Thinking that it's about time that we tried a new restaurant instead of heading to our usual favorite Sushi Wasabi, I decided on Ikko after seeing reviews of it on blogs and sites recently. I found some of these reviews originally while we were still in London, but was hoping to try this place once we got back. But we kept getting sidetracked by Wasabi (our all-time favorite since they opened) and Blue Fin.
Anyway, the restaurant is in a tiny strip mall so the location isn't well marked. Thanks to all those blogs and reviews because we were able to find it with the landmarks mentioned. As others have cited, the restaurant is very small - about 6 tables that mostly seat up to 4 and about 8-10 seats at the sushi bar. The ambiance is very nice - dark, romantic with nice music.
The menu also looked extensive - a whole page of sushi, many of the fish I'd never heard of despite going to sushi almost weekly. There's also appetizers, salads, new style sashimi, cooked dishes and a couple of pages of specials (not to mention sakes). We opted for the following which seemed to be what most people had suggested:
-Eggplant tempura topped with chopped tuna and roe - probably the best of the dishes that we ordered...it was light on its feet, you can taste the crunchiness of the eggplant tempura and spiciness of the chopped tuna.
-New style yellowtail with this hoisin sauce - kind of a ripoff of Nobu's and Bluefin's dish, but coarsely executed. The yellowtail was a bit thick and not well cut - the hoisin sauce was just off - made it a bit heavy.
-Monk fish liver with this mousse - Yuck! I really struggled to finish this dish - the mouse was so gross and heavy. I normally LOVE monk fish liver since I love fois gras so this was a disappointment. Under the blob of mousse was the monk fish liver squares, cucumbers, jello pieces and some seaweed. Very gross and probably an acquired taste.
-Salmon on tortilla chips - this was okay....the salmon sat on top of a filling (wasabi-based) on a tortilla chip. The salmon was fresh, but the dish was nothing special.
-Toro sushi - they seared this lightly on the top - blasphemy!!! It altered the taste of the fish - what a waste of fresh toro. It was seared by a cooking torch. It's not creme brulee?!!!
-Sweet shrimp sushi - this was fresh but they should have prepared it that would make it easier to eat. This was a jumbo shrimp so it was hard to eat and hard to bite off. The fried head was very yummy.
-Chilean seabass with miso sauce - To be fair, we normally don't like Nobu's Black cod with miso sauce so I'm not surprised that we didn't like this version either. Both of us thought that the Chilean would taste like striped seabass so we were unprepared for the cod-like consistency of the fish.
I feel bad that we found this place to be mediocre and a bit heavy-handed in the execution. Our yardstick for this type of cuisine are Nobu-London and Bluefin so it's probably not a fair comparison. I suspect that if you're a local and eat here regularly, there are some good dishes to be had. The chefs seem to take their craft very seriously. I left feeling like the food was a bit heavy, which is not a good sign for whether I had a good meal or not.
Price-wise, it's similar to Sushi Wasabi. It was $138 with all the food above, a beer, a soda and tip for 2.
After dinner, I just wanted some light dessert to replace the heavy feeling. We headed to Mochilato on Culver/Walnut and ran into friends who were there with their kids. The menu is extensive - shaved ice (japanese style = with mochi and red beans, italian, etc.), gelato, tart yogurt with toppings, ice cream mochi. There are places to sit and hang out - finally, a dessert place in OC to hang out at! I miss Cafe Lalo in NYC for this - wish that someone would wise up and open such a place here. We got a small gelato, a medium gelato (both small!), 3 small ice cream mochi and a pack of mochi bits (don't know what they're called). It was about $17. Everything was small which isn't a bad thing considering that everything in the US is super-sized! The mochi ice cream was yummy; I tasted the tart yogurt which was good.
Since moving back here, I guess that I've been disappointed time and again at the calibre of restaurants in the OC. I think that it's generally gotten better than when we left 3 years ago, but there are days when I despair. Other recent disappointments: Tropika, Pina's Bistro, Aire, Old Vine Cafe, French 75.
Good without being brilliant was Marche Moderne that took over the spot where Troquet used to be.
Luckily, we do have some of the best ethnic places around - the Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon, the Chinese/Taiwanese/Shanghai places in MPK and Rowland. And the best sushi restaurant ever, Sushi Wasabi. A good recent find was Ristorante Max in NB, as well as Las Cojitas in Tustin. So the search continues for more favorites like those....