Friday, December 23, 2011

Ohshima (Orange, CA)

Ohshima Japanese Cuisine
1956 N Tustin St, Orange, CA 92865
714.998.0098 (restaurant has no web site)
Fri 12/23/2011, 07:00p-10:45p

Ohshima Exterior

When it comes to sushi in Orange County, we all tend to have our preferred places, whether it be Ikko, Nana San, Shibucho, Sushi Wasabi, or some other worthy spot. However, one name that I'd been hearing about more and more over the past year was Ohshima up in the City of Orange.

Ohshima was opened with minimal fanfare by one Shige Kimura back in 2007. The restaurant garnered a small local following, but interestingly enough, decided to change its name and direction in September 2008, becoming Ronin Sushi & Izakaya. This was, I imagine, in response to the success of its sister eatery Ronin Izakaya Bistro up in West Hollywood (at 359 N La Cienega, next to the nudie bar), which had debuted earlier that year. I suppose the izakaya thing didn't have much lasting power, though, as the Orange restaurant reverted back to Ohshima in May 2009, while the Los Angeles outpost shuttered just six months later. Since then, Ohshima has become a darling of the Yelp crowd, and for once, they were absolutely right.

Ohshima Interior
Inside, things are about what you'd expect. There are a smattering of tables abound, but of course, the best way to dine here is to saddle up to the omakase-only 12-seater sushi bar. Reservations are definitely recommended if you don't want to wait.

Ohshima Specials Ohshima Specials
After you're done with the eight-piece minimum omakase at the bar, you'd be wise to choose the rest of your meal from the list of daily specials. Pay particular attention to the list of seafood items flown in from Japan.

Ohshima Menu Ohshima Menu Ohshima Menu Ohshima Menu Ohshima Menu Ohshima Menu
If you must, the rest of the menu is also available to order from. Note that it includes a number of izakaya-style selections from the old Ronin days, including the signature "taco shimi." Click for larger versions.

Ohshima Beverage Menu Ohshima Sake/Shochu/Wine List
And to drink, the typical beers, along with a respectable selection of sakes and shochus, including the hard-to-find Kubota Senshin. Click for larger versions.

Yebisu [$5] beer, something light, to start.

Marinated Daikon Radish, Seaweed, and Carrot
1: Marinated Daikon Radish, Seaweed, and Carrot
A small "salad" of marinated veggies served as a sort of amuse bouche, an aromatic mix of sweet, salty, and umami-laced flavors accented by the slight crunch of the seaweed.

Sea Bream / Tai
2: Sea Bream / Tai
We began our sushi marathon with beautiful ruby red bream. There was a great yuzu tang here on the attack, leading to the mild flavors of the fish, intermixed with the slight burn of wasabi. Nice.

Bluefin Tuna / Kuromaguro
3: Bluefin Tuna / Kuromaguro
Tuna was delightful, silkier and more luscious than usual, with a great savory soy accent and a lovely countervailing finish of wasabi.

Scallop / Hotate
4: Scallop / Hotate
Scallops from Japan were the epitome of what hotategai should be--creamy, supple, and subtly sweet, with a smart application of sea salt and citrus.

Cherry Salmon / Sakuramasu
5: Cherry Salmon / Sakuramasu
Ohshima is somewhat known for its cherry salmon, and the fish did not disappoint. It was my first time having it, and I can see why it's so popular. Compared to regular salmon, the sakuramasu was more full-bodied, with a deeper flavor and nicely crisp consistency.

Sea Bass / Suzuki
6: Sea Bass / Suzuki
Seabass was also quite lovely--soft and subtle, with a great bit of piquancy from its topping of yuzukosho (a condiment of chili, yuzu, and salt).

Amberjack / Kanpachi
7: Amberjack / Kanpachi
Amberjack was totally on point, with a wonderfully snappy texture paired with a refined flavor that was perfectly augmented by the brushing of murasaki.

