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Review: Sushi Wasabi - Tustin

t
TNT Adventures Jun 17, 2010 08:45 AM

Pictures can be viewed at:

http://tnt-adventures.blogspot.com/

You would not believe that one of the best sushi places in Orange County is located in the same plaza as AutoZone, 7-11, and even a check cashing place. But "trust me!" as Chef Katsu would say. There is nothing fancy about this place as you can see from the picture below. The real gem is inside.

Fresh quality fish is what Sushi Wasabi is all about. Sushi and traditional hand rolls. No California rolls, no spider rolls, no rainbow rolls.

Sitting at the bar gets you omakase - which means you are entrusting the chef to serve you the best and freshest fish he has to offer. If you want to order items off the menu, you would have to sit at the tables. After serving about 7 courses, the chef will ask if you want to continue. He'll suggest some or you can request if he has certain items.

Albacore Sashimi
My omakase experience started off with a bang! This Canadian albacore is served chilled with ponzu and scallion. The tangy, citrus ponzu was excellent that I wished for a spoon to drink it. The albacore was most soft and tender that I could softly chew with my tongue. The fish just melted away so quickly, leaving me wanting more. (I ordered another one of these dishes at the end of my meal). By far, my favorite!

Mebachi (Bigeye Tuna
)The tuna is from Tahiti and glowed such a richness of the red color. Absolutely fresh, soft and smooth.

Tai (Red Snapper)
The New Zealand Red Snapper is served with tobiko, scallion, and a spritz of ponzu. It had a very light, citrus and delicate taste to it. Very good.

Blue Crab Hand Roll
This is Sushi Wasabi's signature dish. The skinny seaweed wrapped roll is filled with real crab meat and a touch of mayonnaise. Seeing another customer dip the crab hand roll into the soy sauce, I copied her move. Wrong move. It was too salty for me. The hand roll stands on its own... (maybe just a quick dash of soy sauce if you really need it). But nonetheless, this was definitely tasty and deserves a second order!

Baked Scallop
The shell is filled with baked scallops, sauteed onions, creamy mayo and scallions, floating in soup-like warm ponzu. Again, I wish I had a spoon to scoop it all up.

Hamachi (Yellowtail)
The yellowtail is from Japan. On the left, is the stomach, which is very soft and tender. To the right, is the back of the yellowtail and is quite firm, yet still has that buttery taste.

Hirame (Halibut)
I don't remember where this halibut was from, but it was very nice and had more of the ponzu. It was thinly sliced. If you look close, you can see through to the wasabi underneath.

Sake (Salmon)
The Scottish Salmon was wonderfully fresh and buttery and was embellished with some kind of flexible, sweet film and sesame seeds. It was well-balanced and I enjoyed the extra flavors to the salmon. Another favorite.

Hotategai (Scallop)
These are fresh scallop from northern Japan. With a squeeze of the lime (not too much though), the scallops had a nice fresh, not seafood-y tasting. I usually am hesitant about eating scallops, but after trying these firm scallops, it's beginning to grow on me.

Uni (Sea Urchin)
The uni is from Santa Barbara and had a smooth, sweet and delicate flavor. Sushi etiquette says that sushi should be eaten fish side down, with the fish touching the tongue first to appreciate the taste. I didn't think of this as I ate my first piece because naturally the uni would probably fall off. But my husband suggested I eat it like other sushi - upside down - with the uni touching the tongue first. Oh my, it was a totally different taste. With the first piece, I tasted only the seaweed and barely tasted the uni. It was okay, nothing special, But upon the second piece (upside down), the taste in my mouth was predominately of the creamy uni. Yum!

We were sitting next to one couple who got excited over us taking pictures of each dish. They used to document the foods, especially here at Sushi Wasabi. But they stopped, after going every week for the sushi. (I'm jealous!) They commented how Sushi Wasabi was their favorite (and they mentioned that in their opinion it was better than Sasabune in LA, Honolulu, and NY).

