Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Frenzy Sushi - Costa Mesa


I've never met anyone so passionate about a restaurant as Chubbypanda is about Frenzy Sushi. He's its biggest fan and most ardent champion.

So when he invited a few of us to dinner there last month, it was the equivalent of going on a Manolo Blahnik shopping spree with Carrie Bradshaw herself.

I don't know or care about women's shoes, but I adore sushi. And I knew immediately that we were in good hands when I sat down at the bar and saw how giddy Chubbypanda was. He had an easy rapport with John, Frenzy's owner and chef -- the kind fostered by mutual trust and respect between patron and sushi master.

Naturally, we surrendered all ordering duties to him, which gave me time to admire the surroundings.

In a stripmall among other stripmalls that dot Costa Mesa's 17th Street, we were in an eatery which billed itself as "Frenzy, Sushi Gone Wild." With its slapdash of a space -- lit brightly using rainbow spotlights and a framed photo of a kitten wielding a samurai sword -- the decor exuded the casual and the brazenly untraditional, matching John's surfer-dude attitude and plain black t-shirt attire.

But despite the words "Gone Wild" sprawled out on the marquee outside, the night was all about taste. Tasty food, that is.

He started us off with the amberjack belly (hamachi), which was marbled like a fine piece of Kobe beef and melted like ice cream in our mouths.

Smelt was stuffed to obscene proportions with its own roe, then grilled over fire until the skin blistered. Head, tail, and everything in between were eaten whole after a drizzle of lemon and a dip in mayo. As I chewed, the fish eggs scattered in thousands of tiny pellets, bouncing off the walls of my mouth like naughty kids in a bounce house.

The next course used the leftover skeleton of the hamachi, deep fried in hot fat. The process rendered the fish bones edible, producing golden brown shards so addictively crunchy it should be criminal. The dish was finished with a splash of tart ponzu and a garnish of green onions.

Cajun tuna tataki came lightly torched, crusted with spices, and dressed with more ponzu. It was a delicate balancing act of the spicy with the sweet, the sour with the rich, the cooked with the raw.

The fried calamari, however, was slicked with fry oil, leaving the cilantro garnish to wick away most of the grease.

Shumai and gyoza also made an appearance, going down fast and easy without leaving an indelible impression.

But the pieces of bluefin nigiri did. Silken in texture and milky in flavor, this would be my preferred source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

While the chicken karaage wasn't a poor rendition, it didn't win me over since I make this dish quite competently myself. It was neither crispy nor hot, and just distracted from the sublime sushi John was churning out.

Bluefin sashimi, cut from the same specimen as the nigiri that came before, got things back in order. Fattier, with a demure pink color of cherub, it slid down our gullets with nary a blink. Creamy, tangy, unblemished by fire, untouched by the frying pan, this was tuna as nature intended for it to be consumed: crystal fresh and raw.

The next dish was one of Frenzy's signatures, and one of its most successful. Called Biwa, it's a quail egg hugged by a layer of diced shrimp, deep fried in tempura batter. This bastard offspring of a Scotch egg and shrimp tempura would've made both of its parents proud.

"Baked butterfish saikyo miso" was one of the lovelier cooked dishes to come our way and a favorite with the group. A miso-marinated fish filet was broiled briefly to get the sugars to lightly char, and had flesh so soft it felt like pudding.

Shucked fresh from its shell and mounded on top of nori and rice in ribbons were the odds-and-ends of the scallop anatomy -- a crunchy and hauntingly sweet piece of sushi.

The scallop steak, the filet mignon of the same bivalve, was served soon afterward draped on a ball of molded rice. The flesh colored strip was almost pornographic on the pedestal, and even more so as it lithely shimmied around my mouth.

So far, the sushi we saw was a lesson in restraint and simplicity. Then came the Firecracker Roll; a lesson in excess. As busy and flamboyant as a Mardi Gras float, it contained tempura shrimp, hamachi, crab, mayo, hot sauce, nori, rice, and seaweed powder. All contributed to a rush of textures and a surge of flavor in a creation which overwhelmed by design, but brilliant precisely because of it.