Chicken Grunt / Izaki
8: Chicken Grunt / Izaki
Now here was another first for me. The unfortunately-named chicken grunt (a.k.a. threeline grunt) was a pleasant surprise, with a somewhat chewy consistency and a rich flavor, balanced by the application of scallion. Definitely worth a try if you haven't had this before.

Yuzu Omoi
With the biru gone, we opted for a glass of Yuzu Omoi [$6.50], a yuzu-infused sake from Kyoto that reminded me of the shots of juice that you get at the end of meals at Sushi Zo. It was delicious, with the soft, sweet essence of the citrus fruit hiding pretty much all of the drink's alcoholic heat--I could see this stuff being dangerous!

Pen Shell Clam / Tairagai
9: Pen Shell Clam / Tairagai
Pen shell is another rarity, one that I'd only had a Matsuhisa and Sasabune prior to this. The clam showed off a satisfying, meaty body, with a great brine and wasabi bite. I would've liked a touch more yuzu however.

Black Cod / Gindara
10: Black Cod / Gindara
Black cod was another new one for me, and managed to be one of the highlights of the meal. The gindara was torched, resulting in a great interplay between the fattiness of the fish and the bitter char. Just wonderfully heady flavors here, paired with a lovely blend of raw and cooked textures.

Horse Mackerel / Aji
11: Horse Mackerel / Aji
Aji was a prototypical example of the fish, with its firm bite and marked salinity, bound by the piquancy of the accompanying negi and ginger.

Oze no Yukidoke Okarakuchi Junmai
Time for some sake, specifically the Oze no Yukidoke Okarakuchi Junmai [$50] from Gunma Prefecture's Ryujin Shuzo. This was a very dry, almost savory tasting sake, with a marked backbone of alcoholic burn. Interestingly, the brewery also makes beer in addition to sake, and I'd had their Ozeno Yukidoke IPA before at Lazy Ox Canteen.

Gold Stripe Amberjack
12: Gold Stripe Amberjack / Hiramasa
Hiramasa, also known as kingfish, is something that I'm beginning to see on more and more menus these days. That's not a bad thing, as the fish made for a fine sushi neta, firm and crisp, with just a whisper of ocean-y flavor that went well with the aromatic soy.

Albacore Belly / Binnaga Hara
13: Albacore Belly / Binnaga Hara
Albacore came topped with a garlic chip and a garlicky, sweetish "secret sauce." I had no complaints about the fish, and I even liked the crunchy chip, but the accompanying sauce was too much, overwhelming and masking the inherent character of the tuna. Less would've been more here.

Sea Urchin Roe / Uni
14: Sea Urchin Roe / Uni
Uni, however, hit the mark, with its mild, creamy, sweet brine, all set off by a deft application of soy sauce.

Shigoku Oyster / Kaki
15: Shigoku Oyster / Kaki
Historically, my favorite oysters have been the Kumamoto and Kusshi varieties, but these Shigokus, which I'd never experienced before, are right up there. They're a relatively new strain of the Pacific oyster, and tonight they were fantastic, with a fresh, fruity salinity that played perfectly against a dash of ponzu, scallion, and momiji oroshi.

Marinated Uni
16: Marinated Uni
A bowl of marinated uni, unfortunately, wasn't as tasty as the version above. Its flavors were more muddled, more bitter, but still palatable, especially when cut with the included seaweed and 'sabi.

Shirako - Fish Milt
17: Shirako - Fish Milt
The shirako ("white children"), flown in from Japan, was easily the most adventurous item of the night. It's milt, otherwise known as soft roe, the sperm sack of the fish basically. The taste, though, wasn't nearly as off-putting as you might think. It was actually pretty non-threatening, with a hearty, saline savor tempered by the various bits of accompanying greenery.