As I was enjoying my meal, I realized it's been about 3 years since I last ate here! And I gave my husband a look and questioned him.."So...why don't we eat here more often?" Oh right, he doesn't eat seafood, but he doesn't mind watching me eat. I guess he'll be watching me eat more often...

-----
Sushi Wasabi
14460 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780

Sasabune
12400 Wilshire Blvd Ste 150, Los Angeles, CA 90025

  1. OCAnn Jun 17, 2010 09:50 AM

    I've seen Wasabi come up as favourites for many, but your review makes me want to go...now! Nice review. =)

    1. x
      xoxohh Jun 17, 2010 02:17 PM

      This does indeed sound yummy. If you don't mind me asking, what did the meal cost, food only.

      1. t
        TNT Adventures Jun 17, 2010 10:29 PM

        OCAnn - Thanks for the compliment. Indeed one of the best in OC. Let me know how it goes when you go.

        xoxohh - I don't mind you asking at all. I usually put prices for all the meals we have, but forgot to this time. The total came out to be about $54 before tax, tip, and drinks. They will usually ask you if you have had enough to eat or if you would like anything else around the $50 mark. Hope this info helps.

        1. ocshooter Jun 18, 2010 07:37 PM

          I am glad Wasabi is still excellent. I went a few times a long time back, and it was the best I had eaten up to that point. The $50pp tab sounds light, but then I usually get sake to go with my sushi.

          I don't eat scallops any more, but they looked AMAZING.

          1. d
            degustateur Jun 18, 2010 11:11 PM

            Dynamite review, TNT!

            I’ve enjoyed Sushi Wasabi for the past eight years. During my first five years, I ate there once or twice each week. Throughout the entire time, the sushi, service and overall experience have been exceptionally consistent. I truly appreciate this, particularly when dining with invited guests. You know what to expect. No embarrassments.

            Interestingly, you bring up Sushi Sasabune. Nobi-san, the owner was trained by Nozawa-san (Sushi Nozawa). He, in turn, trained Katsu-san. The lineage is apparent once you have experienced all three, even more so when Sasabune was in its original incarnation on Sawtelle. In fact, Nobi-san engaged Katsu-san to operate his Honolulu location for many years before he opened Sushi Wasabi. The three men often convene together at International Fish Market at about 5:00am to personally select from the day’s catch.

            Katsu-san is obsessively meticulous in his seafood selection and preparation. Quality and freshness are both top-notch. Being pre-sliced, however, it suffers ever so slightly. But hey, he’s a one-man show. Katsu-san even handpicks his Kumamoto oysters one at a time, a skill he taught me. I’ve always appreciated his telling patrons the name and source of each offering.

            Reading your review whets my appetite for Katsu-san’s Canadian Albacore, Japanese scallops and, of course, Texas Blue Crab hand-roll (I’ll take two of these, please).

            I’m curious, TNT. Have you tried Sushi Shibucho in Costa Mesa? I would enjoy hearing your impressions.

            1. t
              TNT Adventures Jun 19, 2010 12:42 AM

              ocshooter - What's the best sushi you've eaten so far?

              degustateur - Dynamite review.. Pun intended?? Hahaha. Thanks for the sushi lineage. I've actually been to Nozawa but have yet to go to Sasabune. Yes, I have been to Sushi Shibucho one time. Sat in front of Naga, Shibucho's son. Overall, I thought it was good but enjoyed Wasabi more. I think it's because of Shibucho is more of a traditionalist. No, blue crab hand rolls, no baked scallop dishes, and not a lot of use of ponzu sauce. I know the over-usage of ponzu is a grip for some at Wasabi but doesn't bother me.

              What's your favorite?

              -----
              Sushi Shibucho
              590 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

              Sasabune
              12400 Wilshire Blvd Ste 150, Los Angeles, CA 90025

              28 Replies
              1. re: TNT Adventures
                d
                degustateur Jun 20, 2010 01:15 PM

                Hi TNT,

                You pose a challenging question. I have patronized both Wasabi and Shibucho for eight years or more. I forget which came first, but I first preferred Wasabi. Within less than a year, my preference switched to Shibucho and remained fixed there ever since. I am indeed a traditionalist when it comes to sushi and appreciate Shibutani-san’s almost stoic adherence to traditional preparations and presentations.

