$48 5-Course Omakase @ Hamamori - Costa Mesa
In a review I wrote within weeks of Hamamori's opening, I said that eventhough the food was exquisite, you'd need to spend a month's salary to get full.
Then, back in October, I scribbled the following about them for OC Weekly's Best of Issue:
Great sushi has never been cheap, but no one else in OC has been able to get away with charging as much as James Hamamori does. Dinner for two at his eponymous South Coast Plaza eatery will climb into the triple digits faster than you can say "omakase" ($80 per person for food, an additional $40 for wine or sake pairing). This is the reason why you should get someone else to pay for it. For example, a repentant boyfriend trying to make amends, or that sales exec who's desperate to get a signature on a dotted line. Let them buy your way into your good graces with a meal prepared by Hamamori himself; a sushi feast to break bank accounts and breach credit limits . . . just not your own.In that same month, Hamamori seemed to take proactive steps in shedding its reputation. After all, this was around the time that the stock market took a dive and it became clear our economy was in the crapper.
It was bad to be seen as one of the most expensive restaurants in the county.
What Hamamori did was to revise its omakase menu with tiered pricing. Don't get me wrong: on the whole, Hamamori still ain't cheap. You can still get into trouble with creditors if you opted for the top-end meal. But now, at least, there was a $48 5-course option that effectively slashed the original cost of omakase in half.
A few weeks ago, to celebrate a birthday, I returned to try it. And if you asked me now, I would have to say: compared to other restaurants of the same caliber, Hamamori is not overpriced.
Heck, I'd even go further and proclaim that I prefer its omakase meal over Bluefin's $35 5-Course lunch.
The reason? Bluefin's omakase is a crapshoot. You don't know what's going to happen after you've placed your bet. And lately for me, every subsequent Bluefin omakase meal has been a lesson on the law of diminishing returns -- each were never as good as the one that preceded it.
Hamamori's omakase, on the other hand, is as dependable as a treasury note. Their set menu doesn't change (or at least not yet). So although the element of surprise goes out the window, there's an unshakable consistency and sure-footedness in the execution of the set game plan. And in these risk-averse times, it's always reassuring to know that you're going to get what you paid for.
Japanese mushroom salad started the meal -- a first course that was as brisk a wake-up call to the palate as any I've had, containing field greens dressed in a sour dressing and more mushrooms than a Smurf village.
The second course consisted of three appetizers.
There was a rissole of kobe beef and foie gras, a billiard ball-sized orb made of deep-fried ground beef that sang of Scotch egg, but without the egg.
Next, rock shrimp tempura draped in a mayonnaise-y sauce, acting very much like the famous Chinese banquet dish, Honey Glazed Walnut Shrimp, but again, without the walnuts.
Beneath it, there was a lacy, fried shiso leaf that crunched as loudly as a kettle potato chip.
Last but not least, one of Hamamori's signatures: the okaki-crusted asparagus, where those tooth-jarringly hard Japanese rice crackers are put to good use as a crunchy breading.
Third course was sushi. All were fresh, plump, hand-formed ovals as sleek as bullets. Each piece was pre-seasoned with such things as ponzu and sea salt. No extra dipping or wasabi was required.
For the main course, you are to choose one from three available options.
Pork ribs were meaty bones crisped to burnt edges, with a deeply marinated and pronounced miso-flavor that seeped through each swarthy strip you tore off. Below was a starch that reminded me of baked beans, but wasn't.
Miso, lots of it, was also responsible for the bold flavor of the petite lamb chops. The savory paste was slathered on them like spackle.
Black cod, the only fish option, had the most going on. Tomato salsa, pickled kumquats, marinated gobo, and a trimmed slice of lotus root flanked a thin, well-roasted slab that was so aggressively seasoned it was almost too salty.
Eaten with plenty of rice, it was perfect.
To close the meal, homemade organic green tea ice cream arrived with a gravity-defying strawberry fanned out like a sail. Crunchy, addictive honey glazed nuts and more fresh berries were strewn as garnish and an added treat.
So, there you are: a reasonably priced prix fixe at Hamamori. Something you could probably swing for that special occasion dinner, even if you're not expecting an AIG bonus check in the mail. OK. Bad joke.
3333 Bear St # 320
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Basilic - Newport Beach