Sunday, February 01, 2009

$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.

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

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Alberto's - Alerto's - Alberta's

17 Comments:

At 9:44 PM, Blogger NP said...

I liked Bluefin when they first opened, then the crowd got a little bit on the "annoying" and "loud" side. I avoided it after showing up many times and being treated like a bum trying to get a table.

Shame that restaurants like this to be a success have to endure what I consider a painful clientele - If it isn't hip and the hangout it's avoided.

(NO OFFENSE TO ANYONE HERE ON MONSTER MUNCHING - I LOVE YOU ALL - and I trust you all don't fit into my generalization)

 
At 10:54 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Life it too short to review restaurants twice!

Nice write up on the "berto's" restaurant. Very creative way to deal with all the imposters.

Any plans to review Capital Seafood at that new Asian Mall thing where 85 degrees bakery is located. Wonder if they do Dim Sum and if their lobster and crab is good?

 
At 10:55 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Interesting place; haven't heard of it before. The items do look very photogenic, and they all look scrumptious! I am amazed by the thin cuts of the sashimi for the sashimi salad; never had I seen a piece of sashimi that was basically translucent!

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

NP,

I guess I've been lucky with the crowd the three or four times I've been, or perhaps I'm oblivious to anything other than what's on my plate. But during this lunch, there was this Newport Beach player-type at the next table, with slicked-back hair and an unbuttoned shirt, who was hitting on the waitress. He wasn't loud or crass; only laughably pathetic.

DD,

You're wrong. There's always room to do a second review, especially when there's a change in quality, or when there's an opportunity to do a REALLY cheesy poem!

Trust me: The eye rolls I got from my friends when I read that Cafe Hiro post out loud to them was soooo worth it!

And about the 'bertoses: isn't it funny that the impostor is the better one? Well, at least for the single best dish: The Carne Asada Nachos.

You know I HAVE to do Capital Seafood!!! I'm not sure when yet, but it'll be soon. I'm poised and ready to strike. Word is that they have dim sum til 3 PM every day.

EatTravelEat,

Bluefin's good. Though with the omakase, there will be times where it'll miss the mark. Hopefully, this won't happen often. *CROSSING FINGERS*

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger Diana said...

I've been curious about Bluefin for a while. That's a bummer that the food didn't live up to the first meal you had there. I find that is often the case when I make a return visit to a restaurant that wowed me the first time -- kind of like how the first bite of something always tastes better than subsequent bites.

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger melissa said...

Can't wait to hear what you think of Capital in Irvine because I've heard nothing but bad stuff about it, especially the dim sum. You know I've never had dim sum? I digress.

Sorry this wasn't your best experience at Bluefin. Love the three amuse bouche, I could eat those all day.

By the way, it was funny to see my comment in the letters section on Thursday. ;)

 
At 8:18 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - It's nice to see some variety in the fish being served. How was the flavor of the Isaki? I've heard the flavor of Striped Grunt can be pretty strong.

 
At 4:02 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I'm still laughing at your Paris Hilton analogy. She is the lame flavorless California roll of celebrities, and the day she is famous for anything noteworthy will be the day I become tall.

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Loving Annie said...

I love kobe beef and smoked salmon. Maybe I could just have 2dozen amuse bouches....

 
At 9:43 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Diana,

Yes, Bluefin disappointed this time. I have my fingers crossed that it was just a bad day. And omakase is always a gamble anywhere you go it seems. Hopefully it's not because Abe's being stretched too thin.

Melissa,

It's no secret (since I said it on SaFII) that Capital Seafood is the one I've been waiting for. All the other restaurants there could all suck and I would still consider Diamond Jamboree a success if Capital Seafood lives up to my expectations. I'm a bit worried that I hear people aren't crazy about it, but I still have faith.

And ain't it cool that an off-the-cuff Internet comment ends up being printed? I thought it was!

