Fresh fish find
One of the expected experiences of omakase at high-end sushi restaurants is the anticipation of the unexpected, where one is certain to experience something unique and sublime: fish one may have never heard of, prepared in artistic ways one may have never seen before, presented from the hands of the chef himself. And watching the chefs prepare the unique bites is a key part of the experience.
That’s not part of the plan at Fatty Tuna, the cool, new sushi spot in Irvine’s Park Place. That’s because each of three omakase “sets” are described completely on the menu, so one knows the nigiri, sushi and hand rolls one will receive on a given day or night.
That’s okay, we guess. Irvine omakase purists with deep pockets will be over at Ootoro Sushi, anyway, ordering the $30-$300 menu we at Irvine City News called “Irvine’s best serious sushi restaurant” in a review a year ago.
What Fatty Tuna provides is a perfect transition experience for those moving on from California rolls and other crazy sushi-like experiences, but not quite ready and willing to dive deep into a true (and truly expensive) omakase experience, such as offered at Ootoro.
Co-owners Wonny Lee and Hugh Pham are behind the new hot spot. Pham is an owner of popular sandwich spot The Kroft at The District and Anaheim Packing House, while Lee has a diverse culinary résumé that includes The Bazaar and Hamazsaku in L.A. and Hamamori and Marché Moderne in Orange County. They brought in sushi Chef Randy Fukushima, who has worked at Wasa Sushi, among other SoCal locales.
Fatty Tuna is a gorgeous restaurant. It’s a small space, done in a monochromatic white that we love. It feels fresh and clean, a well-lighted place with an exceptionally pleasing modern aesthetic.
The sets of sushi are priced at $20, $30, and $42. We ordered set B on our first visit. It included edamame, tuna sashimi, salmon nigiri, albacore, yellow tail, shrimp nigiri, unagi nigiri, blue crab hand roll and fatty tuna hand roll. We’ve also had the scallop special, which was particularly good. On another occasion we added a vegetarian set to our order for $28, which was very good, with beautiful presentation. Our server said it may be coming off the menu, though, as the preparation of the veggies is so precise only an owner and one chef can do it.
There are also a la carte offerings on the menu: one doesn’t have to commit to an omakase set to experience the restaurant.
Fatty Tuna is located a couple of doors down from Lemonade, with all those salads available, so vegans and vegetarians have the choice of going there, or Mother’s Market or even ordering the veggie burger from The Counter. Some would ask why would a vegan or vegetarian go for sushi, anyway. But these days it seems there’s at least one in every group. Here’s a hint: meat and fish-lovers, don’t let your dining-out friends watch the documentary “What the Health.” It’s scary good.
We’ve heard and read a lot comparing Fatty Tuna to Sugarfish, a trendy sushi spot in L.A. and NYC. We haven’t been, so can’t say if the comparisons are apt. But we’d say The New York Times review of the NYC Sugarfish applies equally to Fatty Tuna: the selection of fish “rarely rises above entry level.”
At Fatty Tuna, you’re not going to be served something unusual, like shimaaji or tachiuo. Nothing will still be moving as it arrives at your table. Which is why Fatty Tuna is perfect for a business lunch or dinner date where one wants to play it reasonably safe, while still enjoying something delicious, fresh and traditional.