pretty good too.

Never had pork sushi though. Pretty interesting

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 1:04:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

So where does Ikko fall in your OC sushi hierarchy?

Sunday, July 31, 2011 3:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

Ikko is pretty up there but I don't necessarily go there for just their sushi. I like a lot of their specials and cooked dishes more sometimes

Tuesday, August 09, 2011 3:00:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

For sure--Ikko's got legit cooked stuff. I was just at Shibucho, and rather liked it. I still need to try Ohshima and Makizushi though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 1:02:00 AM  
Anonymous JT685 said...

Ikko is definitely my favorite Sushi restaurant in Orange County as the quality of the fish is the best in the area. To be honest, I do like some of their fusion items but I am much more partial to their traditional takes on sushi and sashimi (except their blowtorched ones). My favorite non-traditional dish they have is their Red Snapper Carpaccio with citrus vinaigrette. Everytime I take someone to Ikko, that's the first thing I order them and they're immediately hooked as one of my friends had said he could just eat plates of that carpaccio. I hope in the future you can have a second review more focused on the sushi, sashimi and other raw items. Otherwise, I'm a big fan of your extremely detailed food blog and hope you can make a Facebook Page for it, Thanks and take care!

Sunday, January 08, 2012 7:44:00 PM  
Anonymous JT685 said...

Forgot to add that on Friday-Sunday is when Ikko typically has their live seafood available such as amaebi and orange clam.

Sunday, January 08, 2012 7:46:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks JT. You're right, next time I should definitely focus more on the sushi!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger Myriad said...

Anyone try this place recently?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018 3:46:00 PM  

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