OK so In the last week I've eaten at Ohshima, Nana San and Kasen (still haven't tried Ikko; it's on the to-do list for sure).
Every place served beautifully fresh fish. I didn't get a bad piece at any place. You'll have a great meal at all three.
But the verdict: Ohshima's the best, Nana San's the best value, and Kasen is very solid with a battera I'll go back again and again for.
Best overall: Ohshima. Nobody touches their selection, and I really appreciate how the chef seasons each piece for you so you can just relax and eat the sushi. Each piece is so deftly prepared that you get just the right amount of shoyu/wasabi/other accoutrements, just how you would want it. Selection, and execution go to Ohshima over the rest. Quality, as I said, was roughly equal across the board.
Best value: Nana San. I had lunch with a friend, we hand 10 orders of nigiri including amaebi and albacore belly and a hand roll each, and our total was I think 27 (before tip I think). Incredible value. Although you should remember that Nana San does a much smaller nigiri preparation than you ordinarily find. Still it was a filling and very reasonably priced lunch, with top of the line quality.
Kasen was pretty expensive, and their selection was a bit smaller than either of the other two. But every cut here is fantastic and I can see why it has so many fans. What really drove me to eat here was I saw they had battera, one of my favorites but something I've never felt I've had a top-shelf version of. Kasen's version delivers, bigtime. They put a little piece of sweet kombu on each piece to offset the fishy, vinegary tang of the mackerel; it's awesome.
Another cool thing at Kasen, since I went there alone, they let me order one piece per order of nigiri. So I had a full order of anago, and aji, and half orders of chutoro and hirame. $50 total. (Ohshima was $80/person for 12 nigiris including amaebi and toro, oysters, blue crab handrolls... yeah we went all out!)
One last thing about Kasen (that I have to say, made little sense to me), was that they said they didn't have albacore that night because it's out of season and they don't freeze their catch. I thought this was strange, because they said the season starts in February, and anywhere you're getting albies in February is going to be a loooooong way from here. They said the same about amaebi and tai, out of season. Sort of peculiar, I don't know what to make of it. If they're being honest, it's very cool and it shows a commitment to a level of freshness that may be unrivaled by the other places, but if they're just bs'ing to explain away not having 3 different items to someone they think might not know better, that's pretty lame. I'm going to assume it's the former until I hear someone saying "I had XYZ there yesterday."
Though the selection at Kasen is small, the quality is the highest level. Sometimes they will be no live prawn on Wed and on Friday there will be. Kasen does have some more rare imported Japanese stuff. You just have to ask or luck out. The otoro at Kasen is as fine as what I've had at Mori and once or twice on the level of Urasawa.
I like Oishima's selection also, but occasionally there will be a slight taint of fishiness. Also the rice is not as nice as the rice at Kasen.
I am very surprised I haven't been to Oshima yet. And it's located in the city of Orange of all places.
It does sound a lot like Sushi Wasabe in nearby Tustin, which I have been to many times before.
Anyone happen to know also what year it opened ?
Btw, the last time I was in OC, I believe Maki Zushi was the joint I hit up.
Yeah I have to say, there's sample size problem in my analysis. On my one visit to each place, there wasn't a taint of fishiness in any piece I had anywhere.
I'll trust you that Kasen brings a more consistent quality; in fact I should hope so since it's a pretty expensive place all in all.
Rice wise, I have to say it's not something I really consider outside a minor preference of mine that the rice is warm. I don't usually notice the nuanced difference in rice from one place to the next, as far as the top tier establishments go. So I'll defer to you on that as well.
I can say that from my one visit to each place, for whatever that's worth, the quality was roughly the same at all 3. I'll also say that as long as Ohshima is on it's game, it's IMO the #1 spot. Again, take it for what it's worth.
I'll report back on Ikko, shouldn't be too long.
yes. They do a mandatory 8 piece omakase if you sit at the bar which I believe is 40 dollars, you'd really enjoy that.
It was crowded when I went and we didn't make a res stupidly, so we sat at a table to minimize the wait.
Good news is that there were tons of fish on the menu and several of our orders were fish I'd never tasted and they were all magnificent, not a miss on that menu so if there was any place I'd happily relinquish control to the chef, it's here.
Their buri was unforgettable, their toro was face melting, all the shellfish we ordered were the best I'd ever had.
Kasen is excellent. Looking at your photos, the toro at Kasen is easily superior. By far. It's also more traditonal with less of the Ginger/scallion/garlic chips thing going on. However the impressive selection of rare stuffs at that price point (assuming you didn't get a discount) is tempting me to go tonight. Thanks for the head's up.
re: kevin h
This may be the best combination of quality, variety, and value I've had here in LA. The quality is a notch down from the best; the bluefin tuna a bit less flavorful, the chu toro with a touch more sinew, the tai a little softer in texture, the hiramasa with a taint of fishiness, etc. But the value is tremendous.
We sat at the bar in front of Shige and had:
-buri for me salmon for my friend (I requested no salmon)
-scallop (I think he was so busy he forgot)
This ended the set of "8 minimum orders omakase"
-chu toro-nice flavor, a touch of sinew, huge generous piece
-amaebi for me (head in soup) and buri for my friend
-tuna hand roll for my friend who tapped out. His omakase came out to be $53 before tax and tip.
I continued with the following:
-kohada-decent, nothing like the kohada at Mori or Kasen
-akanishigai-savory, very good
-tsubugai-crunchy, sweet, almost on par with the one I had at Kasen.
My omakase came out to be $75.
The value here and the rare stuff here is a treat. The kitchen looked like it was churning out some good stuff. The rice is well seasoned. Sometimes the saucing is a bit heavier handed than I would like.
For pristine sushi, the highest quality, but at a higher price-tag (0-50% more) I'm going with Kasen.
For quality, variety, rare stuff, and value combined, it's hard to beat Ohshima.
In OC I would rank it Kasen, Ohshima, Shibucho.
In LA I would put it on par with Kiriko, but much better priced.
I notice the "taint of fishiness" in a lot of his cuts. He was also a little heavy-handed with the salt on at least two pieces of sushi during my meal. And the use of a plastic spray bottle to spray lemon juice on the sushi is a bit tacky.
I'm really surprised that you guys speak so highly of Ohshima, but I guess that's the beauty of eating sushi: everybody has their own preference.
If you like variety and exotic items, then Maki Zushi is the clear winner in that department.