A return to Kasen (Fountain Valley)

Third time, still a charm. More nigiri porn for you lot!

Summary: not a modern high end kind of place that is the rage in NY, LA, or the recently minted Michelin star’d places in SF, but still steps above the run of the mill jack of all trades Japanese restaurant. In some ways, rather bare bones but stripped down to its most basic form. The combination of components and the balance between a good vinegared sushi rice recipe and the quality of the neta, works nicely here.

Came on a Tuesday night and called ahead around 4 pm for a 6 pm reservation, no problem whatsover. Shunka in Costa Mesa however, does not take reservations.

There are only three staff in the restaurant, chef owner (according to “Name That Blogger” is Susumu Ii (or is it Li, he’s not Chinese for sure), his wife, and a younger male who may actually be their son. Given how their website mentioned they do Kansai style sushi, I asked if they were from Kansai, and it turns out the chef is somewhere from Okinawa, trained his craft in Osaka, and the chef’s wife is from Tokyo.

Chef speaks a little English (or so it appears) but seems far more comfortable and responding in Japanese. He seems very serious but I managed to get a few laughs out of him. Even after the 3rd visit, I can feel that their approach is not for everyone. But ultimately still a darling for Japanese expats and those who like to drink their nice wines with the meal, name that blogger or not.

Breakdown: when you ask for omakase, they will ask if you want nigiri, or sashimi + nigiri.

Starter: crab cucumber sunomono

Sorry for the out of order pictures

Had a small 180 mL carafe of Dassai 23, which paired nicely with the sashimi platter (particiularly the Santa Barbara uni, match made in heaven). Their top of the line carafe sake was Kubota Manju at the same price. Didn’t ask to see the bottle/premium sake prices.

Sashimi: Santa Barbara uni, tako, ama ebi, toro, tai, shima aji

nigiri: Mongo ika, akami (bluefin), buri, hotate, hamachi, mirugai (not as pristine as last year’s piece), ikura (weak point, salted version and clumpy sacs), aji (splendid), toro, hirame, Santa Barbara uni, saba (requested), anago (superb), Kumamoto oyster (requested), kohada (requested), awabi (requested), and ended with a splendid and very memorable toro takuan hosomaki (requested) far better than “negi toro” maki’s that has been overdone.

They will ask how you want the prawn head. Ebi (atama) akadashi (red miso soup) is the way to go here. Don’t waste the amaebi tail! Have them put it in the soup for a little extra flavor.


nice write up.

no one responded for some fucked up reason.

but how much was the damages ???

it’s been over a decade since i’ve been sounds like i’m way overdue for a visit.

Damage was a bit greater than I had expected. Opportunity cost wise, probably close to that of Mori for Premium Omakase, but with this meal I had 180 mL sake. It’s great for the area, but if you are coming from LA, Mori for now is hard to top.

Great writeup! And photos!

How was the shari? The packing and grains look legit.

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The shari blows away 90% of places in SF Bay Area. It’s got the right balance of vinegar, texture, stickiness, fluffiness if that makes sense, all at the right temperature. Maybe a touch stronger vinegar presence than most people will like, but it works fantastic with all their neta. The sushi rice freakin shined so brightly in the toro takuan hosomaki, the incredible medley of flavors, textures. It was impossible not to close one’s eyes and smile huge while savoring each bite, kind of like that girl eating the Uni sushi in Jiro Dreams (is that “Little Meg Siu Meg??”)

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Housekeeping note: Kasen has closed, and the Chef Susumu is now cooking at his own place Sushi Ii in Newport Beach.


He was our chef that night at Ii. He was exceptional.