Barracuda / Kamasu
18: Barracuda / Kamasu
Barracuda is also a relatively hard-to-find item on sushi menus. For me, the fish was more about its slightly tendonous, toothsome texture, as its flavor was fairly nondescript.

Japanese Style Beef / Wa-Shu-Gyu
19: Japanese Style Beef / Wa-Shu-Gyu
Wagyu beef from Australia arrived topped with what seemed to the same accoutrements that graced the albacore belly above. Fortunately, the combination worked out somewhat better this time around, but still, I wanted more from the meat.

Neptune / Tsubugai
20: Neptune / Tsubugai
The matsubugai, or "true neptune whelk," is a type of sea snail, and it was pretty fantastic, displaying a very clean crunchiness and delicate brine that paired beautifully with a touch of yuzu and wasabi.

Bonito / Katsuo
21: Bonito / Katsuo
Skipjack tuna was soft and succulent, with a medium fattiness and pure, fresh flavor that played admirably with the tanginess of scallion.

Veined Rapa Whelk / Akanishigai
22: Veined Rapa Whelk / Akanishigai
Here was another type of whelk, the veined rapa whelk or Asian rapa whelk. It was one of the more interesting items that we had, with a somewhat tough, but satisfying bite and an earthy smack that well swimmingly with the small band of accompanying nori.

Threadfin / Itoyori
23: Threadfin / Itoyori
Threadfin was a real treat, something that I'd only eaten before at Nozomi in Torrance. It was a beautiful piece of fish, with a great savoriness to it that went wonderfully with a squeeze of yuzu.

Loco Clam / Horagai
24: Loco Clam / Horagai
Up next was yet another first for me, the so-called loco clam. Also known as Chilean abalone, the gastropod was delicious, with a supple yet crisp consistency and wonderfully intense salinity, moderated by just a touch of wasabi heat.

Alfonsino / Kinmedai
25: Alfonsino / Kinmedai
Alfonsino arrived slightly cooked, giving it a superb savoriness and weightiness, along with a great balance of cooked and rare consistencies. Very, very nice.

Sardine / Iwashi
26: Sardine / Iwashi
At this point, we were in the mood for some fishy fish, and thus, we requested some sardine. It had a pretty intense relish, as expected, but was surprisingly refined at the same time. A great change of pace from the lighter, cleaner flavors that we'd been having.

Otoro / Tuna Belly
27: Otoro / Tuna Belly
A sushi meal just wouldn't seem complete without toro right? And so here it was: soft, fatty, melt-y, and slightly sinewy.

Blue Crab Hand Roll / Watarigani no Temaki
28: Blue Crab Hand Roll / Watarigani no Temaki
A temaki of blue crab was arguably the best version of the dish that I've tried. The ratio of crab to rice was spot on, with the sweetness of the crustacean easily coming to the forefront, tempered by its savory nori wrapper.

Gizzard Shad / Kohada
29: Gizzard Shad / Kohada
Gizzard shad, meanwhile, showed off its prototypically firm nature, along with its heady, ocean-y relish, augmented by a rather remarkable sweetness.

Jack Mackerel / Shima Aji
30: Jack Mackerel / Shima Aji
Striped jack had a gorgeous texture, a perfect mix of crispness and tenderness. Its flavor, though, was even more remarkable, probably the most well-integrated, cohesive nigiri of the night in fact.

Negitoro Maki
31: Negitoro Maki
The party beside us ordered the negitoromaki, and we followed suit. It was a classic preparation of the roll, with the proven interaction between tuna and scallion taking center stage, moderated by the nori and the dish's soy sauce overtones.

Egg / Tamago
32: Egg / Tamago
We finished with the traditional closer of tamagoyaki: sugary and cool, with a slightly herbaceous element as well.

Yuji-san, Miki-san, Shige-san
Manning the bar that night were itamae Yuji-san, Miki-san, and Shige-san (the owner). We were served by Yuji-san, who I'm told used to work at Sushi Gen and Tomodachi up in Los Angeles. Apparently, he also had his own place up in Hacienda Heights at one time, which he closed before moving back to Japan.

