Sep 6, 2012

Masa Sushi Restaurant - What You See is Not Always What You Get (in a good way)

Masa is a sushi joint recommended by many of my friends. Let me tell you, with its average $80 dinner price, I did not expect to run into this somehow hole in the wall restaurant located away from all the busy plazas in Costa Mesa.

Looking very suspicious from the outside, I couldn't even peeked into these tinted windows to see what's going on.. And what's up with that "sake bomb" signage? Call me stereotypical, but that sign immediately spells out Americanized sushi in my mind.

Masa is for reservation only. It might not be packed at all, in fact, it seems empty most of the time. Either way, reservation only, no exceptions and no walk-ins allowed. I was even told to be there right on time because the chef and waitress will not seat us till appointed hours.

We did arrive at the restaurant approximately 30 minutes earlier. Chef and the waitress seemed surprised at first but they did seat us politely instead of having us to wait outside. We ordered one of their imported namazake to help in passing that 30 minutes time frame. Chef will not serve any food till our appointment hour, which is fine, sake sounds good for now.

By the way, while a small bottle or glass of Hakkaisan sells for $16.5, our namazake comes with a hefty price of $90.

The waitress will check if you prefer sushi only or with hot dishes when making reservation. This was my first visit to Masa, so a more traditional route of sushi only was the way to go.

Zensai (appetizer plate) -

Starting from top right in clockwise fashion:
Crab tsukemono (pickled)
Dried persimmon with cream cheese
Seared scallop

Uni/sea urchin chawamushi -

After zensai and chawamushi, our sushi courses started to come. The first two were blue fin tuna and one other kind of fish from Japan. I got too busy devouring my food so missed some pictures there.

Sushi #3 - Tuna from Japan, toro/neck section -

Tender and fatty, it kind of just melts in your mouth, definitely a must try item.

Sushi #4 - Botan Ebi -

Similar to ama ebi but botan ebi is generally bigger and a little bit more expensive.

Sushi #5 - Salmon duo, Scottish versus Alaska -

I believe chef got the farmed Scottish salmon and wild Alaska salmon. Flavor-wise, all votes went to the Alaska salmon for its fuller taste impact and fat content.

Sushi #6 - Kuruma ebi (Japanese tiger shrimp) -

This one has a more chewy texture compared to ama ebi and botan ebi. It is also a common high-end ingredient for Chinese food. Kuruma ebi's size and chewy texture not only can withstand searing and frying, it can  also take on Chinese's heavy seasonings well.

Sushi #7 - Big clam with caviar -

Sushi #8 - Inada with yuzu kosho -

Inada is basically a smaller yellowtail. Sometimes you see sushi names such as buri, inada, warasa, they all refer to yellowtail. Japanese gave this fish various names based on different sizes.

Sushi #9 - Kampachi -

Sushi #10 - Sayori with shiso -

Pretty chewy fish, but matched well with the strong fragrance from shiso leaves.

Sushi #11 - Awabi (abalone) -

Not a big fan of this course. The edges are way too chewy for me, almost crunchy to an extent.

Sushi #12 - Amadai (Japanese snapper) -

Sushi #13 - Uni Kani (sea urchin and crab) -

Each of these two ingredients on their own is good enough already, but pairing the two together? Even better.

Sushi #14 - Santa Barbara uni -

Miso soup with the head from kuruma ebi -

Dessert duo -

Top: sorbet made with Muscat wine and fresh grapes.
Bottom: Pear jelly, yogurt, fresh pear, and chocolate shavings.

Masa's dessert surprised me the most. I did not expect anything more than ordinary to come out from this sushi restaurant. Both desserts carried just the right amount of acidity and sweetness. It's more of an adult indulgence. Very refreshing and certainly drew a perfect ending for the entire meal.

The overall experience was better than expected despite the initial shock of Masa's store front. Chef actually took time explaining some of the courses, especially for the "comparison dishes" such as the salmon duo or all the ebi nigiri. If you're looking for a more traditional sushi experience, this is the place to go. However, if you like your sushi to dress up a bit in regards to preparations and seasonings, maybe try some other places first before visiting Masa.

Cindy's rating: 7

Masa Sushi Restaurant
*Reservation only

1907 Harbor Boulevard
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 515 - 1990

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