                Shibutani-san is a Grand Master Itamae. His methods of fish pre-preparation (salt curing, rice curing, seaweed wrapping, etc.) are based upon centuries old traditions and are highly evident to me in the taste and texture of his offerings. I have never been served o-toro of the caliber served by Shibutani-san at Wasabi, nor would I expect to. Likewise, I would never expect Shibutani-san to serve me a Texas Blue Crab Hand Roll.

                I usually now only visit Wasabi when I get a craving for a couple of his crab hand rolls. This still occurs quite often, once every few months or so whereas I visit Shibucho once or twice each month. I recently went twice in one day, again! (^_^)

                1. re: degustateur
                  t
                  TNT Adventures Jun 20, 2010 08:01 PM

                  Degustateur - Very valid points your breakdown between Shibucho and Wasabi. I do a agree that a sushi traditionalist would appreciate Sushi Shibucho more than Sushi Wasabi. Both very good places but can be appreciated in different ways, depending on what one is looking for.

                  Thanks again for your take on the two places.

                  -----
                  Sushi Shibucho
                  590 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

                  Sushi Wasabi
                  14460 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780

                  1. re: degustateur
                    ocshooter Jun 21, 2010 12:30 AM

                    My favorite high end place is San Shi Go in the Balboa Peninsula. That last few times I have been there I just order omakase. I don't eat shell fish or other tref, and the chefs are always accommodating. The last time I was there my fiance was off carbs, and they seved a great variety of rice-less dishes. One time they had a special seasonal salmon roe that is imported from Japan that was amazing. They usually have fantastic toro, the last few times from huge fish caught in the Med.

                    -----
                    San Shi Go Restaurant
                    1100 S Coast Hwy Ste 303, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

                    1. re: ocshooter
                      k
                      kevin Jun 21, 2010 07:31 PM

                      sounds interesting neve been there before.

                    2. re: degustateur
                      k
                      kevin Jun 21, 2010 07:32 PM

                      will the chef at wasabi allow you to grab a few crab handrolls (and nothing else) and then take off??? if so that sounds great, but i thought they had a minimum.

                      1. re: kevin
                        t
                        TNT Adventures Jun 21, 2010 09:35 PM

                        As long as you sit at the tables and not at sushi bar, you can order whatever you like. I don't believe there is a minimum.

                        1. re: TNT Adventures
                          e
                          epop Feb 22, 2011 08:35 PM

                          at dinner is omakase the way to go? Or a table? I was a bit put off by reading on Yelp that he precuts some fish. True?

                          1. re: epop
                            k
                            kevin Feb 22, 2011 08:50 PM

                            he prolly woud i would think. but still sit at the bar. but tell him you are allergic to dynamite if you don't want it, i can't understand why he serves dynamite if he's a serious sushi bar. but i digress.

                            1. re: epop
                              t
                              TNT Adventures Feb 22, 2011 10:28 PM

                              epop - I think the first time there Omakase would be the way to go. That way you get to sample an assortment of items that the chef would like to serve you. Second time around you'll know what you like and dislike. You can have omakase at the tables if you like too. Yes, the chef at Sushi Wasabi does precut.

                              -----
                              Sushi Wasabi
                              14460 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780

                              1. re: TNT Adventures
                                e
                                epop Feb 23, 2011 10:51 AM

                                Thank you, and that's now the plan. Wish me luck...

                                1. re: epop
                                  Porthos Feb 23, 2011 11:32 AM

                                  Sounds like you should try Sushi Shibucho epop. I'm gun-shy after getting fleeced at Maki Zushi: $450 for 2 ,1 beer, nothing special. Maki Zushi came highly recommended at the time via several trustworthy sources.

                                  It'll be a while before I go for sushi in OC again, but I think Sushi Shibucho would be the best bet down here. Would love to hear your impression.

