590 W 19th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
After two strong experiences at Ikko and Nana-san I was inspired to hit up more of Orange County's top spots. I'd actually been to Sushi Shibucho a few years back but left disappointed with my experience. At the time, I was still learning about sushi and felt uncomfortable sitting at the bar. I opted for having the omakase and was disappointed to see a large platter of tired looking sushi brought to the table. Though I was disappointed by the experience, enough time has passed for me to give the restaurant another chance.
Sushi Shibucho can be considered the spiritual successor to Shibucho in Los Angeles. Opened by Sakae Shibutani in 1976, the original Shibucho was arguably the first true sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. Eventually Shibutani sold the restaurant to Shige Kudo a former employee who still runs the restaurant today. The OC outpost of Sushi Shibucho is run by Sakae's and his son, Naga, who learned the art of sushi from his father.
Amuse: Marinated Bamboo and Tofu
Our meal started with a small bowl of marinated bamboo and tofu. The tofu was a welcome surprise, saturated with a savory sweet broth giving the duet a pleasing heft.
01: Tai - Snapper
We were presented with two pieces of snapper, one came seasoned while we were told to take the other with soy. The fish lived up to its name presenting a firm pliant texture set off perfectly by the warm rice. As for flavor the traditional preparation was enjoyable, but I preferred the expansive flavors of the one seasoned with yuzu kocho and rock salt.
02: Maguro - Tuna
Cool and fleshy, the clean simplicity of the fish contrasted beautifully with the potent sting of the wasabi.
03: Toro - Fatty Tuna
A textbook toro, disconcerting red spots aside, the fish was tender and marbled to the point of having an almost jellied consistency coupled with an appropriately weighty oily flavor profile.
04: Aoyagi - Orange Clam
A fairly subdued example of orange clam, the shellfish's sweetness is balanced by an earthy brine.
05: Aji - Spanish Mackerel
Aji is always one of the more expressive sushi fishes, the potent oily richness is tempered by a generous topping of fresh scallion and grated ginger.
06: Zuwaigani - Snow Crab
Next up was an extremely unconventional nigiri, the crab is surprisingly delicate with the wasabi running rampant until the finish when the crab's sweetness comes to the fore.
07: Kinki - Rockfish
Another rare fish, Kinki or rockfish is reminiscent of a snapper, with the same mild flavor but a bit more vigorous snap.
08: Kanpachi - Amberjack
Amberjack can run the gamut texturally from lean and austere to creamy and unctuous and this definitely leaned toward the latter with a nuanced oily flavor to boot.
09: Uni - Sea Urchin
Nice to see the uni outside of a gunkan-maki, the scintillating sweetness of the urchin roe comes through completely unfettered by any distraction from the nori wrapper.
10: Binnaga - Albacore
Aside from Sushi Wasabi, this is the only other place in Orange County where I recall having raw albacore. The fish itself was fairly mild but the topping of seasoned daikon lent the albacore an intense savory-sweetness.
11: Sujiko - Salmon Roe
This was a completely new style of sushi, unlike the more common ikura, the roe is marinated in the egg sack concentrating the flavor leading to a more severe savoriness and viscous almost slimy texture, definitely not for the faint of heart.
12: Sake - Salmon
We followed the salmon eggs with the adult version of the fish; lush and simple with a striated firmness.
13: Anago - Sea Eel
This is one of the few instances where I recall having eel without a thick layer of glaze. Personally, I found the sparse dusting of sea salt was quite effective at bringing out the natural salinity of the eel.
14: Tai Kobujime - Kelp-marinated Snapper
We went back to snapper, but this time one wrapped in kelp which accentuated the fish's natural flavor while simultaneously tenderizing it.
15: Ika - Squid
Despite being finely sliced to tenderize the flesh, but the squid did not yield the typical creaminess one usually gets with ika.
16: Saba - Mackerel
One of the stronger saba pieces, the fish has an almost toro-like consistency and flavor, a nice compliment to the fish's oiliness.
17: Hokkigai - Surf Clam
I've always enjoyed the texture of surf clam, paradoxically firm yet squishy though I found this to be noticeably more bitter than I was expecting.
18: Kanpyo Maki & Ume Shiso Maki
We were given a pair of rolls to aid digestion. The kampyo was delightfully crunchy with a flavor reminiscent of a sweet pickled radish. The ume shiso was more complex, marrying the fragrant mint with a piquant plum paste.
19: Tamago - Egg
I've never been crazy about tamago, as the eggy funk can be a bit off-putting after so much fish. This was a more nuanced preparation that I quite enjoyed.
20: Marinated Cucumber and Daikon
The meal finished with marinated daikon and cucumber to cleanse the palate of any lingering fishiness.
Though I've always heard stories about sitting at the sushi bar versus sitting at a table, I've never experienced such drastically different experiences myself. My first experience, ordering omakase at a table, left me scratching my head at how Shibucho could be in the running for best sushi in Orange County. After having Naga-san take care of us at the bar, I no longer wonder. If you are looking for fresh, high-quality, no frills sushi then look no further than Shibucho.
Monday, September 26, 2011
590 W 19th Street