Sharing a few lunches had at IKKO in Costa Mesa tonight. Located next door to Ramen Zetton (Zetton updates here and here), I briefly mentioned about in the past but the meals for the post took some time to collect since IKKO serves lunch only on weekdays (the visits were during rare work related errands I do in the area).
Anyway when I first dropped in the dimly lit cozy atmosphere inside caught me a little by surprise but it didn't take much to get acquainted to -- a few smaller tables divided by noren curtains and a classy sushi counter at center. Patrons during all visits were fairly consistent between business professionals and affluent Asian housewife types. IKKO is definitely popular with the ladies, haha.
There's a sign outside that warns of not having any American style sushi rolls but curiously enough they're known more for their fusion Japanese dishes. Skimming through the menu there were many carpaccio style sashimi plates as well as other non-traditional creations, particularly in the loose xeroxed seasonal section. Also many non-typical fish were on the sushi board, the day's - Sazae (turban shell), Kintoki Dai (red bigeye), Kasago (scorpion fish) and Houbou (blue fin robin) to name a few. The choices available from the full dinner menu was for the most part out of my normal lunch budget but I was happy to find the lunch offerings more wallet friendly with even a few specials that were actually a good deal.
Surveying tables I could see that their Chirashi was popular and decided with it first. They come in three grades, the regular nami, ($15), a fancier jyo ($25) and the top tier tokujyo ($35). All the lunch sets start with a simple salad of mixed baby greens tossed with an onion-balsamic dressing, sweet potato chips or sometimes fried onion. As for the chirashi, I eased myself in with the basic nami.
Came in a mini ohitsu which was kinda cool (the wood often said to help absorb any excess moisture). Some neta I remember seeing were Bonito and Albacore that were both flamed a tataki style, Salmon, all pretty nice. I felt the maguro was ok in freshness the day, the shiromi which I forgot to ask what (maybe Hirame) was lightly sweet as well as the hotate scallop. The tobiko added a welcomed texture. The tamago had some minced veggies mixed within which was a nice touch and joy to eat.
Way too many sushi places here put tamago as an afterthought but it's actually a popular way of gauging an itamae's craft. While IKKO's isn't the surimi fortified precious dashi ingot that I often dream to have, it definitely put things on a positive note. In a similar vein gotta say the miso soup was spot on with good clear and fresh tasting dashi. The meal also came with some pickles and a kombu seaweed tsukudani with sesame seeds (goma kombu).
Since I was late noticing their Kobe Beef Hamburg lunch set, I had my heart set on it my second visit. This is a non-rotating permanent lunch special and at $9.75 one of the most affordable sets offered.
Since I often make hambaagu at home I'd like to expect ones that I eat out would be at least as good but for whatever reasons this has often not been the case in So. Cal. (my most recent at a revisit to Kagura which I haven't posted on yet). Unfortunately my search for a decent rendition outside of my kitchen still continues. A nikomi style in an original miso demi glace sauce, the meat was chopsticks tender which was nice. Having a good amount of filler is pretty typical for this Japanese version of the hamburg steak, but I felt the texture was much too starchy and detecting any of the beefy umami, it be Kobe or not aside was difficult as well. :( The demi glace was interesting but still a little 'from a jar' tasting and while not bad it could've used a little more drastic pepping up maybe.
I had asked if they'd upgrade my standard miso soup to their Shijimi (a type of small Japanese freshwater clam) version (~+$2?) and it turned out a good decision. Has been a long while since I had Shijimi miso soup and this was pretty good.
The smaller meats are harder to get to but tasty. Asari (Manila clam) probably has a stronger brine flavor due to its marine origin, but the Shijimi's taste and ability to elevate the humble miso shiru is just as potent. :)
Having a little more time to study the menu, my next visit was trying out their Soba and Kaisen-donburi sets ($12.75). Getting to choose your bowl topping out of several sashimi choices was fun. I've tried both the hot and cold accompanied soba sides and enjoyed them equally but a Jidori Tsukune-jiru (soup) with grilled mochi is another option.
The experience with the commonly encountered off shelf soba noodles were well vamped with decent tsuyu along with some grated daikon, nameko mushroom, ume sour plum, tenkasu (tempura bits), green onions and Ooba green shiso.
The hotate-don while the portion is on the smaller side, the scallops were nice and sweet, pre-seasoned in a little simple nikiri of soy sauce and sake/mirin (with the alcohol simmered off). I actually had this twice and made me wonder why I don't do at home more often. :)
Last I was really curious of the tokujyo chirashi and decided to go for it one day. With a few upgrades seen in the nami such as chu-toro, this also had an extra ama-ebi shrimp, ikura, uni, hamachi, shime saba, and snow crab.
Overall very nice but have to say it made our Izakaya Sakura's $20 lunch chirashi-don feel like a real bargain. Then again, that's if you're lucky to be there when the illusively late itamae is present. :P
I also had the Kumiage Doufu appetizer the visit ($4.75). Came dressed with nikiri and a dab of wasabi. I felt the tofu could've had a stronger fresh soy bean taste and maybe the nikiri could've been a tad sweeter as well as it pretty much tasted like straight shoyu. But the yakumi of finely shredded bonito flakes, negi and grated ginger made it a fancy hiyayakko if you will and enjoyable.
My impressions are strictly for lunch but while I feel some dishes could use some refinement in execution, they have more than a few items that I find attractive (and also fits more my frugal budget). And as I'm always on the side that roots for Japanese restaurants that take effort in doing unique things, this makes myself being a supporter of IKKO an easy given. :)
IKKO, 735 Baker St (Ste C), Costa Mesa, CA 92626