Sunday, October 08, 2006

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."

Bluefin
(949) 715-7373
7952 E Pacific Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92657

44 Comments:

At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Passionate Eater said...

Oooo, what an exotic feast Elmo! You deserve expensive foods, because you are a gentleman of high-end tastes! Happy birthday to a wonderful food blogger!!

 
At 1:34 AM, Blogger jasmine said...

Happy birthday! I'm jealous of your Bluefin outing and as a recent bachelors grad hope to save up for a meal like that, haha. Or maybe just wait for my birthday and an unsuspecting date to come along and pay...

 
At 4:54 AM, Anonymous John said...

Bluefin looks awesome, I can't wait to try it. I'm another OC blogger and I love eating out in the county. I enjoy reading your blog and I've linked you on my site. Keep up the good eating :)

 
At 9:06 AM, Anonymous JB said...

I wish you had a birthday every week, so we can all be spellbound by the extraordinary manner in which you gastronomically celebrate! The Crab Martini and the United Nations Filet Mignon dishes look especially enticing. I'm bringing some Italian bread for the sea urchin sauce, though -- my own contribution to the fusion. Happy belated birthday!!

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Gustavo Arellano said...

The pictures are getting better and better, but I'm disappointed. Don't be embarrassed to lick plates clean--I do it all the time!

 
At 10:44 AM, Blogger The Bill said...

geesh thanks...so exotic....Hungry now.

 
At 12:22 PM, Blogger Law said...

Happy belated birthday, Elmo.

Looks like you really did it up right, and deservedly so!

That review has compelled me to pack a lunch for the next couple weeks instead of going out and spending $10-15 on lunch just so I can go to Bluefin.

The presentation looks amazing, and your description of the food was amazing as always.

It's about time for me to step up to omakase.

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger Foodie Universe said...

I am a shameless plate licker.
I went to a delicious sushi restaurant called Abe in Newport a couple years ago. Has it been replaced by Bluefin?

 
At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Seth Chadwick said...

Well, well. Our little elmo is all growed up now. *sigh* *wipes tear*

I am glad you had a great birthday meal, elmo, and even more glad that you shared it with us. That is quite a feast and it looks wonderful (and I am not that big of a fan of seafood or sushi).

As always, a great review.

Another year older. *sniffle*

 
At 10:24 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

PE,

Thanks! I'd like more opportunities to be gentleman with high-end tastes, but most of the time I'm just a frugal dude looking for good-cheap eats. Thank goodness for friends and birthday dinners!

jasmine,

I think that's the way to do it! Bluefin is definitely a special occasion type of place. I can't imagine my monthly credit card bill if I became a regular.

john,

Thanks! I'll be linking you too shortly!

JB,

Aha! I've got an ace up my sleeve for my next post. For my second birthday meal that week, I was treated to a certain L.A. restaurant for an even more extravagant multi-course meal!

Gustavo,

Man, when they took the plate away, with still some sauce on it, I thought, "Dang, why didn't I use my finger as a squeegee!?"

The Bill,

True that. I salivated my way through writing this post.

Law,

I think you'll love the place. They have a regular menu too, which looks quite great, but you might as well do the omakase to get the grand tour of what they can do. There's actually two omakase choices. One for $75 and the other for $100.

Foodie Universe,

Abe the restaurant is still there, but its owner, Chef Takashi Abe has, himself, moved to this new place. I'm not sure if he still has a vested stake in his old namesake restaurant though.

Seth,

"Another year older, and deeper in debt"...That Ernie Ford song has never been more appropriate...had I not been treated for this meal!

Thanks for the birthday greeting friend!

 
At 10:38 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Elmo,

That post was a visual feast. I'm sure the elegance of subject matter helped, but every shot was perfect. Kudos and happy birthday.

- CP

 
At 7:44 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks Chubbypanda! If you get a chance, I'd love to see your perspective on Bluefin. I hope to go to Frenzy soon; I need to pry ourselves from the vise grip Maki-Zushi has on us!

