Sunday, September 29, 2019

Hana Re - Costa Mesa

I admit it. When it comes to Hana Re Sushi, one of only two Orange County restaurants to be awarded a Michelin star, I am late to the game.

I’d been aware of it since it opened, but because Orange County is already blessed with so many great sushi bars, I put off reviewing it. Eventually I forgot about it altogether.

Then the Michelin people came. But by that time, writing about it would be like someone in 2019 raving about Breaking Bad.

When my birthday came around, my lovely dining companion insisted on taking me. At first I resisted, thinking we’d never get a seat on such short notice.

I was right. They were fully booked for the night of my birthday.

Then fate intervened. There was a last-minute cancellation. And before we knew it, we were sitting at a table for two in a small, stark room with a group of six Japanese businessmen swirling goblets of wine next to us. At the front of the room, behind a curtain of ropes, ten people sat at the sushi bar. There, it’s only omakase, which lasts 3 hours and cost upwards of $200. At the tables, we ordered the only thing there is to order: The $95 Hana Re Tasting Menu.

Actually, there’s no ordering involved. Other than asking us if we had any food allergies, the server effectively started the meal as soon as we sat down.

And as quickly as I settled into my seat, I realized why Michelin took notice. The service here is flawless, exacting, and efficient. It has the kind of attention to detail and obsequiousness I’d imagine of a traditional Japanese ryokan serving kaiseki. Water was topped off as soon as I took two sips; wine was poured so that none of the businessmen ever held an empty glass.

The meal began with an octopus salad with cucumber, a subtle, faintly sweet and sour amuse bouche that reminded me of a Chinese jellyfish cold dish.

Next, there was a Wagyu beef carpaccio with maitake mushrooms—tenderness on top of umami.

Shortly after that, the sashimi course arrived in a stone bento box. When the heavy lid was slid off like a sarcophagus, it revealed pieces of barracuda, bluefin, snapper and yellowtail sashimi. Each surgically sliced morsel was brisk and melted in my mouth as though Jell-O.

When the Japanese abalone was served, my eyes grew as wide as saucers. What a treat! It rode atop a spoonful of risotto cooked with cubes of daikon. The creamy texture of the rice contrasted the firmness of the abalone, which had an almost foie gras-like funkiness.

The next dish came out in a plastic bag secured with a clothespin. The server explained it was a steamed snapper with matsutake mushrooms and spinach. “You can eat everything but the plastic,” she said to our laughter.

I thought we’d reached the culmination of the meal when the five pieces of nigiri came, but then they were followed by two lobes of lusciously sweet uni over rice that included its own spoon.

Next was miso soup, which was unlike a standard miso soup. It was dark, tangy and slightly bitter.

For dessert, we were served a wiggly panna cotta with five different kinds of grape and one berry—every piece of fruit sugary.

Finally, a cup of hot matcha closed out the meal and also this belated review. And hey, how about that Breaking Bad movie coming out soon?

Hana re
2930 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Shabuya - Fountain Valley

Monday, September 02, 2019

Thali at Southern Spice - Irvine

If only life can be compartmentalized the way Southern Spice compartmentalizes its thali lunch. Instead life is like a messy Indian take-out Styrofoam combo plate.

Southern Spice
3850 Barranca Pkwy Suite O
Irvine, CA 92606

Casablanca - Costa Mesa