Yosuke Sushi Says Yes, No, Amaebi
For me, the reason to order live amaebi has never been the sushi. When compared to the divine slobber of uni or a luscious piece of toro, the flesh of a recently dispatched sweet shrimp on a ball of sushi rice becomes the definition of anti-climax. This is especially true when you consider the high price you just paid for it. Sure, there's a subtle sweetness in the meat, but almost always, that flavor is made moot by its chewy, silicone-like texture as the crustacean's taut muscles go into rigor mortis.
Yet, I am always compelled to order it when I see the words "Live Amaebi" scribbled on a sushi-bar whiteboard. Why? Because with every order of amaebi comes the promise of its deep-fried, decapitated head as the follow-up dish. It's for the pleasure of sinking my chompers into the creature's crunchy-fried cranium that I am still willing to pay the $13.95-per-piece price tag that Yosuke Sushi in Anaheim Hills charges. Yeah, it's unreasonably steep; but check around—amaebi is expensive everywhere. Yosuke seems to recognize this and strives to offer something extra to justify its exorbitant toll.
Its amaebi head's outward appearance will initially be the same as others you may have had. You see the wee beady eyes, the armor-like carapace, the spiky appendages still sharp enough to poke an eye out. But at Yosuke, the chef injects ponzu sauce into the soft middle of the cranial cavity so that the tart citrus seeps into and mixes with the shrimp's mushy, fatty gut pulp. After you've sucked it dry like a cannoli and crunched through the shell like a potato chip, out comes another dish the kitchen has culled from the carcass: the oven-roasted egg sacks containing hundreds of orange-colored, salty microbeads of shrimp caviar in grape-vine clumps.
If you're not keen on eating the head deep-fried, you have the option of having it boiled for soup. After the amaebi, choose whatever you consume next from Yosuke's specials board. There are two boards, actually: one with a list of live and recently deceased sea critters, and another with appetizers. The later you arrive to this quiet, prototypical-looking Japanese restaurant, the more likely the seafood board will be covered with "sold out" stickers. I snagged the last amaebi, as well as the remaining supply of oysters. The Kumamotos, a dollar more for the pair than the Hama-Hamas, were a quarter the size and small enough to be worn as earrings. Poured nearly to its brim with ponzu, both were too easily gulped for something that costs about $3 to $3.50 per slurp.
The blue crab hand roll, at $7.50 each, contained about a fistful of meat crammed into its conical frame, but only those who haven't been spoiled by the blue crab masterpieces of Sushi Wasabi in Tustin should even bother with Sushi Yosuke's soggier version. Take instead scallops spritzed with citrus and sea salt, tender sea steaks that need not be dipped in your wasabi-soy slurry; they'll melt on the tongue like just-set lime Jell-O. For a nontraditional bite, order the fried-shiso appetizer, in which a smear of spicy tuna, a big glob of guacamole and caviar are piled atop a rigid platform of a tempura-covered shiso leaf that supports its towering cargo dutifully like a doubly reinforced Triscuit. If you require a less messy dish that involves raw fish and avocado, the poke is divine, even though it's sliced sashimi-style instead of into traditional cubes. But if there's one dish that every sushi bar worth going to needs to have, it's the hamachi kama. Yosuke does its boomerang piece of char-roasted yellowtail collar remarkably well, with every morsel you pluck out by chopsticks different in texture, taste and moistness than the one before.
It's a shame Yosuke stopped doing omakase because I'm sure its itamaes would've shone if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, though, it seems the restaurant realized that a majority of its clients would rather feast on teriyaki, tempura and California roll combination dinners, simultaneously economical and comical given the enormity of the bowl-like serving vessels that come with lids as big as hubcaps. Also popular are rolls such as a so-called Mitsy #2, in which a soy-paper-covered tube filled with shrimp tempura, crab, avocado and cucumber, with an outer spackling of spicy tuna, is bent into an upside-down-U-shaped bridge. It's a ridiculous idea. But then, to some, so is paying nearly $14 to enjoy not the sweet shrimp, but their deep-fried heads.
This review appeared in print as "Yes, No, Amaebi: Yosuke Sushi has it all, from live sweet shrimp to teriyaki served in hubcap-sized combo plates."
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