Flying Fish and Hairy Crabs?! A Return Visit to Maki Zushi! [Review] w/ Pics!
(Formatted with All Pictures here:
So I happened to have been in the area today and figured I might as well see how Chef Yoshio Sakamoto and Maki Zushi have been, and to see if Sakamoto-san would surprise me with more new offerings. The last few visits to Maki Zushi have convinced me that this is truly Top Class Sushi in Orange County, so I wasn't too worried about a letdown. (^_~) Instead, almost like the amazing discovery at Noodle House a few days earlier, I would've never thought I'd be able to experience the offerings put before me today...
We opted for Omakase and left it up to Chef Sakamoto. And the first thing that comes out to greet us was a *Live* Kegani (Japanese Hairy Crab), flown in overnight from Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan! (O_o) I nodded in approval and Sakamoto-san sent it off to the kitchen for cooking.
While that was being prepared, Sakamoto-san presented us with Iwashi (Sardine) from Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan. He said that it was also just flown in overnight along with the Kegani. The Iwashi was wonderful: A nice fresh, inherently oily flavor, and nicely balanced with the house-made Ponzu Sauce. I hadn't had Iwashi at Maki Zushi yet (and it had been awhile in general), so this was a nice treat. It was a nice cut, no tendon or gristle.
And then the surprises continued: Sakamoto-san presented Tobiuo (Flying Fish) Sashimi, from Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan! Wow! The presentation was gorgeous, and this was the first time I've ever had Tobiuo, a rare treat here in the U.S. The meat was really nice, similar to Halibut, but more supple. The texture was really nice, with less chew than Halibut, and also cleaner. Sakamoto-san served this topped with a little bit of Masago (Smelt Roe), but it was fine without it. Now that I've had Tobiuo, I actually prefer the texture and flavor over Halibut!
After that, we were presented with Iwashi no Hone Senbei (Sardine Bone Senbei "Rice" Cracker)! Similar to the Aji Senbei he made last time, this time he fried the Iwashi Bone at an intense temperature to cause all the bones to become completely brittle and crunchy, and the taste was like a Senbei Rice Cracker again! :) It was delicious and a nice bonus course during our meal.
Continuing on, Sakamoto-san next prepared Aori Ika (Broad Mantle Squid) from Tokyo, Japan. I've never seen Aori Ika in Southern California before, so this was another nice treat. It was presented two ways: Aori Ika Sushi, and Aori Ika paired with fresh Uni (Sea Urchin) from San Diego. Taking a bite, the Aori Ika was much more creamy and smooth than the usual Ika found in So Cal restaurants, and slightly less chewy. It still fell short of the legendary Ika at Sushi Mizutani, though. The Aori Ika was good, but the Ika from Mizutani-sensei was so ridiculously good that I've been spoiled on Ika now. (^_~)
The Aori Ika paired with Uni was really nice, the San Diego Uni was pretty fresh (about a ~91%), but not as nice as the Live Uni I had last time. :) Still, this was a nice presentation of Aori Ika, two ways, and ultimately it was a creamy, understated taste.
At this point, the Live Kegani (Japanese Hairy Crab) had finished cooking and Sakamoto-san presented it in a striking plating. It was served with two types of sauce: A house-made Sweet Vinegar and Kegani "Miso" (Japanese Hairy Crab Roe), and a house-made Ponzu with Sake Sauce.
Sakamoto-san mentioned that this was his favorite Kani (Crab) in the world, and it was easy to see why: The Kegani was very fresh and the Crab Meat was less sweet than the usual local crabs. It had a taste that tasted of the ocean (in a good way), but also an aroma that I'd not experienced with the usual crabs found here. The texture of the meat was also a little firmer, but still soft, and Sakamoto-san picked out a female Kegani with Roe, which was really nice! The Kegani matched well with both the Sweet Vinegar + Roe Sauce and the Ponzu Sake Sauce, and even by itself. All-in-all, a wonderful surprise and really delicious! :)
After this, another fun, bonus dish came out of the kitchen: Aori Ika Geso Yaki (Pan-Fried Broad Mantle Squid Legs). The Geso were basically extras since it wasn't used in the Sushi, so Sakamoto-san had it prepared this way as a bonus. It was nice and crispy. :)
Then Sakamoto-san greeted us with a *Live* Tokobushi (Awabi) (Tokobushi Abalone) from Northern California (it was kind of freaky seeing it move about). Sakamoto-san explained that at this particular size, this "Awabi" is known as Tokobushi. The Tokobushi was extremely fresh and crisp. It had a nice snap to each bite, and was refreshing. It still fell short of the Awabi I had at Mizutani, though, but for So Cal, this was outstanding!
