Former chef of the internationally renowned Nobu chain, Chef Abe brings over his mastery to Bluefin. After leaving Nobu to open his own restaurants, Abe developed a distinctive style of sushi to meet the picky and fickle demands of Newport Beach. Chef Abe blends traditional Japanese cuisine with European flavors in a modern restaurant complete with an illuminated sushi bar.
Bluefin's greeter seated my friends and I at the sushi bar, which despite being it being lunchtime, was already lit. The dramatic contrast between the glowing counter and black waterfall behind the sushi chefs was very impressive. Almost equally impressive was their sake selection at the end of the bar. Bluefin carries some real high end sake. As usual, I made a quick scan of the visible slabs of fish at the bar as a preliminary freshness check. I say "preliminary" because it is now a common procedure to expose tuna and red meat to carbon monoxide, which prolongs the appearance of freshness. My concern was partially allayed from what I saw, all that remained was a taste test. Paranoid...I know....but seriously, after you've had Japanese at the places my friends took me to....you'd understand.
After dining at Bluefin, I feel stupid for every doubting this restaurant.
As mentioned before, I came for Chef Abe's lunch tasting menu, or "omakase," which is precisely what I ordered.
The First Course:
1. Prosciutto wrapped honeydew.
2. Shot of roe.
3. Lobster, Octopus, and shrimp ceviche.
4. Marinaded Conch atop of sea salt.
Ceviche is the closest name I can attribute to the refreshing mix of octopus, shrimp, lobster, and cucumber. I call it a ceviche because the seafood is marinaded with lime juice and parsley. All three seafood items were cooked perfectly. They were chewy without being rubbery, and the lime juice had not completely broken down the protein yet (completely broken down = mushy).
The conch was a very interesting treat. An uppity white lady next to me left her's untouched. What a shame. She missed out on a savory delight marinated with soy sauce and just a little bit of star anise. The texture of the flesh was much like a braised tendon of oh let's say a cow. Readers unfamiliar with this texture should try to imagine the flesh as chewy, but at the same time retaining a certain crunchiness.
The Second Course:
I wasn't too enthused about the salad, which contained my favorite bitter greens but also too much cilantro. I had such a fun time picking out cilantro...
The dressing is Japanese themed and made with grated onion, carrot(white), apple, and sesame oil. I also spotted a dash of pesto near the sashimi. I was happy to see that Chef Abe, like all good chefs, does not use a lot of oil in his creations. I don't know how the flavor of sesame was so strong without the use of a lot of sesame oil.
The featured sashimi were some great cuts and most importantly, extremely fresh. My palate confirmed my earlier observation of the tuna's healthy red tone. I was very pleased to notice that none of the slices of fish contained tendons or any connective tissue. It was great!
The Third Course:
Two generous slabs of grilled Red Drum Fish was presented to me as the third course. Coming from a Chinese family, I am far more accustomed to steaming this particular fish and garnishing it with a blend of hot oil, green onions, and a special soy sauce. Chef Abe's Western take on this fish was delicious. The temperature of the grill was controlled very well, evident by the crispy skin and moist interior. Only salt was used to season the fish, which is honestly all it really needed. The lobster sauce was very flavorful but did not interfere or overpower the fish. I also spotted some lobster eggs floating about. Score!
The Fourth Course:
No trip to a sushi bar is complete without having nigiri sushi! Chef Abe's technique truly shines in this traditional sushi preparation. Each piece was molded into the perfect shape and dimensions to facilitate dipping and handling. Furthermore, the fish to rice proportion was just right. Sushi connoisseurs are familiar with the fact that Nigiri sushi becomes cumbersome if too much fish is given. As good as Abe's technique was, the texture of the rice felt a bit off. It just wasn't "al dente" or "Q" enough. Texture aside, Bluefin's sushi rice is flavored pretty well, leaning a bit on the sweet side which reflects the Osaka style (that's what Wikipedia says. :P). From the great food that I've been served to far, I'll just assume that the overly soft rice was a fluke.
The Fifth Course:
Calling this a tiramisu is weird because it's quite a long shot from the traditional Italian dessert. It was a lightly sweetened Japanese style cheesecake with a hint of green tea. Very refreshing. Who knew tofu could be transformed into such a delicate dessert?
Bluefin's tasting menu at lunch is an AMAZING deal, in my opinion. Chump change at $30, given the quality and quantity of the food. Definitely will drop by if I'm around UCI.