Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ikko - 07/16/2011

735 Baker St, Ste C
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 556-7822

I've been on something of a Japanese/OC kick of late and with that combination it was only a matter of time until I found myself at Ikko; a contender (albeit a divisive one), for best the best sushi restaurant in Orange County. The restaurant The restaurant can be difficult to find, situated in a dark seedy strip mall complete with adult novelty store. Even Ikko's exterior seems vaguely foreboding with its wooden facade complete lack of windows.

The interior is par for the course, a long L shaped wooden sushi bar surrounded by a handful of tables. The dark wood motif of the decor is countered by bright spotlights above the bar which fittingly illuminates the most important part of the restaurant. Behind the counter are two chefs, the elder gentleman is Ikko-san and the younger chef is Take who took care of us this evening.

The first thing that stands out about the menu is the presence of intricately prepared dishes utilizing ingredients not commonly offered at Japanese restaurants. We opted for the $100 omakase which provided a good mix of cooked and raw courses.

01: Scallop - w/ Uni & Black Truffle
Every aspect of this dish was spot on, from the sublime earthy musk of the truffle to the sheer freshness of the seafood. The pungency of the truffles is coupled with a rising sweetness from the uni and scallop and perfectly accented by the savory sprig of chive and a fragrant pink peppercorns.

02: Ikko-made Yuzu Cheese - Cherry Tomato & Fried Wild Arugula Caprese
Next up was a delightful spoonful of caprese, the lithe vegetables are complimented by a suitably weighty cheese infused with the resonant essence of fresh yuzu.

03: Edamame Mousse - Stuffed Fried Potato Tube
This turned out to be one of the best dishes of the night. The mousse is expectedly bright and vegetal while the fried potato's prodigious crunch provides an emphatic counterpoint to the edamame. The ikura was a bit lost but the potato had enough savory flavor, making the roe unnecessary.

04:Sashimi - Porgy, Hamachi, Bonito, King Mackerel
First up was a Porgy which looked and tasted like snapper and according to Google is indeed one of the fishes called served in the states under the name "Tai." The yellowtail was easily the best of the bunch, oily fatty belly meat perfect with the chive's zest. The bonito conveyed a smoky sapor that paired nicely with the spicy bite of the ginger. The last fish was a labeled as King Mackerel which was quite the break from the typical mackerel, soft fleshy with only an elusive hint of the characteristic oily flavor.

05: Wild Arugula Salad - w/ Smoked Chashu Berkshire Pork Cheek, Balsamic Garlic Vinaigrette
Quite the departure from the typical chashu pork, the pervasive smoky aroma and supple fleshy texture reminded me of a cold smoked dry rub BBQ. I could have done with a bit less of the arugula, the a few leaves provided an effective bitter contrast to the pork, but too many overwhelmed the meat altogether.

06: Chawanmushi - w/ Sea Urchin Sauce & Black Truffle
The egg custard came with more urchin and black truffle, not that I'm complaining though. The porcelain egg custard was delightfully soft and silky; the perfectly absorbent base for the savory truffle and the syrup sweetness of the uni.

07: Oven Grilled Cod - Marinated in Saikyo Miso
No omakase would be complete without some take on Nobu's classic black cod with miso. Ikko is more sparing with the miso leading to a fish that was still tender and flaky but a slight bit firmer than the norm. More importantly the fish wasn't overly saccharine and I could still taste a satisfying char on the fish.

08: Simmered Beef Tongue - w/ Miso Demi-Glace Sauce
The guest next to me raved about this dish and he was absolutely right. The meat wasn't like your typical cooked beef tongue, succulent fatty and exuding a heady beefy richness with a touch of miso sweetness. Kevin likened this to Chinese red braised beef but I thought the flavor profile was more along the lines of a stew.

09: Fresh Asparagus Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp Tempura - w/ Tentsuyu Mousse
My initial bite tasted a bit astringent but in subsequent bite the flavor of the shellfish helped to balance things out. The sauce is a traditional tempura dipping sauce in mousse form, which added a creamy twist and highlighted the hot/cold interplay between the tempura and the sauce.

10: Miso Marinated Angus Beef Belly Cube Steak - w/ Wasabi, Mustard, and Yuzu Kosyo
Compared to the tongue we had just a couple courses earlier, this seemed almost laughably simple. The use of miso was beginning to get a bit tiresome though I still enjoyed the a slick chewy mouth feel of the meat and the three sauces did inject some excitement into the dish.

11: Amaebi - Sweet Shrimp
I knew we were in for a treat when I saw Take scooping innards out the shrimp head to make a sauce for the nigiri. The result was one of the best sweet shrimp I've had in a long while. The shrimp was perfectly snappy and sweet while the sauce exhibited a wonderful offaly richness without any jarring metallic flavor. My only complaint was the amount of sauce which soaked through the lightly packed rice making a mess of things even though I ate this with my fingers.

12: Tsubugai - Whelk
This was my first time having Whelk, a type of sea snail, at a sushi restaurant. The texture is quite unique, not as dense as abalone or mirugai, but still presenting a snappy, grippy, almost cartilaginous texture.

