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Mar 8, 2012 12:13 AM

Sushi In OC: Found! Kasen.

Since moving to the OC over a year ago, I had to give up Mori and was forced to find a closer alternative for weeknight sushi cravings. After trying Maki Zushi (fleeced), Bluefin (expensive Morimoto style), Murasaki (better for udon at lunch), and Shibucho, I had decided that Shibucho was the best sushi in town and very well priced at ~$60pp for legit omakase. However after 10-12 visits, I was still treated second rate (always served last if you're not Japanese) and after pretty horrendous event #3-4 (being relocated midway through my meal due to a reservation error on their part), I decided that I needed desperately to find another sushi spot. Shibucho was a place that does not need my business and it showed.

I tried Kasen Sushi tonight and left kicking myself for putting up with poor treatment at Shibucho over the past 15 months. The rice at Kasen was better seasoned. The wasabi was fresh, unlike the powdered stuff used at Shibucho. The fish was every bit as fresh tonight and as good as the best I've ever had at Shibucho: the bluefin toro was just as amazing in quality as Shibucho's best, the kohada and saba just as well marinated, the tai no konbu jime (snapper cured between dried kelp) just as well prepared. In addition the scallop and abalone was served with a thin sliver of nori to impart a hint of smokiness (not done at Shibucho). The head of the amaebi was offered fried or in soup instead of baked in a toaster oven. The sake list was superior containing both kubota manju and kubota hekiyu. Kasen offered the same rare herring roe on my first visit tonight which took me over 10 visits to "earn" at Shibucho. The chef took greater care in each slice and in trimming the blood lines. The total cost was $15pp more for the omakase and may have been due to the fact that we got a serving of abalone sushi and o-toro/takuan roll at the end which I don't usually get at Shibucho. Dinner ended with a nice brown miso soup.

Long time patrons of Shibucho will probably not be swayed. However, for those who are consistently treated in a rude fashion at it turns out, it is not the only high quality traditional sushi in town. You can actually get better sushi with nicer ambiance, and a nicer itame at Kasen.

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  1. Porthos, interesting that you compare Kasen to Shibucho as the head chef told me once he was trained by Shibucho-san years ago. My wife and I also love Kasen, although we usually end up spending $30-40 pp more compared to a Shibucho omakase session. The first thing he ever served us was small bowls with maybe a dozen tiny live fish swimming around in a bit of briny water. Once he saw we could handle that, he gave us the real deal omakase.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Youndo

      It's an easy comparison as they are very similar in style and offerings down to the battera sushi. I'll have to ask about the training after several more visits. There are some key differences: I do prefer the fresh wasabi, the nicer ambiance, the superior sake selection, and the more pleasant chef's demeanor at Kasen. Last night, I felt the rice was even better than the rice at Shibucho. If the training is true (ie. that was the only training he ever had) then this is a clear case of the student surpassing the master.

      Youndo, do you know of any other sushi places here in OC as good or even better than these two places for traditional sushi?

      1. re: Porthos

        I do not know of any other places better. However that is sadly more a reflection of my not trying more new places than I do! I would ask the chef about his training; he seemed to enjoy talking about his life/training. Coming from a non-Japanese speaker, I find he is more friendly than Shibucho-san, more like his son Glen actually. And yes, the ambiance at Kasen is much better. Sometimes when I'm at Shibucho and someone opens the door, I get a big whiff of In n' Out from next door!

        1. re: Youndo

          I find he is more friendly than Shibucho-san,
          It would be hard to find someone less friendly than that guy. He makes Keizo from Sushi Zo look like a chatty greeter at Disneyland. I left out the two incidences where he outright made fun of my friend and I in Japanese, much to the delight and laughter of his Japanese patrons. Before I had to grin and bear it because I thought I had to...where else are you going to get $60 traditional omakase I thought? Thank the sushi gods for Kasen.

    2. I note that degustateur recommended Kasen (and another place) in his post back in 2010 but evidently he was a lone voice in the wilderness then:

      11 Replies
      1. re: Servorg

        i think i went to kasen about almost a decade ago, if it's the joint in fountain valley and wasn't too impressed. but i was obviously impressed by shibucho.

        1. re: kevin

          Degustateur recommended another place over Kasen. Have you been to Hamamori? That was his rec that he liked better than Kasen.