Well hot damn, this was a mighty fine meal. The sushi was pretty much spot on in terms of both quality and preparation, save for a couple items, and the breadth of the seafood here is pretty much unrivaled by any other place, as evinced by the multiple, phenomenal "firsts" tonight. The rice, which comes slightly warm, was commendable as well. Certainly, Ohshima isn't cheap, but neither is it expensive. Our 32-course omakase extravaganza was a mere $116 per person, food only, which seems pretty reasonable to me. People say that this is the best sushi in OC--I can believe it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Pri-ve at Tiato (Santa Monica, CA)

Prive Molecular Pop-Up Restaurant at Tiato
2700 Colorado Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Thu 12/15/2011, 07:00p-11:30p

Regular readers may recall Ryan Carson's 16-course degustation at AnQi earlier this year. It was, without a doubt, one of the best meals that I've had in Orange County, and as such, I wasn't terribly surprised to find out that the Chef recently left the restaurant to pursue his own venture. Carson is in the midst of planning a boutique eatery, to be opened somewhere in Los Angeles in the middle of 2012. However, he'll be popping up here and there in the meantime (initially at both AnQi and Tiato--he's still very friendly with the An family), and I was very curious to see what the Chef had been up to.

About the Chef: A California native, Carson began his culinary career at the age of 15, working as a dishwasher at PCH Grill in Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. He excelled under the tutelage of Executive Chef Bill Orton, and eventually became a Sous at the resort. Following, Carson was recruited by Andrew Sutton (from Napa's Auberge Du Soleil) to open Napa Rose, and after two years there, went to work under Adam Baird at Robert Mondavi's Golden Vine Winery. At this point, Carson decided to pursue formal training, and thus enrolled at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. During his tenure there, he worked stages at a number of notable eateries, including Gary Danko, Aqua, Farallon, and Jardiniere.

After graduation, Carson went back to Napa Rose, where he would meet Sous Chef Michael Rossi. The two eventually became inseparable, and when Rossi left to become Exec Chef at Ambrosia in Santa Ana, Carson followed suit. Their relationship there lasted three years, but Rossi eventually left the restaurant, leaving the 27-year-old Carson as Ambrosia's new Executive Chef. Given the freedom of running his own kitchen, the Chef began incorporating avant garde flourishes into his food, which eventually caught the eye of Elizabeth An, who subsequently brought Carson over to run things at AnQi, replacing former chefs Jacob Kear (ex-Lukshon) and Daniel Barron.

'Pri-ve Pop-Up Menu
Tonight, Carson dished up an eight-course tasting menu with wine pairing for a not-too-unreasonable $100. Click for a larger version.

welcome dish
Canapé: welcome dish | cherry tomato, crab and cucumber soup
A quick bite to start the meal came courtesy of "Mama" Helene An. It was a refreshingly tasty morsel, with the inherent sweetness of the crab playing off the tomato nicely, while the cucumber provided an overarching lightness to the mix.

champagne & caviar
Amuse Bouche: champagne & caviar
Next up was a reworking of a dish that I'd had before at AnQi, but unfortunately, it didn't live up to the previous version. There was a nice interplay going on between the unabashedly salty tang of the caviar and the sugary, vinous Champagne gelée. However, the amuse was missing its chocolate "fizzy" tab, and as a result, lacked the effervescence that I was hoping for, as well as the soothing effect of the chocolate.

octopus mosaic
1: octopus mosaic | squid ink noodle, tomato dashi, eggplant, white asparagus, chorizo
'09 domaines merlin cherrier, sancerre
Octopus was rather lovely, with a supple, snappy consistency and a subtle flavor that was deftly augmented by the paired dashi jelly. I also appreciated the hint of spice and savoriness imparted by the chorizo, as well as the bright crunch of the asparagus spears. However, the coldness of the eggplant ice cream was too jarring for me, and the noodles were somewhat lost in the fray. There was a lot going on here, so perhaps the plate just needed a bit of editing.