Horse mackerel (aji) returned to tradition. Crowned with a dollop of radish and scallions, dribbled with sauce, it tasted of mild sardine.

After it was stripped of meat, the carcass of the fish was also fried to a golden brown, dressed in the same manner as the hamachi bones we consumed earlier in the evening. I enjoyed it, of course, since I'm a fried fish bones junky.

Mackerel (saba) seemed like it was lubed in melted butter, with oil secreting out naturally from its pores even in death. Unctuous, rich, and salty, this was a decadent treat.

At this point, our stomachs were an inch away from bursting, but even as we cried for mercy, John said, "One more". We relented when he showed us a palette of sexy, fresh Santa Barbara sea urchin. And if there's one thing I'll always agree to, it's uni. The cold, sweet, slobbery gonads of the spiny sea creature was just as good for dessert as pumpkin pie.

As promised, it was a blow out of a meal (though reasonable at $55 per person before tip), chased by sake and fun.

Frenzy, Sushi Gone Wild
(949) 646-1333
369 E. 17th St. #17
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

To read Nguyen's report of the dinner:
--->>> CLICK HERE <<<---

28 Comments:

At 9:25 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Sounds like a nice rather reasonably priced meal!

 
At 2:33 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

You cruel, cruel man! Teasing me with what I cannot have!
It does sound nummy, though! I will have to try it next time we are there. Unfortunately, I'm not sure when that will be, due to money issues. All I know is that we'll be eating out a lot next time we are there.
And hey, if you ever find yourself in the Chicago area, let me know, and we will have to meet up at one of the better sushi places here. Let's see if you can out-eat Dave. :-p

BTW, I have a question about a couple of recipes in my latest latest blog entry. I don't know if you can answer it, but I figured you might at least have some idea where I might be able to look for the recipes.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger The Home Cook said...

Whenever you post about sushi the little green jealousy monster inside of me rears its ugly head. Everything you ate looks utterly amazing. One day I'm going to find a sushi place that I truly love and order the omakase, just so I'm forced to try new things. For now, though, I'm forced to live vicariously through you.

 
At 3:14 PM, Blogger Beach said...

Kirk,
I have read some blogs that you have done some partying with the LA food bloggers. Are you just too good for OC food bloggers or what? It was a good meal but service that day was kind of dissapointing!!!!

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger Beach said...

ms-disappointing

 
At 9:12 PM, Blogger Melting Wok said...

Hey elmo, you did great for the sushi establishment :) Any coupons ? By the way, whats hot fattttt ?? = lard ?

 
At 10:49 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

Once you employ Sex & the City analogies, you totally have me convinced! Wow, I didn't know that Chubby Panda loved Frenzy Sushi THAT much? Like Manolo Blahniks (and more than Mr. Big)? That's a lot o' love!

 
At 8:41 AM, Blogger Steph said...

Leads on good sushi places is always welcome! I will definitely be checking this place out--thank!

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kirk,

It was! Not too cheap, not too expensive. I went back again and had a smaller meal, got out of there without putting too large a dent in the wallet.

Juliet,

Absolutely! But I'm actually a light eater despite all evidence to the contrary. I fold as easy as parchment.

The Home Cook,

Oh you must do omakase at least once. It's a special treat for us to do on special occasions and as a prize for winning bets.

Beach,

Service was kinda slow that night wasn't it. But the food made up for that shortcoming I thought. I went back another night, and the place was jumping. They were doing their best to keep up, and although John was really efficient, he took great care in every piece he made. Not one piece of sushi we had looked like it was rushed.

Melting Wok,

I wish I can get a discount doing these little reviews. But truth be told, I'd rather be anonymous, under the radar. And yep, hot fat = hot oil = hot lard = hot shortening...I'm guessing they used oil. "Fat" just sounds a lot more delicious, doesn't it?