          3333 Bear St., Suite 320
          Costa Mesa, CA, 92626
          (714) 850-0880

          1. re: Servorg

            The Hamamori rec came to satisfy the op wanting "snob appeal" and "don’t want a strip mall". I don't care about snob appeal or it being in a strip mall and I don't want to pay South Coast Plaza prices. Degustateur's original recs were Shibucho, Sushi Wasabi, and Kasen for OC with Sushi Wasabi being firmly in the Nozawa/Sasabune school which is not my bag...unfortunately that still leaves just Shibucho and Kasen.

            1. re: Porthos

              Does that mean you have or haven't tried Hamamori?

              1. re: Servorg

                Correct, I have not tried Hamamori. Don't plan to either based on current information provided in relation to Shibucho and Kasen.

                1. re: Porthos

                  I haven't tried Hamamori, but I believe it's an extension of the WaSa tiny chainlet. And I really liked WaSa and the WaSa treasures that I have there about a decade or slightly less there too. But I don't think WaSa is a traditional joint at all, though once the chef realized that I wanted the goods beyond the usual stuff, he started serving me more exotic, interesting stuff that you would get at a Shibucho or Kasen.

                  Haveing said that I really did like the WaSa treasures at the time. Great stuff. Also, I believe the chef's name is James Hamamori, hence the name of his newest restaurant. And he had a restaurant after the original WaSa on Jamboree entitled WaSa in (or on) the Bluffs in Newport Beach.

                  Just for the fun of it, I do want to try Bluefin one night though. (I believe it's a Matsuhisa-inspired type joint).

                  1. re: kevin

                    I've been to Bluefin once and I thought it was quite good. I'd go again in a heartbeat if I was down that way and wanted sushi +

                    1. re: Porthos

                      I did not find Hamamori all that amazing. A step above Wasa to be sure, but Wasa is in my middle tier of sushi spots, decent fish, good rolls, but rarely am I going to get something I gush over. Since it is close to home, the Wasa on Jamboree is probably the sushi bar I frequent the most.

                      The restaurant itself is pretty, and You will have a nice, albeit expensive, meal there should you go.

                      1. re: ocshooter

                        That's what I suspected based on location and yelp photos. I like the 60-70pp legit omakase including pristine bluefin otoro that I get at Shibucho and Kasen. If I want to drop more than $100pp I'm taking it up to Mori.

                2. re: Servorg

                  Hamamori is quite good--but definitely non-traditional (more in the Bluefin vein but I like it a tad better than Bluefin). A pretty restaurant with good service but a bit pricey. It is the place in OC where I take clients who want sushi but also would enjoy other menu options.

            2. My recollection of Kasen was delicious, traditional, and expensive.

              I think we ended up ~120pp.

              4 Replies
              1. re: ns1

                Is that omakase only or does that include the sake? My omakase was $153 for 2 vs the very consistent $120-130 for 2 at Shibucho. The sake added significantly to the tab.

                1. re: Porthos

                  Pretty sure it was omakase with 1 asahi. I remember going over my budget when I visited, found a post I made in 2007:

                  "Had a great meal at Kasen in Fountain Valley. Very traditional, very sushi gen like. They even give you what I would amount to as Japanese amuse bouche's.

                  200 for 2 people after tax/tip omakase."

                  1. re: ns1

                    Sounds like pricing hasn't changed. Hard to make it under $100pp these days AFTER tax and tip for a good omakase that includes premium bluefin otoro, abalone, live santa barbara prawns, etc. I find it way more refined and higher quality on all counts than Sushi Gen though. Cheaper too according to your previous Sushi Gen rants ;)

                    1. re: Porthos

                      Agreed there, it was a much, much better experience then Gen. I actually felt like a customer, not a number with $$$ above my head.

              2. Have you tried Ikko? I know it's not just traditional sushi in the same sense but wondering how you'd compare to Kasen and Shibucho. I haven't had a chance to try either but both places have been on my to do list. The sushi at Ikko was very good. The prepared food was excellent and I would go back just for the home made tofu and chawanmushi.

                1. Anyone here ever tried Murasaki in Santa Ana? I like it quite a bit, though I've never done omakase there.

                  It reminds me a little of Echigo.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jaykayen

                    Yes. I had omakase once with some traditional cooked items. It was decent but added up quickly and I didn't find the quality as good as Shibucho or Kasen. I really like their udon at lunch though.

                    1. re: Porthos

                      oops, just now saw you mentioned that.