Dedicated to the moderators in the "Chowhound Team".
Edit 08/24/2013: Frenzy Sushi has closed. The space is now home to Shunka. Frenzy owner and Itamae John Arteaga is now General Manager at H20 Sushi & Izakaya in Triangle Square. Check it out!)
Here's a shout-out to my two new friends, Gene and Nami, who managed to spot me having dinner at Frenzy Sushi. I never thought that I'd be considered a "celebrity sighting". Nami, thank you so much for being a fan and loyal reader. I'm very flattered. Please keep coming back!
Longstanding visitors to this blog will, at this point, undoubtedly be aware of my love for Frenzy Sushi, my watering hole of choice for raw fish goodness. I'm so passionate about the food at this fine restaurant that I managed to get myself kicked off of Chowhound defending my right to post about it. Although I wasn't friends with Chef John Arteaga during the Chowhound debacle, we've become friends since then though a shared love of food.
So, when Meridius Chick, my "other little sister", wanted vegetarian sushi for her graduation present, there was really only one place for us to go. Meridius Chick is also a big fan of Frenzy Sushi. As a vegetarian, it's hard for her to find regular restaurants with interesting vegetarian items on their menus. At sushi bars, her options are often limited to Kappa Maki (Cucumber Rolls) and Tamago (Japanese Sweet Omelet). Chef John's inventiveness when it comes to preparing vegetarian dishes for her is a refreshing change of pace.
Since this was supposed to be a dinner celebrating her graduation from college, I phoned the restaurant ahead of time to ask for vegetarian omakase. Chef John didn't disappoint. He started us off with Inari-zushi. Sweetened skins of fried tofu held a mix of sushi rice and pieces of marinated shitake mushrooms. The mild vinegar used in the rice, the meaty mushrooms, and the chewy tofu made for a delightfully flavorful package.
Next were orders of Futomaki. Contained in these hefty rolls were marinated mushrooms, spinach, radish pickles, tofu skin, and sweetened Japanese omelet. The crunchiness of the pickles did a great job offsetting the soft egg and more resilient mushroom. Futomaki were my favorite rolls as a child, and they're often a great way of breaking in sushi novices who aren't ready to eat raw fish.
To help clear our palates before moving us on to the cooked items, Chef John served up portions of this sublime Hakusai, delicately salted and pickled Napa cabbage. Each piece had just the right amount of sourness from the fermentation process to reawaken our taste buds. The dusting of shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili pepper mix) on top provided an intriguing hint of spiciness to a dish already perfect in its simplicity.
Our first cooked dish was Age-nasu. Pieces of Japanese eggplant had been skillfully scored and marinated in a blend of miso, sake, and other seasonings. The eggplant was then deep fried and drizzled with a sauce made from reducing the leftover marinade. Next to the Hakusai, the Age-nasu was Meridius Chick's favorite dish of the evening. Each morsel of eggplant had crispy, flakey skin which broke apart to release a deliciously light interior. The miso glaze added a complex sweetness that spread through the mouth with each bite, and enhanced the natural flavors of the eggplant.
To contrast with the Age-nasu, Chef John served a Tofu Salad consisting of pan-seared fingers of tofu, blanched green beans, and thinly sliced cucumber tossed in one of his signature dressings. The firm texture of the tofu played well with the cool crunch of the celery and sweet meatiness of the green beans. Toasted sesame seeds brought a rich nuttiness to the party. I'm definitely ordering this dish again.
Chef John's knockout punch for the evening, as far as I was concerned, was his Sweet and Sour Agedashi Tofu. Classic Agedashi Tofu consists of cubes of battered and deep fried tofu served in a seasoning made from bonito broth and soy sauce. Since bonito is dried skipjack tuna, Chef John made the dish vegetarian by replacing the standard broth with a sweet and sour sauce containing onions, pineapple, and bell peppers.
It was marvelous. The fried tofu had a delicate, ricotta-like interior that was a perfect match for the crunchy exterior. The gentle sweet and sour sauce was enhanced by the natural sweetness and sourness of the vegetables. This style of sweet and sour sauce is a Japanese adaptation of a traditional Chinese preparation. By fusing it with a classic Japanese dish, Chef John created something remarkable.
The next dish was somewhat controversial. The Tofu Lettuce Wraps consisted of a strip of deep fried tofu, Japanese pickles, and sushi rice drizzled with a creamy sauce and rolled up in lettuce leaves. I enjoyed my wrap very much, finding the lettuce leaves refreshing, and loving the richness the sauce and tofu imparted on the rice. Meridius Chick felt the wraps were too heavy, with both the fried tofu and creamy dressing. She also didn't think there was enough contrast between textures in the filling. This one might be a matter a personal preference.
Our rice course was something for the truly adventurous. Knowing how fond I am of natto (fermented soybeans), and after hearing that Meridius Chick was willing to try it, Chef John prepared bowls of Natto-don for the two of us. On top of a bed of rice, he laid seasoned natto, okra, grated yamaimo (mountain yam), the yolk of a quail egg, minced shiso (beefsteak tomato leaf), and shredded nori (algae sheets). It was a homey bowl of mucilaginous delight. The earthy beat of the natto, the smooth richness of the quail egg, throbbing bass line from the yamaimo, the tinkling chimes from the shiso, and the percussive explosions from the okra played against my tongue with each gooey mouthful. Meridius Chick did me proud by eating most of her bowl and liking it, although the quail egg just wasn't her cup of tea.
To finish us off, I asked for a pair of fried ice creams. The first was a Deep Fried Green Tea Ice Cream. As always, the mix between the hot, crunchy exterior and frosty, oozing interior were delightful. The grassy hints of green tea in the ice cream really showed through.
The second was a Deep Fried Red Bean Ice Cream. The sweetened azuki beans didn't shine through as much as the green tea, but Meridius Chick really liked this one. A sweet end to a sweet evening.
Congratulations on graduating from UC Irvine, Meridius Chick! I love ya, girl. I know you'll do us all proud in the Marines. Stay safe and Semper Fi!
Frenzy Sushi (Vegetarian Omakase) - If you're a vegetarian who likes to eat sushi, or have sushi-loving vegetarian friends, Frenzy will take good care of you. Just let the chefs know what your dining preferences are or call ahead and ask Chef John for the vegetarian omakase.
Since Chef John and I are friends, it would be improper for me to rate Frenzy using my standard scale, as I'm now a biased party. As such, I'll reiterate the overall score of A+ from my original review. Please don't take my word for it. Hop on in and see for yourselves.
369 E 17th St, #17
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
To read my original, meat-loaded review of Frenzy Sushi, click here.