Monday, May 30, 2005

Sushi Shibucho - Costa Mesa

First of all, let me say that I've been anticipating going to Sushi Shibucho for a long time. It has been on the top of my list for as long as I've been a Chowhound reader. Melanie Wong's essay "O Sushi Shibucho" was one of the first posts I've ever read on the board. It made me realize that there are a lot hidden treasures in O.C.

But even as Sushi Shibucho held the top spot of places I had to try, the formality that omakase entails and the bucks that it requires, made me procrastinate. I know, I'm cheap, but more than anything, I was afraid of finding that the enjoyment to price ratio was going to be low. After all, I'm a sushi novice. I wondered if I would really appreciate the differences between toro and regular tuna, and even worse, would I be able to then compare it to, say, Sushi Boy's sushi, and conclude that there was no difference? How's that for sushi blasphemy? That would be a shame, both for the skills of a master like Shibutani and for me as a food-lover.

That's when a serendipitous opportunity presented itself. A friend wanted to treat a few of us out, money-no-object, on his company's expense account. I jumped at the chance and blurted out "Sushi Shibucho!"

I had been talking this place up to my friends for a while now, and when we arrived, the first thing they said was "This is it?" Evidently, I had left out the fact that this was a tiny place; a hole-in-the-wall. They must have imagined something flashier, with a long line of silicone and botox enhanced babes, and a burly bouncer with a clipboard. Ultimately, I think they were actually relieved that it wasn't some trumped-up Newport Beach abomination. Anyone remember Aysia 101?

When we went in, the sushi bar was completely occupied, except for two seats, which were already reserved. I had called the day before to make a reservation for omakase, but the gentleman who answered (probably Shibutani's son) informed me to call back on the day of, or arrive at 5:30 when they opened. But silly me. I did neither, being the procrastinator that I am. We got there at 7:00 pm - no reservation. It was then that I realized; we would not be able to sit at the bar. No omakase tonight.

The nice woman, who was probably Shibutani's wife, got a table ready for us and we perused the menu. I checked off items from the sushi list. Two orders each. Toro. Uni. Salmon Skin. Ika. I can't even remember now how much we checked off, but I think we chose a good selection. Defintely not even close to what Shibutani himself would have served us "omakase" or what Melanie Wong experienced on her visit, but good enough for a couple of sushi newbies going at it alone.

The first to come out was the nigiri, all arranged artfully on a large plate. The toro was fatty and silky. The salmon, rich. The squid (ika), though, had an overpowering dose of wasabi. This one literally made us wince and cry. I pounded my fist on the table for mercy. Oh so painful! There were other nigiris on the plate that I could not remember, but all was sparkling fresh with perfectly packed rice. Sushi Boy's got nothin' on Shibucho! Duh!

Then the rolls came. By this time, one of my companions was already full. But the rolls looked too damn good to resist. On this equally large plate was salmon skin roll, unagi, tuna, and again, a few others I could not recall. This was where Shibutani relied more on textures and bolder flavors. Crunchy cucumber contrasted with salty smoked salmon. A thick, sweet, dark sauce complemented neutral rice. It made a lot of sense that he served the nigiri first, because it was subtler than the rolls and required the attention of virgin taste buds.

The total for the night was a little over $100 for our party of three.

We concluded that we had a good sampling of what omakase would have been like, but undoubtedly there remains uncharted territory that only Shibutani could show us. We will be back for omakase.

That night was only a primer, yet I still looked back fondly on everything I had, hours after the experience.

Sushi Shibucho
(949) 642-2677
590 W 19th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627


At 8:39 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

I HATE when sushi bars make you order multiple items at once and by checking it off a list. I simply will not do it!!! A big part of a sushi experience for me is interacting with the chef, having him recomend the best things, etc. Not to mention that nori gets soggy, fish change taste when left out a while, and I don't like to be rushed through sushi.

I hope that you get to try Uoko someday. Its a great experience and relatively inexpesive. but 4 people for $100 is pretty cheap, just so you know.

And for that one poster that posted that they serve frozen tuna (even though several other poster agreed that its one of the best places), I told my sushi chef about this. He said absolutely no way is their tuna frozen and he said frozen tuna is from the Phillipenes usually and you can tell as it is extremely bright pink, almost flourescent. He showed me the characteristics of fresh tuna and even in the pictures in my blog you can see its not bright pink. Many of their fish come from Japan. That night the blue fin, toro, spanish makeral and several others were straight from Japan.

And it doesnt matter if its not frozen (ie sitting on a boat for 5 days or handled improperly) or frozen if it tastes like crap or you have a bad experience.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

$25 for omakase at Uoko sounds like a pretty good deal. I like that the omakase you had included cooked dishes as well.

At 2:52 PM, Anonymous c.g. said...

hi, i didn't know about Sushi Shibucho or Uoko! I just read about all these ramen and yakitori places in O.C. that you've mentioned, now i must bring my friends to these sushi places to try my "first love".

btw, where is Uoko?

thanks, c.g.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Uoko is at:
23600 Rockfield Blvd,
Lake Forest, CA 92630
(949) 837-7231

Diamond Dog's Picture Review for your reading pleasuer!

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great omakase style sushi place is in tustin on the corner of Newport blvd and Walnut named Wasabi. It's next to an autoparts store and it's a hole in the wall as well. two people for dinner (if you're healthy eaters) will probably run you about $100. Nori was crispy and a teeny bit warm. really really YUMMY!!!

At 5:05 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

I've heard of Wasabi, but am sort of put off by the price. I heard that omakase runs $100 per person, I can get a omakase meal for three at that price at Shibucho. I'll have to see for myself one of these days when I've got some spare change how Wasabi stacks up! Thanks for the writing!


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