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

Hey. Sorry I'm a bit late in replying. Happy belated birthday! Birthday are the best time to dine expensively, because you are never required to pay. And who's going to turn down the birthday guy/gal?

 
At 6:57 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Juliet,

Thanks for the birthday wish! It's almost worth getting older when you've got friends and family to treat you out!

 
At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Calvinist said...

How luxurious. The French/Japanese combination reminds me of the Ron Siegel Iron Chef dinner I had at Charles Nob Hill a few years ago.

I will have to go to Bluefin when I'm down there next summer.

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Backyard Chef said...

Wow! Beautiful pictures and quite a meal...happy birthday and thanks for sharing! Excellent blog....

 
At 3:10 PM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

Happy Birthday, Elmo! I do hope your birthday week ends up with you eating a "pig's trough" at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour. Bring some friends.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger henrychan888 said...

looks awesome....and pricey. i just want that bite of duck! cool blog elmomonster. happy bday!

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous miam miam said...

SO yummy! I think even hubby, who's not that much of a seafood eater, would be up for this. =)

Happy Birthday and best wishes for many more wonderful years and foodie experiences!

 
At 8:24 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Calvinist,

Enjoy! Bluefin's also got a regular menu filled with fusiony delights. But one thing I didn't mention was that the service was a little spotty. They did their best, but it felt as if they were a bit overwhelmed, in over their heads.

Backyard Chef,

Thanks for visiting! Stick around, I've got more a lot more blogging up my sleeve.

Eddie,

Had no idea about Farrell's until you mentioned it. Did a little research and it looks like most of them are closed, as this one near Kirk's neck of the woods was. You're an ice cream tease Mr. Lin.

henry,

Thanks! Hey and I like your blog and vids. Hope you don't mind if I link you.

miam miam,

It was yummy! Worth every penny my friend paid. HAHAHA! I think you and hubby will love it! And thank you for the birthday wish.

 
At 10:10 AM, Blogger Deb said...

Happy belated 'B' Day! I really enjoy your blog.
I dine out/entertain a lot for business but have yet to hit Bluefin. I heard about it but now since I've read you review...I can sure it's outstanding.

I'm not fond of sweets, but curious if you've tried Sprinkles in CDM. Is there such a thing as a cupcake that's worth $4??

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks Deb! I think you'll like it a lot. I am assuming you can put it on the expense report. You might have to explain the cost to whoever signs it, but rest assured your clients will walk out happy and tantalized (assuming they like this kind of food) -- ready to sign anything you put in front of them!

Like you, I'm not crazy about sweets, especially if they are super sugar-ladened like I heard those Sprinkles cupcakes were. What I'm actually looking forward to is the opening of Fiore in Newport Beach. They make homemade frozen yogurt, topped with fresh fruit and even Froot Loops cereal!

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger h said...

Awesome post.. I'm defnitely saving up for Bluefin outing. There is a restaurant named Maru Sushi in Valencia that also does French/Japense fusion. By far, Maru has been my favorite restaurant of all time. Must try their special menu that prints out daily. Happy birthday Elmo.

 
At 3:35 PM, Anonymous c.g. said...

happy birthday to my favorite food blogger. :) JAPANESE FUSION??? I'LL BE THERE! i'll stay in the office for lunch for two weeks...that will save me just about enough money for an omakase dinner at Bluefin! beautiful pictures, btw. your photography is really rising to a pro level! :P have another great year of munching and feasting!

 
At 9:20 PM, Blogger Jeni said...

Happy Birthday Monster!

Pictures are awesome!!!

 
At 7:13 AM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

happy birthday elmo!

the food even LOOKS expensive, but it looks delicious too.

like you guys, i always take my honda out to mingle with all the benzo's & lexii in the valet lot when i go out to fancy meals. i figure i'm getting a high class night out, why can't my car? =)

 
At 12:57 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

h,

Valencia: that's quite a ways out there! But if it's your favorite restaurant of all time, I must keep it in mind the next time I'm out there. It's a good excuse to go to Magic Mountain! Thanks again for dropping by.

c.g.,

Thank you so much for the compliments! I think Bluefin is worth the money for the occasional splurge or treating someone out for a special day. Funny thing about the place that I didn't mention was how casual it is despite the high prices.

