One of the best things about writing about food in Orange County is the discovery of something great in a really out-of-the-way place. If you'd asked me what there was to eat in Yorba Linda, I'd have stammered something about the Wild Artichoke and are you sure you can't get to Placentia or Anaheim Hills?
Nevertheless, my friend Mark, a recently arrived yorbalindero, was so excited about Sushi Noguchi that I went, expecting it to be the usual kind of rock-and-rolls sushi bar that infests nearby Fullerton.
I certainly wasn't expecting to walk in to a brightly lit room with blonde wood and a calming atmosphere. I wasn't expecting to sit down in front of an itamae using a vegetable cleaver to make absolutely perfect, absolutely identical slices of matsutake mushroom. I wasn't expecting to see ankimo, a choice of grilled fish collars, and shishamo (grilled sun-dried smelts).
We debated the menu but ended up sitting at the bar and ordering omakase, the chef's choice. What came out was a modern take on omakase--meaning not just fish and certainly not just raw fish.
We started with spicy tuna on rice crackers, followed by those matsutake mushrooms simply grilled. One dish contained several slices of wagyu beef tataki that were so soft and tender they slipped down like oysters; another contained a fried shell with braised mushrooms, a single clam with garlic, charred tomato and chive, and a piece of chicken karaage with lemon. Halibut arrived surrounded by chive oil and dashi--an eye-opening dish for its intense flavor.
Sushi started arriving; first a hand roll stuffed with nearly as much lump blue crab meat as rice; then a plate of nigiri, including toro, Japanese mackerel, and cherry trout. All of it was absolutely outstanding: fresh fish, generous cuts, and on well-made rice balls that were mercifully the correct temperature--it seems to be popular these days to use warm rice, which ruins sushi for me.
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After we finished the set omakase, I couldn't help it--I love monkfish liver--so I ordered the ankimo. A huge portion arrived in a bowl, in the traditional way: steamed with ponzu sauce, minced scallions, and grated daikon with momiji oroshi (red chile paste). While not, perhaps, the traditional finish to a sushi meal, it was wonderful.
The service was gracious and friendly without being stilted or formal. Dishes arrived with polite suggestions on how to eat them (for example, no soy sauce needed for the whitefish that had been cooked in sauce). The price was shockingly low for the quality of the food; the set omakase runs $40 per person. If you want, you can have your own custom-designed "Hiro omakase", in which case you will end up spending more, depending on your appetite.
Yorba Linda, you have been holding out on us. Hiro-san is an artist. Sushi Noguchi deserves a place in the upper tier of OC sushi-yas.
Sushi Noguchi, 18507 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda; (714) 777-6789; sushinoguchi.com.