Kirk,

It was actually really mild. But anything aside from mackerel tastes mild to me. The sauce and herb oil were the dominant flavors in that salad. And they were good.

Juliet,

She will continue to be an easy target for my rants. Besides, it's not like she reads food blogs. Heck, I'm not sure she even eats.

Annie,

I would too. I'd pay $35 for a dozen amuse bouches. But of course, they'd make you stand around and call it a cocktail party, at which point the amuse bouches get called hor d'oeuvres.

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger HungryMomma said...

I had Bluefin once and it was the BEST sushi I have EVER had in my life! Bar none! I really wanna try this lunch omakase. It looks great!

 
At 5:44 PM, Blogger NP said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 5:46 PM, Blogger NP said...

RE: Capital seafood

Will try to go this week if I feel better (nice and sick this Friday). My comparison won't be SGV area Dim Sum but Bay Area ones. I lived there for 3 years and I found the places there were excellent. Some had gruff service but you couldn't complain about the food.
I'm going to give Capital the benefit of the doubt. However if it does suck I will ALSO complain to the owner/manager (via a phone call). They at least need to get a reality check on why people are complaining.

If I go to place once and have a horrible experience I *DO* complain - NEVER in the restaurant, always via a letter/email or phone call. If I get a response that is acceptable (e.g. accepts the problems and says they will be addressed) I *WILL* try the place again later. However if I get the sometimes Asian (I'm Asian) defense of the problems not being problems then I know I'm wasting my time and WILL NEVER step foot in the place again. So far 100% of the restaurants that have responded like that (7 total) have gone out of business (this is over the last 9 years of complaining :)

 
At 12:57 AM, Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Elmo,

I would have gone with Omakase for dinner. That lunch deal is a tad underwhelming in terms of the value. I don't know, maybe I sound cheap, but I thought $35 can stretch a little bit more like the $30 deal at Cafe Hiro.

I still think that was a great deal you got. Plus, The portions and the meal sound more fantastic than the $35 "bargain" at BlueFin.

BTW, Capital Seafood? What about Elite or Seafood Harbour in SGV for dim sum? Those two places will rocked your world.

 
At 2:56 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Hungrymomma,

It's a good entry point to Bluefin's omakase, but if you want to go whole hog, and give them the license to do the same, the $80 dinner omakase is it!

NP,

I'm a frequent customer of the Capital Seafood in Rowland Heights and they don't have dim sum...so this may be very interesting indeed. The Capital Seafood in Westminster/Garden Grove is also strictly traditional dishes, no dim sum, so I'm wondering if they're going to live up to other dim sum houses in town.

Pepsi,

Though I haven't been to Elite, I love me my Sea Harbour. That was truly one of the best dim sum experiences I've had. But that was a few years ago when they first opened. Since then the Sea Harbour in Rowland Heights changed owners (or something) and I started going to New Capital (which isn't affliated with Capital)

 
At 10:31 PM, Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Hey Elmo,

If you are talking about Happy Harbor in Rowland Heights, then heck yeah it's one of the best dim sum in all of SoCal. The story is that Seafood Harbour changed owners, but they kept the same staff/chef and menu in that Rowland Height's location. I went there a few times and did a review for that. It is still my favorite dim sum place for lunch. Right now, it's friggin' hard to get into that place because it has long wait for it like at New Capital.

I like New Capital because it's cheap. I can eat a lot and only paid $10 split with my pals for a dim sum lunch there. For recession, New Capital is a great place, but also long wait and lousy parking.

Hey Elmo, seriously go west a little bit to SGV and hit up Elite or Lunisa (new majority owner who renamed the place from Truimphal Palace).

 
At 11:30 PM, Blogger burumun said...

This sounds like a great deal, despite the bland John Dory which hopefully doesn't pop up too often. It sounds like a better deal than Hamamori's omakase. Must try this next time I go down to OC (doesn't happen to often, so I gotta choose my meals wisely!)

 

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