After months of seeing Shibucho pop in and out of messages on the board, I decided to have dinner there with the significant other (s.o.). Located in a non-descript strip mall in Costa Mesa, near the Triangle, Shibucho is on the smallish side. There were about 10 or 12 seats at the sushi bar and 3 tables, each seating 4, along the wall.
Although other chowhounds had raved about Shibucho in the past, it has been a while since anyone wrote a full review so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was especially nervous about going to a new sushi restaurant since the s.o. is quite the sushi connoisseur and would be perfectly happy to eat sushi every day of the week. It was with much relief that I opened the door and found Shibucho relatively busy - there were about 6 patrons at the sushi bar (when there's only 10 seats at the sushi bar, 6 filled seats makes it seem pretty full!).
Immediately after being seated, our drink orders were taken and we were given hot towels. Soon after, Shibutani greeted us with a smile and two plates with ginger and shredded daikon. Contrary to what other chowhounds have noted, Shibutani seemed perfectly happy to let us ordered omasake. He simply asked if there was anything we didn't eat. Of course we gave a resounding "No" for an answer.
Without much wait, Shibutani started our meal with two pieces of toro - a chu-toro next to an o-toro. The chu-toro was mild and delicate. Pretty good start I thought, but then wow! the o-toro was out of this world good. It was lightly pink, superbly marbled and had a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth feel with exquisite flavor. Probably one of the best o-toro I have ever had and the couple next to us agreed, saying that it was the best o-toro they have ever had!
I wish I had taken notes because we proceeded to have a dizzying array of sushi. There was bonito, lightly seared on the outside and served first with a bit of soy sauce on top, then with ponzu sauce. The contrast between the saltiness of the soy sauce and citrusiness of the ponzu against the bonito was subtle, but remarkably noticeable. Then there were two different scallops - one firm and sweet, like giant clam, and the other soft and smooth. There was also very fresh uni, perfectly seasoned kohada, and something even the s.o. and I had never had before - skate.
As we dined, a few patrons came and left, but there were always at least 6 of us there. Somehow, half way through the meal, Shibutani forgot that we didnt speak Japanese and proceeded to talk to us entirely in Japanese! J It was very amusing to the Japanese patrons who translated for us! We lingered for about 2 hours and each had about 15+ pieces of sushi. Towards the end of our meal, we were given some marinated vegetables (eggplant, pumpkin or squash, etc., each had been marinated a different way). I think an older Japanese lady further down the sushi bar had asked for them and we were given some to try. The tab, including 15+ pieces of sushi, miso soup and tea for each of us, was an amazing $73.86!!! I almost let out a gasp! I could not believe my eyes. The s.o. and I thought it was easily over $100+!
Like the other chowhounds, I thought that Shibucho was a great deal with excellent sushi at a bargain price. BUT Shibucho is more than just a good meal at an incredible price. What makes Shibucho head and shoulders above the other sushi places is Shibutani. He is a real sushi master - his knife work was perfect, and the way he laid out our meal, contrasting one fish against another or two different cuts of the same fish against each other, shows his incredible skill, experience, and depth of knowledge.
We've been to most of sushi places that have been talked about here on chowhound.com (Echigo, Sasabune, etc.) and while we like some of those places (Echigo especially), the s.o. and I thought that this was one of the best sushi experience we've ever had. When you order omasake at other sushi places, the sushi is served as if they were a single musical note, each piece standing alone, but at Shibucho, the omasake is served like a musical composition, with a being, leading to a middle, then to an ending. I hope that anyone who visits Shibucho will have as delightful an experience as we did!
590 W. 19th Street