                                  -----
                                  Sushi Shibucho
                                  590 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

                                  Maki Zushi
                                  1641 Edinger Ave # 101, Tustin, CA

                                  1. re: Porthos
                                    t
                                    TNT Adventures Feb 23, 2011 10:03 PM

                                    epop and Porthos - Sushi Wasabi is no where near the price of Maki Zushi. They will typically stop and ask if you would like any other items at around the $50 range. If you are craving a few other items and not quite full yet, go for it. Sushi Shibucho is a bit cheaper than Sush Wasabi with them asking if you would like anything else around the $45 range. Haven't been to Shibucho in a little more than a year though. Let us know how your meal goes!

                                    -----
                                    Sushi Shibucho
                                    590 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

                                    Sushi Wasabi
                                    14460 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780

                                    Maki Zushi
                                    1641 Edinger Ave # 101, Tustin, CA

                                    1. re: TNT Adventures
                                      ocshooter Feb 24, 2011 05:19 PM

                                      It has been a long while since I have been to Wasabi, but I easily dropped over $100 pp back then, which is in line with what I spend at Maki or the other high end places I have visited. I was taken for lunch once and I recall it being $50pp then, with little or no booze.

                                      I stay away from shell fish, but I can't see how you can drop $225 pp with 1 beer at Maki. I am not doubting you, I just think it is atypical. I sat at the bar and ordered nothing but fish off the specials board (not the 1/2 price 'specials,' the special cuts and types that rotate based on what is available), had some booze and got out for around $100. And I am not a light eater.

                                      1. re: ocshooter
                                        Porthos Feb 24, 2011 06:22 PM

                                        I'm not sure how that math went down either, I didn't get any special shellfish or hairy crab or anything like that. He filleted 3 whole fish for sashimi for which I got 4-6 pieces of sashimi each. I was charged between $25 and $45 for each fish. I guess he took omakase to mean inflate the bill. He was pretty chatty, sushi was decent, I eat a lot so I would even have been happy at $100 pp, but yes, I thought it was over the top. 225pp was including tip which is still not acceptable since I get higher quality fish and better sushi at Mori for less. Hence my hesitation to try sushi in OC anytime soon.

                                        1. re: Porthos
                                          ocshooter Feb 24, 2011 10:16 PM

                                          well, there are good ones here, Wasabi is one of them, though as I said, it has been a while for me. The only top flight place in LA I have been is Nozawa, and I was put off by the atmosphere and the really inflated price for mediocre sake. The sushi was great, but the place was artificially dingy. It did not have to be that way, afterall Sweet Fish is nice (Ikea nice, but still nice), so he can have pleasant interior. I've also been to Roku in Pasadena several times, but I would not put it in the same class.

                                    2. re: Porthos
                                      e
                                      epop Feb 24, 2011 01:22 AM

                                      will do, Porthos.
                                      Don't you wish these meals came with a money back guarantee? You could have flown halfway to Tokyo with that.
                                      I'd been there (to Sushi Shibucho) but I was with an overly critical group of six (I prefer solo or duo). They wanted to complain about it and it tainted my meal. I didn't feel like I needed to go back there but I will, now that it has come up. I end up down there once in a while.

                                      As for sushi wasabi, I'd say it is like going to an inattentive Nozawa. Sweet guy runs it but he's overwhelmed and the precut is annoying. Had some great buri (front and back side) but lots of everything else was drenched in sauce. Also a fine japanese scallop with shiso and lime. Nice touch. Would I go back? Yes, but not for omakase, and only if I'm in that neighborhood.

                                      -----
                                      Sushi Shibucho
                                      590 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

                                      1. re: epop
                                        k
                                        kevin Feb 24, 2011 12:14 PM

                                        i found him serving dynamite really weird. yeah, it's like a more makeshift version of nozawa or sasabune. But on the benefit side, wasabe is much quieter than those other two. so you can linger for a while if you want.

