First let’s say upfront what Ootoro is not. It’s not cheap. Omakase ranges from $130 to $300, and does not include drinks, tip or tax. Omakase can be translated as, “I’ll leave it to you.” It’s a prix fixe selection of multiple courses that the sushi chef selects based on seasonality and freshness, as well as perhaps the chef’s impressions of the patron’s palate and experience. Sushi experts agree it’s the best way to experience the skill of a sushi chef. When enjoyed at its highest form, Omakase is like an artistic performance, highlighting the chef’s mastery of technique, fish selection and presentation.
It’s that high art that’s on display at Ootoro. The restaurant is located on Michelson in the IBC, in the small center that is evolving from the former Palm Café Food Court into the much cooler TRADE Marketplace, which will include a dining hall that’s still under construction. An example of the before-and-after transformation is an odd juxtaposition: the exquisite Ootoro is within a door or two of a Subway sandwich shop.
It’s the third in a critically acclaimed group of restaurants with previous locations in Walnut and Alhambra. For those familiar with the Asian diaspora in Southern California, it makes sense that Irvine is now added to that list.
While Omakase is the best way to appreciate the artistry at Ootoro, on our first lunch visit we chose to order a la carte. We marked our choices in pencil on the order sheet, which is divided by variety of fish, including tuna, yellowtail, white fish, silver skin fish, shell fish and specials. We chose a variety of sashimi and sushi, including kanpachi (amberjack), abalone, nama amaebi (live sweet shrimp), akamutsu (ruby snapper), aji (Spanish mackerel), kinme-dai (golden eye snapper), aoyagi (hen clam) and toro 3 kinds (tuna).
The chefs offered each selection almost as a sacrament, and we accepted it with appropriate reverence. For the uninitiated, or those who want a sample of the sublime, the toro served three ways ($28) is a revelation. Each buttery taste elicited audible murmurs of pleasure from our group. Our server advised that the similar selections of whitefish 3 kinds and yellowtail 3 kinds offer similar experiences. We envision stopping in just for the toro triple play, and calling it an excellent day.
While enjoying a long lunch at the sushi bar, we noticed a few patrons come in, be seated, take a look at the menu, and leave. Which brings up another thing that Ootoro is not: a good choice to come in for a California, Dragon or Rainbow roll, or a quick and inexpensive sushi lunch. And that means it’s not for everybody, or even most. But while highly refined, Ootoro is not pretentious. The chefs and servers were friendly and informative, and treated us with respect, though we’re far from experts in the fine points of the cuisine.
But for those who appreciate the finest fish, enjoyed in a calm and beautiful space and served with a high level of graciousness and skill that’s less common than it should be, Ootoro is a nearly perfect place in the heart of downtown Irvine.
2222 Michelson Dr.,