13: Kasabo - Sting Fish
Our waitress called this Kasabo, or sting fish. Supposedly the fish causes a light numbing effect, similar to fugu when ingested but I failed to notice it. If anything the fish reminded me of a snapper, light clean and soft.

14: Seared Toro - Fatty Tuna
What to say, buttery soft and it dissolves on the tongue, I would have liked to try the raw preparation but I was still satisfied with this.

15: Miso Soup - w/ Amaebi Head
Given that Take had pulled out everything of value from the head, it made sense to make soup from the remnants as the shell still had enough flavor to give the soup a light oceany twang.

16: Iberico Pork
This is the first time I've seen Iberico pork nigiri style. The char-tinged savoriness is reminiscent of a seared toro or seared wagyu though the texture is a bit slicker and I definitely parallels to the more common Jamon Iberico.

17: Tamago - Egg
Ikko does their tamago with a light brush of savory sauce which highlighted the eggy funk of the tamago.

18: Black Sesame Ice Cream - w/ Hot Coffee & Sesame Seed Paste
I always love sesame desserts but this was a bit of a let down. Aside from the contrasting temperatures, the coffee completely overwhelmed the sesame on the palate.

19: Black Soy Bean Vanilla Ice Cream - w/ "Kuromitsu" Syrup & "Kinako" Soy Bean Powder
The second dessert was absolutely sublime, the ice cream was decidedly thick but soft while the creamy vanilla in conjunction with the caramelized sweetness of the Kuromitsu and the nutty Kinako reminded me of a Japanese inspired Snickers bar.

So is Ikko the best in OC? I think the answer is a qualified yes. Ikko is certainly no slouch when it comes to traditional nigiri, though I'd probably give a slight nod to Oshima or Nana-san if we were talking sushi only. Ikko sets itself apart though its kitchen; deftly incorporating French techniques but doing so thoughtfully and in a way that still maintains the integrity of the food. The result is a sushi restaurant where the cooked dishes delight as much as the raw fish does; that isn't something I can say for many of Ikko's peers.


Sam C. said...
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Sam C. said...
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Sam C. said...

Being the best in the OC might be a bit too aggressive to say....However, Ikko is probably one of the top 3 (which, i have a hard time deciding). :-)

Rodzilla said...

Great pictures and write up as always.

That Chawanmushi reminds me of the sea urchin/farmed egg course from providence.

I had whelk for the first time a few weeks ago cartilaginous is a perfect descriptor. My piece went from beyond snappy to almost crunchy. I'll have to try it a few more times.

I'm not generally shrimp fan, but I would be all about it if it came with that sauce.

I might have to make a trip up, much easier to get to OC than actually get into LA.

suzn924 said...

Agree again..for Sushi Nanasan and Ohshima, with Ohshima is more on the traditional side. Ikko to me is more Japanese cuisine. Did you go with Kevineats cuz your Omakase and Kevin's look identical?

Epicuryan said...

Lol got a little overexcited with your first two posts. What other restaurants would you consider in the top 3?

Glad you liked the review. I highly recommend you check out Ikko if you have the time. Where else have you had whelk, I would definitely like to try it more as well.

Sounds like you are quite knowledgeable about sushi in OC, are there any other types of food you like? And yes, I did go with Kevineats.

Sam C. said...

If you only consider omakase, Shibucho in costa mesa (i heard their chef has some ties to Hiro-San of Urasawa) and San Shi Go in Newport beach. And there's another one that's good but I have yet to try.

Let me know when you're feeling sushi in the OC. =)

Epicuryan said...

I was disappointed by Shibucho, the fish came all at once and didn't taste particularly fresh. I have been hearing a lot about San Shi Go lately and would be down to try one of the restaurants

Sam C. said...

Let me know when you want to go. I'll try to set it up. :-)

Rodzilla said...

It was on special the night I reviewed Yakitori Yakyudori in Hillcrest, San Diego. There are a good number of places in OC I'd like to try - I just need to weigh them against being that much closer to LA haha.

suzn924 said...

I'm vietnamese, but consider myself partly Japanese haha. But I eally love to travel so I likve all type of food anything from street food to high end really. You and Kevin have my taste buds so I'm guessing I will be trying out a lot of the places you mentioned. "I work to eat!!"

suzn924 said...

I've been meaning to try Season 52, Havengastro Pub, Taco Asymlum, Mama D's. If you go Season 52 let me know what you think. If you looking for Vietnamese food, I've been to majority of the Bolsa area.

Epicuryan said...

Will do, maybe sometime next month... too much sushi this month already.

Even though you would be a hundred miles closer its still far enough away from LA, trust me I've lived here all my life.

I went to Seasons 52 after New Years and I wasn't impressed. The food is just okay and I think the restaurant tries so hard to be "healthy" by restricting the calorie count and sacrificing flavor.

Haven is good but inconsistent, I first reviewed the place in December 2010, but since then I've been back twice and neither time was as good.

I'd skip Taco Asylum unless you really need to have random dishes stuffed in a tortilla and called a taco.

kat said...

Aw, you just gave me a lovely stroll down memory lane -- Ikko was one of my OC faves back in my gluttonista days.

Epicuryan said...


Maybe its time to revisit those gluttonista days ;)