PE,

I wish I was exaggerating! ;-) I even think I downplayed my description of CP's enthusiasm.

Steph,

This one's a goodie. Like I wrote above, I've been back on my own since this trip, and liked how I didn't need to dip anything is soy sauce. Everything we had was presauced or didn't need it.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Lol. You make me sound like such a Frenzy fanboy. That was quite a meal, though. Good times.

I was actually really really annoyed by the service that night. Probably the worst I'd ever had there, so thanks for being so cool about it.

For me, Frenzy is like that one special girlfriend that all other women will forever be measured against. Since I started eating there, I've compared all other sushi restaurants against Frenzy and found their food wanting.

 
At 3:21 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

CP,

"Fanboy" -- that was the word I was searching for! ;-) J/K

 
At 6:24 PM, Blogger 0712 said...

hello elmo
another great post, wow!
I got a little question, have you ever been to this yakitori place called "ANJIN", it's on bristol I believe! I've heard some of the most wonderful things about that place so I thought you might want to give it a try, and maybe write a blog about it ha! I trust your taste, so I want to see what you say about this place!!!!
Thanks!

 
At 10:35 PM, Anonymous van said...

hi elmo, i just found your website - thank you - this is an awesome site! i love trying new food and i love your reviews and photos of all these places! one of my favorite sushi restaurant in o.c. is a hidden gem in costa mesa, they have the best rolls ever (the sushi chef there makes a lot of custom rolls that you can't find anywhere else and the sushi/sashimi is fresh and delicious! check it out sometime!:

Sushi Sho Japanese Restaurant
2263 Fairview Rd
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
9496455502

 
At 11:55 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

0712,

I *almost* went to Anjin tonight before I read your post. I definitely have it high on my list. I hope to try it someday soon. Stay tuned!

Van,

I've never heard of this place. Thanks for the tip!

 
At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

warning on Anjin:
I think it's open only at night and it's not cheap

 
At 2:07 PM, Blogger Deb said...

YUM!!! I've been in that shopping center but never dined there. It is my favorite food..I have to go!

 
At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live pretty much across the street from Frenzy Sushi and have gone a few times when I'm too lazy to drive. I'm rather surprised by your glowing review as I usually agree with you. We found the sushi to be overpriced and overdone -- California-style/fusion sushi taken to excess.

The service has been excruciatingly slow each and every time -- and the results were never worth the wait.

 
At 12:29 AM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Elmo,

Let me know if you want to hit Sushi Sho together. I used to go there pretty regularly for lunch. It was reasonably close to the old office. The food was good, but the service was terrible at the bar. We (two executive officers and a few directors) once sat there for half an hour completely ignored by the sushi chefs as they cranked out Chirashi-zushi specials for the tables. Not the way to treat people who routinely run up $60+ tabs.

I've often wondered if service wouldn't be better at dinner, so I'm willing to keep an open mind and give it another shot. I'm also craving one of their kimchi & natto rolls.

Anon #2,

I feel the need to jump in with my own two cents since Elmo was at Frenzy on my recommendation.
IMO:
* Service speed has always been Frenzy's biggest weak points. You are a hundred percent correct. Even at their best, they can be slow with the food or the check. In addition, I've sometimes noticed timing issues when ordering several cooked entrees from the kitchen. However, my overall experience there has almost always been satisfactory.
* Frenzy is stronger in traditional sushi styles and product freshness/flavor than in rolls. I pretty much stick to the Firecracker and Catepillar rolls if I choose to go that route.
* Since sushi is very much a matter of palate and personal preference, you have a valid point concerning your issues with the food at Frenzy. In my case, I've found that the portion sizes are larger and the product quality better at Frenzy than most other sushi places out there. The bang for the buck is quite good for Orange County.

Elmo, sorry to hijack your comments. I didn't want you to take the heat alone.

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the warning on Anjin. Hope they take AMEX!