The surprises didn't stop as next up was Shako (Mantis Shrimp) from Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan! I was stunned by the striking visuals of this grey-hewn, strange-looking Shrimp. It was boiled first since the only way to eat raw Shako would be having it live, and Sakamoto-san couldn't get them transported live overnight. Regardless, I was excited and took my first bite: It was really firm, having the texture of something inbetween Lobster and Shrimp, and it was really dense. In addition, it had a nice sweetness that reflected something like Lobster, but also Shrimp. It was interesting overall, but next time, I'd want to find a place in Japan that serves it Live / Fresh, and see how it compares to Amaebi. (^_~)
The last item we were served was Kamashita Ohtoro (Fattiest Belly Portion beneath the Collar) from Hon Maguro (Bluefin Tuna) flown in from Australia overnight. Sakamoto-san said that this particular portion of the Ohtoro he gave us was the best part of the Ohtoro, right beneath the Kama, and that on his whole cut of Bluefin Tuna, he only gets 3-4 pieces(!) before it transitions to the rest of the Ohtoro. I was excited and anxious. It looked absolutely gorgeous, and upon taking a bite, it was so flavorful, buttery and while it was "melt-in-your-mouth," it actually had a nice firmness to the suppleness of the Ohtoro. It was so naturally sweet and buttery as well (delicious!), with the only tiny negative being one small piece of tendon that was in the cut. But the rest of the bite was truly perfect! If it wasn't for that tendon, it would be one of the best Ohtoro I've had in L.A./O.C.
Sakamoto-san gave us a complimentary dessert, the wonderful Green Tea Crème Brulee sprinkled with Almond Roca, which was my favorite from last time. :) Like before, the top layer was perfectly seared and had a nice top crust, and the Green Tea flavor was nicely understated and pairing wonderfully with the decadent Almond Roca sprinkles.
Service was about the same as last time, meaning that the waitress and busboys were busy around the restaurant, and you had to flag them down for refills on Tea, etc., but Sakamoto-san was perfect, always attentive to our every need. Our total this time was around ~$145 per person (including tax and tip).
Maki Zushi continues to astound with its ability to procure some pretty rare Seafood offerings in Southern California, from Flying Fish to Japanese Hairy Crab and much more. Chef Yoshio Sakamoto also continues to deliver extremely fresh fish, with some good knife skills, but still a bit short compared to Zo, Mori and Urasawa. Regardless, the ability to sample these rare fish and shellfish, and the wonderful freshness of ingredients makes Maki Zushi an upper echelon Sushi Restaurant in Southern California.
*** Rating: 9.0 (out of 10.0) ***
1641 Edinger Avenue
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: (714) 259-0783
Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sat, 12:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
1641 Edinger Ave # 101, Tustin, CA
Thanks. :) Yah, the Tobiuo (Flying Fish) was delicious, but Sakamoto-san says he doesn't carry it all the time, so call ahead if that's what you're going for. Besides that he always stocks lots of interesting fresh fish / shellfish, so you can't go wrong.
As for convincing the wife, just an FYI that Maki Zushi is only ~7 - 10 minutes from South Coast Plaza, and just up the freeway from Fashion Island in Newport Beach. (^_~)
It is absolutely serious. It doesn't look like it -- it looks like it should be one of those "awful gloppy mayonnaisey seafood over California roll" places in an anonymous strip mall in an absolutely dead section of Tustin. You would never expect the quality of the seafood you get out of that place -- but it's well worth the drive.
Do bear in mind that eating like exilekiss has described is NOT cheap -- but if you go in expecting to pay for quality, it won't shock you either.
Someone has been bit by the sushi bug. Very nice series of reports. FYI, I've had live mantis prawn at Kiriko and aori ika at Mori. Delicious.
What Yasuda in NYC does with Kama toro is to pair it with toro further back so the texture and flavor contrast between the two are highlighted. You should ask for this pairing the next time Kama toro is available at Maki and give us all a heads up!
My only concern is that wasabi/garlic dip. Does he ever use freshly grated wasabi without garlic? Are the pieces presauced (in the style of Mori and Zo, not Sasabune) or is dipping in this wasabi/garlic mixture necessary?
Thanks again for a stellar report.
Thanks Porthos. :)
I missed the Aori Ika at Mori when I went, that's good to know, doumo! :)
The Toro pairing at Yasuda sounds incredible (and smart). You've only got me even more excited to try it next time I'm in NY, thanks! (^_^)
The fresh-diced Wasabi / Garlic sauce isn't necessary, but it's an interesting accent that I use once in a while (since he usually serves two pieces of each fish for the Nigiri portion). Unfortunately he didn't serve the traditional fresh-grated Wasabi when I went, so either the regular Wasabi or the diced Wasabi creation that he's made were my options.
Most of the pieces weren't pre-sauced (like Mori or Zo); a few pieces were presented paired with his house-made Ponzu, or were specialty presentations with custom sauces like the Live Kegani, or the Aji with the Sake+Ponzu house-made sauce as an alternative.
Hi Portho and exilekiss,
I absolutely love kama toro and he was right that it was hard to get part as each fish yields just a few pieces. It is surely melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Sometimes I will reserve it when I make reservation in case they are sold out.
As for shako, were they small (about the size of normal shrimps) or the gigantic ones? I found the small ones to be quite bland in taste usually, but this size is usually served as sushi. I had tried the gigantic shako which was the size of a small lobster (about 1 lb or more) and it was seriously the sweetest shrimp I had ever tasted. It surpassed the sweetness of lobster (and so was the price ;D). I have seen live ones locally in NYC (which I think may have come from Maine) but don't think they travel well in Japan.
Anyway, great report and thanks for sharing!