That's Just How They Roll
Despite a few menu kinks, the tattoo-inspired sushi joint Irezumi earns some very good ink
If you were at a sushi bar, and you saw that the menu had a sushi roll that boasted a hot dog as the main ingredient, wouldn't you want to order it? That's just one of the ways that Irezumi in Costa Mesa tries to turn the tables on what you think a sushi bar should serve—and look like.
The décor of this new eatery looks like it was assembled from the leftover set dressing of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Bold tattoo motifs hinting at the Tokyo underworld and the Yakuza adorn the walls and windows ("irezumi" is "tattoo" in Japanese). The waitresses wear cleavage-baring tops, and the speakers blare alt-rock that's piped in at a volume that will make your head either bob or throb.
Just for effect, four plasma screens run an Akira Kurosawa samurai flick on a loop, while another pair play the skater documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. This isn't your grandfather's sushi bar; it's your kid brother's—the one diagnosed with ADD.
But back to that hot-dog sushi roll. I was set to order the Kobayashi, an homage to the hot-dog-eating champion of the world, Takeru Kobayashi, but unfortunately, it wasn't available.
They'd only been open for a few weeks, our waitress explained, and not everything on the menu was ready. But one question nagged as I pictured how fun the dish could have been: "How difficult are hot dogs to get?"
Joining the hot-dog roll on the no-show list was a sashimi special called the Triple B, which promised bluefin tuna, blueberries and bleu cheese—a combination that seemed to exist simply because someone had a sense of humor.
Luckily, what the kitchen did manage to produce saved Irezumi from being a flash in the pan with no food on the plate.
There was the Tokyo Style Yakitori—thick skewers of grilled white-meat chicken that ate like substantial Thai satays missing their peanut sauce. The Scallop Explosion was also a winning appetizer, with seared scallops, Mandarin orange wedges, sautéed enoki and shimeji mushrooms set over rich pureed potatoes. A dribble of dressing had the darkness of Hoisin, the scorch of Sriracha and the ridiculous name of "explosive sauce."
Other condiments get even sillier adjectives. An "angry" sauce was brushed over a piece of yellowtail that had been torched lightly, decorated with a thin sliver of jalapeño and draped over a ball of rice. But since its flavor was almost imperceptible, "passive-aggressive sauce" would've been a more accurate moniker. The salsa that topped the tuna nigiri dubbed "Hannya" was spicier—maybe rising to "insolent" level.
On the list of traditional nigiri, the uni jiggled like a sea-borne custard, but it could've done without the interfering nub of wasabi placed on top. A more welcome addition was a sheet of kelp laid over the mackerel sushi. Its crunchy snap and sweetness balanced the fish's salty, unctuous flesh. The unagi had its edges charred to a crisp, the kind of carbonized flavor you relish on the end pieces of barbecued ribs.
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The Three Tataki sashimi sampler enlisted tuna, yellowtail and salmon arranged like tiles on the plate. Though all were briefly broiled, the first two were cooked to a firmer degree of doneness than the salmon. As a result, you couldn't tell either of them apart, especially after a liberal dousing of the olive oil and tart ginger sauce.
The roll to rule them all, though, was the Botan, wherein a deep-fried soft-shell crab, avocado, cucumber and carrot become filling in a rice wheel wrapped with the sheer skin of a thinly sliced daikon radish. Packed as tight as a drum, it unfurled to a mouthful of crunch and texture.
I can't imagine that the Kobayashi—which would've also included cheese and spicy Japanese mustard—could have ever measured up. But hopefully, by the time you read this, Irezumi has gotten some hot dogs from the supermarket.
Irezumi Sushi Lounge, 901 South Coast Dr., Ste. C-170, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-0111; www.irezumisushi.com. Open Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Food for two, $30-$60. Sake, wine and beer.