June 16, 2007

Ikko Japanese Restaurant [Costa Mesa]

People talk about hidden gems as if anything in plain sight of an Orange County strip mall could remain hidden for long, but Ikko is truly a tucked away.

When you're driving down Baker, look for the Lotions and Lace store--it's in that Plaza. If you're driving from South Coast Plaza, you're likely to miss it. If you're coming from the other way, you cant miss the new age orange sign announcing that you've arrived at your destination.



The space oozes swank with jazz music filling the eight-tables and sushi bar at Ikko. The lights are turned down low in a beatnik jazz club kinda way and it reminds me of a place where you would frequent on your illicit love affair. There were mostly Japanese patrons on that Friday Night and the lull of their quiet whispers bathed the room. At closing on another night, the crowd was pretty rambunctious. So, f you're looking for a quiet dinner, I'd advise eating earlier, which would also give your more options since they tend to run out of the more popular items.

yellowtail and salmon sashimiThe food here is upscale Japanese izakaya with Western influences, but priced moderately for the type of restaurant it is. There is sashimi flown in from Japan and the daily specials are written on a menu, though they are crossed off when the kitchen runs off. We tried both the domestic and imported yellowtail and both were excellent. While we've had better in terms of quality and texture, the flavor was good.


What makes Ikko's Japanese fusion different from other restaurants is that it errs on the side of Japanese more than it does on the side of Western. There are Western preparation and ingredients such as carpaccio, asparagus, and stuffed meats, but the delicate, mellow balance of flavors that is a cornerstone to Japanese cusine is what stands out most. You can really see this in the tofu dishes especially.

We are partial to the rock shrimp tempura salad and if you're feeling adventurous, the radish pancake with uni, ikura, and dried shrimp [it's milder than you'd expect]. The pancake reminds me of the turnip cake you get at dim sum, except that it has a sticky texture similar to what you'd find in natto or mochi desserts. We've also had the chilean sea bass, asparagus spring rolls, and chicken stuffed w/brown rice, though we were more ambivalent about those dishes. For dessert, I love the black soy ice cream for a mere $3.50.





Most of the menu descriptions are fairly unassuming and humble, but dont let that fool you. Take a chance on something that sounds boring and you may be surprised.



Updated July 10, 2007

Though I've been for dinner a few times, today was my first venture into lunch. I have always been intrigued by Ikko's lunch menu, which isn't your standard bento box affair. There was no miso soup or chicken terriyaki in sight. We tried the lunch special, which was a special roll and a chicken meatball and baked mochi soup with daikon radish. The soup was a little on the salty side, but the special roll was a light and sweet combination of tamago, eel, and shrimp.



The same sushi chefs were there for lunch, though sushi specials are featured primarily in the evening. We built our meal primarily on sushi and ventured outside of our comfort zones by blindly ordering. My first encounter with pen shell was on the tasting menu at Cyrus and if that was good, the sushi was mind blowing. The pen shell belongs to the same family as scallops and is expectedly sweet. What is unexpected is the range of flavor, which your mouth explores as the pen shell slowly melts away. Don't miss it.

From left to right: Taraigai (pen shell), Aji (Spanish mackerel), Hamachi (yellowtail)

We were dazzled by the progression and freshness of our sushi, which was dressed with restraint to bring out the natural qualities of the fish. I will vouch for Ikko once more and this time designate it as a C'est Poptastique! pick.

Ikko Japanese Restaurant
735 Baker St Ste C
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 556-7822

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