                                        does sasabuen and nozawa pre-slice now?

                                        1. re: kevin
                                          e
                                          epop Feb 24, 2011 04:23 PM

                                          I'm sure they still do pre-cut. Things only get worse. Customers don't know better.
                                          The pre-cut worked ok at Wasabi b/c they oversauce. But his buri is out of this world.

                                          When I went to Wasabi it was only quiet after a loud set of four finally left.

                                          1. re: epop
                                            m
                                            munchabout Feb 25, 2011 10:26 AM

                                            Went once a few years ago, that was enough. Doesn't look like they've changed any.

                                            I've concluded that Wasabi sushigoers don't actually like fish. They just like ponzu. Everything is drenched, soaked, dripping with the stuff. Could be a dead cat on that sushi rice, it's swimming in so much ponzu you won't be able to tell.

                                            Bleh.

                                            1. re: munchabout
                                              Porthos Feb 25, 2011 11:03 AM

                                              It sounds like Wasabi is similar to the Nozawa and Sasabune school of sushi with the ponzu drenching and blue crab handroll ending. Typical LA sytle sushi. Is the rice also hot?

                                              I'm guessing Shibucho is more traditional and might be worth trying pending epop's report.

                                              On the other hand, I don't mind driving to LA for Mori. It's worth it. At least I know what I'm in for.

                                              -----
                                              Shibucho
                                              3114 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057

                                              Sasabune
                                              12400 Wilshire Blvd Ste 150, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                              1. re: Porthos
                                                e
                                                epop Feb 25, 2011 11:11 AM

                                                stick to Mori. The others are too drenched.
                                                \
                                                The rice isn't really warm at Wasabi.

                                                1. re: epop
                                                  Porthos Feb 25, 2011 11:19 AM

                                                  The others are too drenched
                                                  =======================
                                                  Even Shibucho? The yelp photos look promising and not ponzu-ized.

                                                  -----
                                                  Shibucho
                                                  3114 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057

                                                  1. re: Porthos
                                                    e
                                                    epop Feb 25, 2011 11:58 AM

                                                    Not shibucho. Sorry, I was typing and working. What I meant to say was
                                                    that I doubt anything compares to Mori in OC, especially if Wasabi is the best.

                                                    The ankimo at Mori is divine (though I don't like that word), btw.

                                                    1. re: epop
                                                      Porthos Feb 25, 2011 09:14 PM

                                                      Just got back from Shibucho. It was pretty empty on a rainy Friday night. Sushi was traditional in style. Quality of fish was good-excellent. Much better than Maki Sushi. The o-toro as degustateur stated above was as good as anything in LA. I'd rank this place above Sushi Gen and a notch below Kiriko due to the lack of varitety. We had:

                                                      -tai 2 ways. unadorned and with lime and yuzu pepper paste. Sweet but not as good as the tai at Sushi Gen.
                                                      -kohada and aji- both very good. Not fishy but not top notch stuff
                                                      -bluefin tuna x 1
                                                      -bluefin otoro x 1- stellar.
                                                      -mirugai
                                                      -uni x 2
                                                      -some "local fish". Didn't catch the name after asking twice. Very good. A white fish like tai
                                                      -engawa with salt x1. Excellent
                                                      -abalone x1
                                                      -salted salmon roe x1. Not ikura marinated in salt, but the entire roe sac cured in salt. Salty up front. Slighty sweet at the end. Very good. Never had this before either in NYC or in LA
                                                      -kanpachi x 1- creamy, very good quality.
                                                      -anago x 1- decent prepackaged stuff

                                                      Repeats of: uni, kohada, aji, chu toro and 0-toro

                                                      2 small bottles of daiginjo sake at $18 each.

                                                      Total for 2 was $160 before tip.

                                                      Sushi was pretty good and if you figure in price/quality ratio actually an excellent place for sushi. Sushi Gen easily costs more and is lesser in quality.

                                                      I would definitely return and would be my choice for sushi in the OC. But it's a far cry from Mori.

