Exploring Asian Cuisine’s Many Styles in Newport Beach
Far East Meets West Coast
Asian cuisine is a broad culinary concept connected by strands of international intrigue. It’s a category encompassing the elegant high-end sushi restaurant and the nondescript corner pho joint, one that’s perfect for a dressy night on the town or an evening in front of the TV in sweatpants. There exists enough familiarity within the cuisine’s numerous sub-categories to properly fit them under one broad definition, but the existing differences are still plentiful enough to allow each to express techniques, compositions, and flavors strictly beholden to the country or region they represent.
This wide, eclectic nature makes Asian food an exciting culinary rabbit hole to go down. If you’re in Newport Beach, you’ll find plenty of places ready and able to engage your palate’s curiosity. Several cuisines and styles are represented well throughout the city, so you won’t have any problem finding something that perfectly matches your mood.
Bluefin – Omakase is a Japanese phrase roughly meaning “I’ll leave it to you.” For the diner, the phrase implies entrusting the restaurant’s kitchen to present a memorable culinary experience that will ideally resonate long after the meal’s conclusion. Of course, it’s easier to put such faith into a place with a reputation for producing mind-bending cuisine. This remarkable Newport Coast restaurant unequivocally qualifies. Ordering the Omakase offered here grants you access to six transcendent courses of Japanese epicurean expression, bookended by an amuse bouche and a dessert course. You’ll indulge in delights like king crab soup, sesame tofu with sea urchin, Japanese wagyu steak, and some chef-selected sushi. You’ll also feel completely spoiled by the end of the night.
Kitayama – We’re normally instructed not to play with our food. While that’s good advice, it doesn’t apply to shabu shabu. This Japanese concept features thin slices of meat and veggies you cook in a hot pot, along with a few dipping sauces to enjoy after the preparation’s finished. It’s a fun dish that puts you in control of the flavors, but its result is certainly helped along with great ingredients. Case in point: the Miyazaki A5 Wagyu Beef Shabu Shabu offered by this elegant Back Bay establishment. The star of the dish is the highest grade of wagyu beef on the planet, a cut of meat so marbled it looks like it was dredged in flour. The marbling is rivulets of fat, and they essentially allow the beef to practically dissolve in a mist of unctuous decadence the instant it hits your palate. Even if you slightly overcook your strips, its ridiculous flavor readily offers you scores of forgiveness.
Nobu – It’s easy to crave Asian cuisine of all stripes because of its seemingly endless delicious delights. It’s just as easy to act upon this want because plenty of Asian fare is casual and convenient. But there are times when Chinese take-out or a bowl of pho won’t suffice to satiate an Asian-inspired hunger. These times call for elegance, refinement, even sensuality. There may be no better place in Newport Beach to cash in on this desire than this sexy Lido Marina Village waterfront venue. Once you’re here, there may be no better dish to dig into than Owner/Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s legendary Black Cod Miso. The dish’s miso marinade adds a nuanced hint of sweetness to the fish’s rich, buttery flavor, turning an already decadent dish into something downright bacchanalian. Your itch for high-end excellence will be scratched so thoroughly, it may leave marks.
Saigon Beach – This tiny Balboa Peninsula joint is within an easy walk from the Newport Pier, but it’s so small, you can walk right by it unknowingly. Yet, savvy surfers and those that ascribe to the surfing lifestyle know this place is an essential stop for top-notch casual Vietnamese fare after a day on the water. The venue knows their audience and their laid-back tendencies well, which is why a splendid dish like 420 Green Rice exists. The light green hue of the dish’s thick rice cylinder jumps out, especially when you learn it achieves its color naturally through the magic of cilantro and garlic olive oil. A generous heap of chicken tops the rice and finishes the presentation, unless you want to blast it with a squirt of Sriracha. It’s compact, deceptive, and satisfying, an ideal metaphor for the place itself.
Shanghai Pine Garden Restaurant – Casual Chinese food shouldn’t be fussy and pretentious. It should just be good, filled with the flavors that make your palate dance and your soul smile. This Balboa Island mainstay has been successfully operating under this premise since the ‘70s, and there seems zero chance of the restaurant wavering from this mindset. This is great news because it means their terrific take on Kung Pao Chicken will be around for us to dig into for quite some time. Their version is as classic as it gets, marked by a touch of heat that’s not too overly piquant. It’s a dish that will leave you satisfied. If you’re in the mood for this type of Asian fare, that’s probably the precise feeling you’ll want to achieve.
Sushi Roku – There are two types of sushi fans in the world: Those that enjoy rolls, and those that think rolls are an unauthentic affront to real nigiri or sashimi. Yes, rolls are built more on creative liberties than they are on the traditions of authenticity, but who cares? Rolls are delicious, full stop. If you need further conviction of this, get down to this Fashion Island establishment and order a Crunchy Spicy Tuna Tempura Roll pronto. The plate offers an octet of lightly battered pieces of tuna goodness topped with avocado. Biting into one of them yields equal notes of heat, creaminess, crispiness, and nuanced sweetness, and these flavors conspire to make each morsel addictive. Let the naysayers call it non-traditional. The rest of us will just call it delicious.
Tackle Box – Technically, a sandwich is a hand-held meal featuring stuff wedged between two slices of bread or similar baked good. Yet it can sometimes be one of the food world’s most deceptively complex items. The Niman Ranch Pork Belly Bahn Mi whipped up by this chill beachside Corona Del Mar joint provides a killer example of next-level deliciousness. Peak under the bread of this Vietnamese delight, and you’ll find a generous serving of pork belly sourced from one of the country’s most renowned purveyors. The accompanying mélange of scallions, ginger, pickled carrots, and spicy aioli add exquisite depth to the star protein’s lusciously unctuous flavor. It’s miles away from the PBJs you used to bring to school every day.
Ten Asian Bistro – The Vietnamese dish Bo luc lac tends to go by two different translations in the United States – shaken beef and shaking beef. There’s no right or wrong answer to which translation is accurate, as its moniker really doesn’t matter if a restaurant does it properly. This venerable venue in the Airport District, for example, refers to it as Shaken Beef Filet on their menu, but you’ll probably call it something like delectable after you polish it off. Consisting of tender cubed beef, heirloom tomatoes, onions, and black pepper, the dish is rather simple in its preparation. Its robust flavors, however, tell a far more intricate tale. As the kids these days say, it’s a dish that will leave you shook.
Written By: Rich Manning