Jeni,

Thanks! I try!

Pam,

So that our car didn't suffer from an inferiority complex, we parked it next to a friend: a Toyota Corolla. I'm sure they had a lot to gossip and dish about. ;-)

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger SiBuduhMan said...

I'd pay $75 for that, but I'd definitely pay $75 if the dessert course was plain ice cream with chopped black truffle!

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger cdmedici said...

I am so glad that you experienced Bluefin. This is my farvorite restaurant in O.C. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to go a few times a month.

As usual I was talking to Abe about food and restaurants. I was talking to Abe about your Blog and he was very interested in checking it out. I just e-mailed the link to him.

Keep up the amazing restaurant exploration.

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

sibuduhman,

Black truffles on ice cream!? Why not!

cdmedici,

I hope Abe likes what I had to say. I was very impressed by his food, and am only sorry that I can't afford to have it more often!

 
At 6:15 PM, Blogger SiBuduhMan said...

Elmo,

I kid you not - I had plain ice cream (with just the tiniest bit of vanilla, I believe) with bits of black truffle. It was to die for - I could've clutched my chest with a smile of satisfaction, for all I cared. IT'S THAT GOOD...

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Sibuduhman,

A real dish!? Whoa. And I thought you were just dreaming up new Ben and Jerry's Flavors!

I was curious and found this recipe.

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous chad said...

Elmo,
I saw a Bluefin in Mission Viejo/Lake Forest on Jeronimo at Los Alisos. Do you know if this is the one in the same?

 
At 9:52 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Chad,

I doubt the one you saw has any affiliation with the one in Newport Beach. But maybe. Just maybe it could be.

 
At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The key at Bluefin is that you order the Miso Cod, it's not on the menu but you can order it anytime. It will change your life...

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

I got to go and I ordered the omakase. All I am going to say is that I tried everything...and DH and I are obviously picky about our sushi. I almost gagged on a few things, but made it thru. Overall though, it was a great experience, WONDERFUL sushi/sashimi. We were hoping for kobe steak we got stuffed quail instead. We'll be going back to try the kobe steak and more sushi. Thanks.

 
At 5:49 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Miso cod. Check. Must. Try.

Cheryl,

The omakase can be a complete and total hit, or sometimes just okay. The last omakase we had didn't equal our first experience (as written here), missing was the Chilean Sea Bass with the Uni Sauce we loved so much, and instead of the beef, we got duck breast. Still, as risky as omakase can get, it's worth trying, at least once. Glad you did, and thanks for reporting back!

 
At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Greg said...

Bluefin is the best. Great review.
You have to try the Tempura King Crab. One of the most amazing things I've ever tasted.
As for the restaurant connections talked about, there is only one Bluefin owned by Chef Abe, and he sold his namesake restaurant, "Abe." He isn't affiliated with it at all.
This review makes me want to go back soooo bad.

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks Greg! Glad you liked the review. I'm such a fan of this place, I'm probably going to go bankrupt.

 
At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Luthor said...

Great photos and nice review. Bluefin is always on point.

BTW - It's "BIMMER" not "BEAMER."

Not to get technical, but you don't want the reader to miss your point.

 
At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Luthor said...

Great photos and nice review. Bluefin is always on point everytime I'm there.

BTW - It's "BIMMER" not "BEAMER"

Not to get technical, but you don't want the reader to miss your point.

 
At 11:44 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Luthor,

Thanks! Made the change. No idea that it was spelled 'bimmer'. Learned somethin' new today!

 
At 5:07 PM, Anonymous James said...

oh my god. what a dinner!

 
At 1:49 PM, Blogger Jonathan A said...

This place is a rip-off. No one needs to spend $100 a person on sushi. Taiko in Irvine is much better and just as fresh!

 

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