                                                      -----
                                                      Kiriko
                                                      11301 W Olympic Blvd Ste 102, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                                      Shibucho
                                                      3114 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057

                                                      Maki Sushi
                                                      820 N Euclid St, Anaheim, CA 92801

                                                      1. re: Porthos
                                                        t
                                                        Tkn Mar 18, 2011 06:17 PM

                                                        Count me in the Shibucho camp. I've been a regular there for a few years now.

                                                        The salted roe, I believe, is Sujiko. So addicting! Probably because of the coying sweetness at the end.

                                                        I'm not sure what you meant by the anago being prepackaged, but when Naga boils it fresh, it is soooooo good. That and the tamago. It's such a treat when you come in on days when he just made a fresh batch.

                                                        The skin-on Tai is consistently one of my favorites here. And their Ama-ebi is second to none, in my opinion.

                                                        Although it's true that there isn't a big variety of fish on any given night, once in a while, I do get treated to something I've never had anywhere else, such as hoya, shirasu, and uni marinated in sake.

                                                        I don't want to sound like I'm hero-worshipping Shibucho, but I do appreciate how clean they operate: the wiping of the blade after every cut, the cutting of the fish with a single firm stroke (no see-sawing action), the meticulous removal of the pith and membrane from a lemon wedge before squeezing out a few calculated drops.

                                                        Sushi is such a delicate art form, and to me, Shibucho is closer to perfecting their technique than anyone else.

                                                        I've also been to Mori and thought they were quite good as well but for much more $$$$. I'm just glad I don't live close to Mori!

                                                        1. re: Tkn
                                                          Porthos Mar 18, 2011 07:06 PM

                                                          Shibucho is good. Especially for the price. Went again the other night and had pretty much the same lineup. As you said, the salted roe is called sujiko (?sp). The subtle sweetness afterwards is nice. The toro this time was a bit brown on te outside indicating that it was not the freshest. Flavor was okay but a bit unappetizing in appearance. He did have hirame no konbu jime or halibut marinated in kelp. I am impressed he offered it but compared to Mori's prep, it was a solid B level prep to Mori's A level. The halibut was more firm but lacked and discernible konbu taste. The local fish I couldn't identify in my earlier post was kinki. As I understand it, it's a poor man's kinmedai and not often used for sushi. Aoyagi was good but I got the less desirable body piece the first time around and had to specifically ask for the muscle. The anago is prepackaged as in he grills the prepackaged eel in the toaster oven instead of filleting his own eel and grilling it.

                                                          It is a bit annoying how they reserve te best fr Japanese patrons only. Not being of Japanese decent, I'll give them a couple more shots to elevate the current B/B+ level sushi before I write them off. It is literally half the price of Mori though so from a price/quality standpoint, it's excellent.

                                                          -----
                                                          Shibucho
                                                          3114 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057

                                                          1. re: Porthos
                                                            t
                                                            Tkn Mar 18, 2011 09:47 PM

                                                            Admittedly, I've never seen them filet a whole eel at Shibucho, but Naga does boil batches of raw eel filets using a large shallow pot and a bamboo basket thingamajig. When they are sufficiently cooled, he brings them out to the display case. I love the smell of the eel like some people love the smell of fresh baked bread. I told my wife that realtors in Japan probably cook up eel to help sell houses. lol

                                                            If you drink sake, they also have shiokara in the fridge if you ask them.

                                                            1. re: Tkn
                                                              Porthos Mar 18, 2011 11:02 PM

                                                              The texture of freshly grilled eel is unmistakable. The flesh is delicate and tender like white fish. The only 2 places I've had
                                                              freshly grilled eel is Mori and Yasuda (prior to Yasuda leaving). I suspect even Hiro's eel at Urasawa is prepackaged. The texture is soft but slightly grainy and not delicate flakes as is the eel at Shibucho. As I understand it, eel is difficult to prepare and not every itame is trained at it.

                                                              -----
                                                              Urasawa Restaurant
                                                              218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                                                              Shibucho
                                                              3114 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057

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