Deb,

Frenzy is good. But for the ultimate sushi experience, and by this I mean, I've compared every sushi place to it afterward, try Sushi Shibucho, which is in the same neighborhood on 19th Street. Just say "omakase!" and they'll take care of you.

It's very traditional (so he doesn't do any crunch rolls, or Philly rolls). I walk in and feel that I'm in another country. And not just because the husband and wife team speaks very little English (the son does though). But lately, it's been impossible getting a seat there. I've tried twice in the past two weeks and have been denied.

Anonymous #2,

I also noticed what you said about the service on my two visits. But since I only had two data points, I didn't want to assume that it was typical.

The first visit (which I recounted here), service was definitely slow. But I attributed that to the fact that someone (who shall remain nameless *grin* -- LOL!) kept giving our sushi chef copious amounts of sake.

The second trip I made, I attributed the slowness to the fact that the place was packed to capacity. But I remained patient because John did seem to be trying very hard to keep up.

Foodwise, Frenzy lived up to my expectations, and I much prefer it over WaSa, which I lump in the same category, California-style/fusion, as you succinctly described. Of course, Sushi Shibucho remains my high watermark -- until I can afford Urasawa.

CP,

Open discussion is always cool. A free exchange like this is exactly the part I love about food blogging.

 
At 1:48 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

CP,

Kimchi and natto rolls at Sushi Sho? That sounds freakish and absolutely irresistible. This discussion has made me realize how many sushi joints there are in Costa Mesa. What's the deal with that?!

 
At 12:30 AM, Blogger Melting Wok said...

del.icous, YEsss ! :) 'k, maybe not coupons, frequent flyer cards perhaps ? *grins* good for u and the business :)

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger Beach said...

If you 2 are doing Sushi Sho, I might be interested. I resent the remark regarding too much Sake for the chef. hehehehe. He did not cut his fingers or any thing like that. I have to agree about Shibucho. It is better than Frenzy.
If company is agreeable, food generally is secondary

 
At 7:42 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melting Wok,

Man, would I'd rack up so many points if I had a frequent sushi card!

Beach,

You got that right about agreeable company. I had a great time at Frenzy and didn't realize afterwards that the meal lasted more than 3 hours!

 
At 10:49 AM, Anonymous andrew said...

Hi Elmo,

I just happened to stumble on your site. Nice job on the photos. I like what you have done. Since I go to the 'OC' frequently to visit family, I'll keep your reviews in mind. As with most foodies, I like to keep mental checklists of places to go. Thanks and keep up the work. It's hard work to blog these days (especially when it's done without pay).

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

andrew,

Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I hope to keep this going for as long as I can.

 
At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Wilson said...

Great blog--glad I found it.

I have been eating at SUSHI SHO for quite some time--actually it is now the only plae I return to for sushi. BUT a few things need to be said if you have not dined there before.

1. Do NOT be turned off by the location--the shopping center is a real dump and SHO is next door to a laundromat with some seedy characters--which makes it a true "Hidden Gem."

2. Both of the chefs are good--but the small chef named Nipon is just UNBELIEVABLE...this guy is AMAZING! All custom rolls, best cuts of sashimi...challenge him to create something new on the spot--he will ask you what flavors you like and you will probably never go to another sushi place again...he really should be at some five star hotel somewhere--but consider us all lucky here in Orange County for now!

3. I have ate at most sushi places here in the OC--including FRENZY--which I found quite poor--bad service and the sushi was pretty bland...not impressive...go to SUSHI SHO for a real treat!

 
At 10:05 PM, Anonymous sushi fan said...

Just came from Frenzy Sushi.
Was very disappointed. Service was poor. I didn't understand why Chef keep using salt. He uses too much salt to everything. Even sushi!
If you really want to try good authentic sushi, go to Kasen.

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Making me hungry just looking at it. The food looks reasonably priced and the uni looks great!

Thanks
Tim
Costa Mesa Apts

 

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