$35 5-Course Lunch @ Bluefin - Newport Coast
Two years ago, I experienced the omakase dinner at Bluefin. It was one of the best meals of my life. At the time, it was owner/chef Takashi Abe's only restaurant. Since then he's branched out. Izakaya Zero opened a year later in Huntington Beach. Sea Smoke in San Clemente debuted about a year after that.
Though neither were necessarily bad, I regarded each spinoff as pale versions of its progenitor in the same way that CSI: Miami and CSI: NY aren't nearly as good as the original CSI.
So when I wanted Abe's food, it had to be Bluefin.
But with a looming holiday credit card bill on the way, a spendy $80 per person meal just didn't seem fiscally responsible. So we met them halfway. Bluefin offered a $35 5-course lunch omakase.
Things started well with the amuse bouche.
About the only thing better than one well-executed Abe amuse bouche is three well-executed Abe amuse bouches. As tiny as a Costco sample size, but ten times more "money", each were comprised of at least three components.
Two unctuous cubes of fatty Kobe beef were speared on a toothpick atop a wedge of zucchini and garnished with golden-fried garlic chip. The fact that the meat melted like room-temperature butter should not be surprising; nor our desire to eat three more of them.
Then there was a slip of smoked salmon, rolled to a tube, topped with a cheesy sauce and a dollop of tobiko as green as The Hulk. In our mouths, the smoky and the silky mixed with the briny and the dairy. Between our teeth, the caviar pop-pop-popped like tiny liquid-filled firecrackers.
Seared toro rode on a swooping cup of endive, and it too was as decadent as the Kobe beef. But these cubes finished cleaner, with a less greasy mouth feel.
Afterwards, it was a brisk isaki sashimi salad. Delicate, tissue-thin slices of pinkish flesh were draped over microgreens, surrounded by house-made ponzu and restless, skittering globules of herb-flavored oil. The game was to soak up as much of the sauce as possible with every piece of the salad and sashimi.
But while this course dazzled, the next one fizzled.
John Dory, a fish that tastes of nothing, was hardly seasoned before it was cooked. Lamentably, it was also deprived of acid -- the other thing it needed. To make matters worse, it sat on top of a puddle of bland celery puree, a mush that conjured thoughts of baby food. Though very photogenic and rich-looking, it was ultimately shallow and puerile -- the Paris Hilton of dishes.
Nigiri followed, which were just fine: no better or worse than a top-end sushi bar of this price and caliber is expected to produce. The best was a halibut oshi-sushi (Osaka-style pressed sushi) which was covered with a swatch of sweet kelp as snappy as a green apple, as sugary as fondant.
A capably-made creme brulee with a still crispy-caramel shell and fresh berries ended the meal -- a meal that, unfortunately, wasn't the greatest of my life, or even that day. Later that evening, we went out to eat Cafe Hiro's $30 Christmas Eve meal -- a dinner so great, I wrote a freakin' poem.
But don't get me wrong: I still love Bluefin. Since their omakase constantly changes, every visit is different. But Cafe Hiro was the better experience this time, especially when every course at the latter seemed like a Kate Winslet Oscar-worthy tour-de-force.
Also, with the hard-to-ignore fact that Cafe Hiro's special 8-course meal went for $5 less than Bluefin's, I don't think I need to say who I thought was the Hottie and who was the Nottie.
Hint: It's not Paris Hilton.
7952 E Pacific Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92657
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