I suppose I went in with overly high expectations. I read several people claim Kasen served the best sushi in OC. I made last minute reservations and was unable to do the full omakase experience so my friend and I settled for the $50 omakase. They need reservations at least 2 days advance for the full omakase.
When we got here we saw a piece of paper stuck to the door that stated the restaurant was booked for the evening. After my experience at Sushi Wasabi, this raised my expectations of the restaurant even higher. Upon entering we saw a bar with a couple tables off to the side and a semi private tatami area further inside.
The bar was split between a group of Japanese businessmen and an extended Chinese family. The Chinese family seated their kids at a table and Kevin remarked that he felt we were sitting in the "kiddie" area.
We started the evening with alcohol as is our usual wont, in this case, sake. Looking through the list we couldn't really decide. We decided to do a "Kubota tasting", comparing the Manjyu with the Hekijyu. The Manjyu was drier and crisper while the Hekijyu was a touch sweeter and more simplistic.
The first course was octopus with japanese mustard and seaweed. The octopus had an excellent texture, the small piece was soft yet resistant with a slightly sweet flavor and a whisper of wasabi. All in all not a bad way to start the evening.
The second course was the standout of the evening: toro, salmon, snapper, yellowtail, and octopus sashimi. The toro, salmon, octopus, and yellowtail were excellent. The snapper was different from what I am used to, with pinker flesh and a softer texture, not really my style.
Next came chawan-mushi with mushrooms and seafood. The egg custard had a nice broth, but the seafood inside was overdone and bland.
The fourth course was more snapper with burdock and tofu. I generally dont like the taste of burdock and this was well cooked so it lacked the crunch of the pickled burdock I tried before. The burdock's texture was simlar to that of a cooked carrot with a more subtle earthy sweetness. Also I find shapper cooked a bit too firm for my tastes. The tofu was soft and soaked up the slightly sweet sauce very well. I can see the care and quality that went into this dish, it just isn't my style.
Lastly we had sushi and soup. First off I didnt like how the plate came all at once (I suppose that cant be helped since the bar was full). Nothing really stood out as excellent except for the abalone. However a couple pieces seemed like they weren't very fresh. The ikura was especially disappointing. Normally the eggs are crisp cold and so plump they pop with the slightest pressure. These were a touch warm, didn't pop, and the flavor gave me the impression they weren't that fresh. The mackerel texture was a touch grainy and it the oily fishiness was muted. See eel and the shrimp were also quite pedestrian.
The soup was a miso soup with seaweed and scallions. The soup had a mild reddish tint and was a bit more full-flavored than normal miso. I thought this soup was a nice way to finsih the meal even though I am not that fond of miso soup in general.
Not feeling full my friend ordered sweet shrimp and gizzard shad nigiri. The sweet shrimp was quite good as was the fried shrimp head.
The meal ended with a citrusy (yuzu?) sorbet and a cup of scalding hot green tea. Both of these are quite effective at cleansing the palette. I quite enjoyed the sorbet which was cold and tart. The cold also made the extreme heat of the tea a bit more bearable.
I am a bit conflicted on Kasen, some dishes were impressive, but the poor quality of the nigiri disturbs me. Seems the consensus for reviews says the chirashi is the way to go. I tend agree with that assessment based on my experiences. I am tempted to come back once more and try the full tasting.
Thanks to Kevin for taking the pictures.
The bill with some Kubota sake out to $120 per person