Bluefin - Newport Beach
"You know what sucks? This food tastes expensive," said one of my dining companions.
The three of us were enjoying the fish course of Chilean seabass during an omakase meal at Bluefin in Newport Beach, celebrating another year in the life of me, when he uttered this enigmatic statement.
"What do you mean?" I inquired, curious and slightly concerned that he was going to regret paying for dinner.
"What I meant was that you have to spend the money to get this quality, this taste," he clarified, after coming to the sober realization that no meal like this could ever be offered for less.
And he was right.
The ingredients; the execution; the whole experience was worth the expense and tasted like it.
At $75 per person, omakase at Bluefin was certainly not a poor-man's supper and the restaurant -- with an expansive view of the blue Pacific -- was not in a poor-man's neighborhood. Located at the foothills of an exclusive oceanfront community, Bluefin is where O.C.'s affluent dines on sushi, and where their bimmers and lexii outnumbered our late model Honda by the hundreds.
Omakase, which translates loosely to "chef's tasting menu", is the most expensive way to eat but also the most rewarding and easy to order. All that was asked of us was whether we harbored any food allergies. We said we had none, but had a good chuckle afterwards at the prospect of answering, "Yes, we are deathly allergic to any and all seafood."
From that point onwards, the evening went on auto-pilot as dish-by-dish, a sampling of the freshest the kitchen had to offer arrived at our table.
The first amuse bouche was a morsel of tempura, as light and as airy as cotton, containing within its lacy construct, a lone piece of mushroom.
It disappeared as quickly as it appeared, like an ghostly apparition stuck between worlds.
Another was a rolled slice of rare duck breast, skewered on a toothpick with a softly stewed radish. A light drizzling of pan sauce brought flavor to the party.
The duck ate like tender beef steak, but with a presence on the tongue that was neither fatty nor heavy.
Rambutan -- whose spiky, alien appearance looks like the product of a cross-breeding experiment on a sea-urchin and a strawberry gone awry -- is actually just a very hairy cousin to the lychee.
Creatively featured as an amuse, the translucent flesh of the fruit was extracted, chopped to bits and mixed with diced prawns and lobster. Then this "salad" was stuffed right back into the hollowed-out peel and crowned with dollop of caviar and gold leaf flakes, producing a thimble-sized presentation both absurd and brilliant.
I tossed it back like a Jell-O shot and found that the rambutan crunched like lychee, but with a sweeter and more acidic bite; a perfect pairing with the briny meat of the shellfish.
The most substantial amuse came in a tall martini glass and was a cross between gazpacho and ceviche. Diced mango, cucumbers, and tomato among others, were macerated in tomato juice perked-up with lime.
Succulent crab meat swam and danced playfully in the fruity elixir and then in our mouths.
Next was the sashimi salad, plated gorgeously and artfully arranged like a tranquil bonsai garden. Sprouts, belgian endive, grape tomato, and arugula joined chilled slabs of bluefin tuna and thick scallop steaks.
Most striking to the eye was the cherry red akami, which slid down our gullets with the ease of satin. But the prized otoro, cut from the fattiest part of the fish's belly, melted on our tongues like a dream. And the scallop, so fresh it throbbed, was the perfect mopping device for the ponzu; a sauce puddle full of pulp and pep from citrusy yuzu fruit.
Also delightful was the brisk and invigorating shredded daikon bundle. Rolled to a tight cylinder with a thin sheet of cucumber, it delivered a refreshingly clean and icy jolt when bitten -- a palate cleanser if ever there was one.
Pan roasted Chilean sea bass was centerpiece of the next course, but the star of the plate was the glistening sea urchin sauce beneath it.
Creamy and rich like runny egg yolk, with the naturally salty and sweet soul of uni inhabiting every molecule, the sauce elevated anything it touched to ethereal heights. The meaty matsutake mushrooms; the delicate pearl-fleshed fish; both became the best versions of themselves despite their already prestigious culinary pedigree.
All we needed was bread to wipe up every drop. But bread was not to be had as this was still a Japanese restaurant.
So my eyes darted left. Then darted right. I wanted to lick the plate clean, but it would attract undue attention and embarrassment. The best I could do was to coat an asparagus spear with the last specks of the sauce and ate it slowly to savor.
The next course featured distinctly French and distinctly Japanese delicacies in the truest sense of the word "fusion." The dish was the most daring Franco-Japanese alliance I've seen yet, until Jean Reno and Takeshi Kitano decide to team-up in one ass-kicking movie.
The Japanese component was mountain potato, appearing in two forms; finely diced as the garnish and thickly sliced as the base of the stack. Each demonstrated this exotic root vegetable's defining characteristic; a mucilaginous secretion that fills the mouth with a slippery goo resembling okra slime.
Augmenting it was the soon-to-be-outlawed French delight, foie gras, seared to a savory brown crust and a silken center. Smooth beyond all comparison, this nugget of goose liver was an organ meat that didn't taste like one. This was edible velvet.
The bridge that brought the French and Japanese oddities together was the third component, a diplomatic emissary in the form of a thick, beefy hunk of filet mignon, cut into generous slices and served with a reduction made from pan drippings and red wine.
The final savory dish was a nigiri sampler from Chef Abe's sushi bar. Chief among the colorful selection was the freshly shucked flesh of amaebi, sweet shrimp. Mere seconds from being alive and mere minutes from rigor mortis, it crunched cleanly beneath our teeth.
But on the whole this final course seemed to suffer by comparison to those that came before, like a concert headliner outsung by the opening act.
For the sweet course: a slice of dense chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, and fresh strawberries.
Although still decadently delicious, the dessert was not remarkable by any means. But it was just the thing to slowly bring us back down to Earth and, more importantly, re-acclimate ourselves to a life of ordinary food which won't taste as "expensive."
7952 E Pacific Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92657