iberico ham
2: iberico ham | tuscan melons, manchego, soy-balsamic gel, sour olive oil, black sesame
'10 domaines ott, bandol
Jamón Ibérico formed the base to this classic, but reinvented pairing of ham and melon. The interaction between salty and sugary flavors was on point here, and I especially enjoyed the piquant counterpoints provided by the soy-balsamic and olive oil. My favorite element in this course, however, were the sesame chips, which imparted a fantastic, earthy, nutty essence to the dish that wrapped things up beautifully.

all things oyster
3: all things oyster | chicken, plant, mushroom, mignonette, coconut pearl, sea vapor
'10 belleruche, cotes-du-rhone
The ocean-y aromas of "sea vapor" set the stage for this next course, which was a sort of a play on words. Chicken oysters are two small chunks of dark meat on the bird, and here they were put to great use--supple, immensely savory, delicious nuggets of goodness. They were complemented by the roots of the oyster plant, as well as the subtle sweetness of the coconut globules. However, I really wish that the essence of actual oyster was more forcefully conveyed.

head to tail
4: head to tail | radishes, wax beans, sea bean, brown butter, sweet & sour tangerine
'10 kings estate, pinot noir, oregon
Head to tail brought us a pig's head terrine and a pig's tail fried fritter. I began with the fromage de tête, and found it rather enjoyable, with a delightful mix of simultaneously sweet, tangy, and salty flavors. As good as the head was, the tail was even better, probably my favorite bite of the entire meal in fact, a gorgeous mix of lush and crispy textures with a profoundly porcine relish that, when paired with the sesame, gave it a fantastic Asian flair--yum!

beet & lemon
Intermezzo: beet & lemon
A palate cleanser countered the innate sugariness of beets with the tartness of lemon foam, while grapes served to moderate the course and add some textural variation.

steak & potatoes
5: steak & potatoes | celeriac creamed spinach, black garlic, bone marrow, truffled 'tater tots'
'09 bodega colone, malbec, mendoza, argentina
Our final savory course comprised the Chef's take on "steak and potatoes," and boy did it deliver. The steak itself was flawless, utterly spot on, cooked to a perfect temperature and brimming with plenty of bovine savor. However, it also went well with the tempering taste of the spinach, and I appreciated the mushroom as well. The "Tater Tots," meanwhile, were almost gnocchi-esque with their pillow-y consistency, and paired swimmingly with their sauce of bone marrow.

6: chocolate | banana emulsion, 'chewy' peanut butter ice cream, iced celery, pretzel
alcyone, urugyuan tannat
Carson lacks a pastry chef at the moment, so he's currently doing all the desserts by himself. His presentation of the now-ubiquitous flexible chocolate ganache was very respectable, with the rich, dense chocolate playing well with the classic combination of peanut butter and banana. At the same time though, I really enjoyed the levity imparted by the celery, as well as the crunch and slight saltiness of the pretzel powder. Quite nice, actually.

Matt Ranney, Ryan Carson, Erick Lee
Chef Ryan Carson, along with Chef de Cuisine Matt Ranney (AnQi, Fleur de Lys, Daniel Boulud Brasserie, Crow Bar & Kitchen, Ambrosia) and Sous Chef Erick Lee.

Although this meal didn't reach the lofty levels of his previous dinner at AnQi, Carson still managed to deliver an intriguing dining experience, but not without a couple of quibbles. I think his cooking is best when he doesn't try to do too much or overreach with the molecular modernist flourishes, but instead strikes an oft delicate balance between taste and technique. Nevertheless, I'm curious to see what the Chef comes up with at his own place. It'll be a small, ~30 seat affair, replete with an omakase counter (think Ink), so I'll definitely be on the lookout for that.