Yorba Linda sushi spot is worth a trip
Most Japanese menus in Orange County are full of rock n' roll California rolls and the like, so lovers of traditional sushi are quick to share names of the local chefs who get it right.
Sushi Noguchi is earning a spot in the small circle of restaurants that please the purists. Inside a Yorba Linda strip mall, Hiro and Jun Noguchi have transformed a generic space into a bright and peaceful haven. They opened last summer, serving classic sushi and a variety of small plates that are anything but ordinary.
The best way to try the house specialties is to order the $40 omakase, or chef's choice. The five courses include sushi, as well as creative cold plates from the bar and some dishes from the kitchen. The meal starts with a take on a spicy tuna taco. Plump chunks of raw red fish are tossed in a spicy sauce, served on a crunchy wafer. It's clear this is quality, and it sets the tone for the plates to come.
Next, white fish is served in chive oil, a simple citrusy, sesame sauce. Flavors are strong without being overpowering. Citrus is also present in the sauce of the next dish, kobe beef tataki. The chewy, substantial meat is a pleasant departure from seafood.
Surprisingly delicious is the crab hand roll, something I wouldn't typically order for fear of blandness. The quality of the seafood again makes this unrecognizable from its cousins at typical sushi restaurants. Here, the crab is succulent and sweet, and a hefty portion fills a sesame rice wrapper with warm rice and avocado.
An amuse bouche of calamari, clam and sautéed mushrooms is an elegant intermission. Finally, five pieces of sushi perfection are served. From toro to Spanish mackerel, each little slab of fish is cut expertly so it drapes over cool, sticky rice. Such a deceptively simple foundation allows enjoyment of the fish without any distraction. Different textures and flavors stand out, and I'm left with the feeling of awe that is the sign of good sushi.
For a more casual meal, splitting several of the Japanese tapas is just as delicious and surprisingly wallet-friendly. Agedashi tofu ($4) is a simple beginning. Cubes of tofu are deep fried, then dropped into a bowl of tempura sauce. The tofu wicks up the savory sauce, and though it's not as crunchy as I hope, the tempura adds good texture to the soft soy.
Crispy spicy tuna ($8.50) will please fans of the ubiquitous spicy tuna rolls. The same plump, juicy tuna from the omakase finds its way atop fried cubes of rice. The result is sort of like gourmet Japanese tater tots, with exceptionally fresh fish on top.
Tender, quality meat also makes the Kobe beef sushi ($6) a must-order for the carnivores. Bite-sized pork tonkatsu ($8.50) prove crunchy, but without any strong flavor, so the dish is made for dipping.
The final surprise proves to be crispy salmon skin salad. I'm no fan of rabbit food, but this is a salad that I can get excited about. Crispy baked salmon skin serves the role that bacon bits might – except charred skin with bits of smoky meat adds more oomph to the simple dressing and greens. Radish sprouts, burdock root and cucumber round out the dish, and a sprinkling of bonito flakes pumps up any remaining bites that might taste healthy.
The easy mix of creative recipes and classic style gives Sushi Noguchi a unique personality. It's no wonder foodies are making the trek to Yorba Linda – this restaurant is worth the drive.
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