Saturday, December 22, 2012

Kasen - 12/21/2012

9039 Garfield Avenue
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(714) 968-9860

I first learned about Kasen in my pre-blogging days which along with Sushi Wasabi and Shibucho was touted as one of the best sushi restaurants in Orange County. Opened in 1990 by Susumu Ii and his wife Keiko, Kasen was one of the first restaurants in the area to eschew fusion-y rolls and teriyaki chicken in favor of an authentic sushi experience. The restaurant shuttered briefly in 2009 when the couple returned to Japan but reopened when they returned to the States less than a year later.

We originally wanted a bottle of this but told it only came in the 1.8L size which would have been a bit much for two people The Urakasumi was rich full-bodied sake redolent of green apple and fresh fruit.

Sashimi - Maguro, Shima Aji, Uni, Awabi, Toro
The meal started out strong with a sublimely fresh plate of sashimi. Starting with the classic tuna, it was easy to appreciate the pristine flavor and tender fleshiness, but after trying the richer seafood the tuna felt bland by comparison. The Shima Aji was predictably supple and fatty with a subtle twang of fish oil. The lush creamy uni couldn't have been better brimming with sweet brine that lingered on the palate. The Awabi was probably the most complex piece with a multifaceted firmness and subtle shellfish flavor that was deftly heightened by the wasabi. Last but definitely not least the toro was so saturated with oil that the fish just slid down the throat.

Daishichi Minowamon
After our first carafe, we learned that the restaurant maintained a small bottle list of premium sakes. We opted for the Daishichi which had a mild refreshing flavor that wouldn't overwhelm the sushi.

Tako - Steamed and Raw Octopus
Next up was a duo of cooked and raw octopus. The former had a dense muscular texture and slightly ham and smoke laced umami sapor. By comparison the raw one was so slippery it was almost hard to chew, the was almost tasteless but was delicious with a dash of lemon juice and salt.

Tsubugai & Hotate - Conch & Scallop
Conch was definitely one of those things that took some time to appreciate. The snail has a jaw straining firmness that ends with a palpable crunch with a flavor similar to abalone but a touch earthier. The scallop was luxuriously tender and fleshy by comparison though it could have been a bit sweeter.

Hirame Kobujime - Halibut marinated in Kelp
The sushi began with a piece of kelp marinated halibut. The wrapping of kelp draws out some of the fish's water and gives the otherwise mild fish some salinity.

Zuke - Marinated Tuna
Next up was a tuna marinated in soy. The lithe fish dissolves on the tongue leaving behind a lingering flavor of fresh water.

Kampachi - Amberjack
Kampachi was originally one of my go to fishes. A more complex and nuanced cousin to yellowtail the fish takes on an almost toasty savor when paired with wasabi and soy.

Ikura - Salmon Egg
I stupidly dipped this into the soy without thinking which obliterated the nuances of the salmon eggs and rendered the bite way too salty. Texturally the roe needed a bit more snap and pop to them.

Aji - Spanish Mackerel
A remarkably mild preparation of Aji, the gellied fish has the barest hint of oil complimented the spicy zest of ginger and scallion.

Toro - Fatty Tua
Yet another piece of the magnificently marbled tuna belly. Completely free of gristle, each bite releases a rush of fish oil goodness which is grounded by the lightly vinegared rice.

Saba - Mackerel
Definitely much bolder than the Aji, the fish has a fleshy texture and the abundant oils impart a cold steely twang on the palate.

Ebi - Shrimp
I've never been much a fan of cooked shrimp but this was actually quite good. The shrimp has a brisk cool temperature which gives the sweet shellfish some much needed snap.

Toro Maki - Fatty Tuna Roll
A bit more toro rounds out the omakase. The fish is just as faultless as the previous two but I think this might be my favorite of the trio thanks to the sweetness of the nori wrapper.

Tamago - Egg
I typically prefer the cakier style of tamago but the muted eggy funk and light sweetness of this preparation was quite satisfying.

Kohada - Gizzard Shad
For our first supplemet we went with Kohada, the fish's robust flavor came paired with a slightly slicker texture than I was expecting.

Aoyagi no Himo - Surf Clam Foot
The foot of the clam may not look particularly appetizing but the supple resonant crunch was one of the most intriguing textures of the night.

Uni - Sea Urchin
Unlike most places Susumu doesn't do his uni Gunkan-style. The fabulously creamy uni comes on a bed of tangy rice which paradoxically heightens the sweetness of the roe. Like the sashimi, the uni leaves behind buttery sweet finish that goes on forever without turning bitter.

Engawa - Halibut Fun
We to finish with another rare treat, the snappy muscular halibut fin came topped with a generous dusting of rock salt and lemon.

Matcha Ice Cream
The homemade ice cream has a sweetness restrained by the bitterness of green tea and a fairly creamy texture though the large ice crystals were a bit disconcerting.

Panna Cotta
Imbued with the sweetness of condensed milk and topped Azuki beans, Susumu definitely brings an Asian twist to the classic Italian custard. Though I'm not normally a huge fan of red beans this was my favorite dessert.

Unlike the panna cotta, the tiramisu hews closely to the traditional recipe with creamy cocoa dusted marscarpone cream on top of a base layer of spongy ladyfingers.

Twenty years ago, Kasen offered something truly novel but I fully expected it to be surpassed by newer entries like Ohshima and Nana-San. During a previous to the restaurant back in 2007 we ended up seated at a table and weren't able to order the omakase which soured my impression of the place. Turns out when done right, Kasen's pristine seafood stacks up well against any competition old or new.

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