Sota Akiyama has had extensive experience at many fine sushi restaurants in California.
He began his career at Hapi Sushi in Laguna Beach and eventually started his own private chef company. This was followed by a stretch at Ozumo, training in San Francisco under "Iron Chef" Sho Kamio, and another with chef Katsuo Nagasawa.
Afterward, he became head chef at 930 Sushi. This was followed by a stint at the restaurant most critics think of as one of the finest, Nobu, before Akiyama opened his own restaurant, Sota.
His eponymous restaurant in Corona del Mar features "local and traditional Japanese ingredients with the freshest fish from around the globe." The space has the clean simple décor and tasteful sensibility of the Japanese aesthetic. There is a lot of dark wood, a stone wall with niches for candles, large abstract paintings on one wall and a long sushi bar where many chefs busily prepare delicious bites.
My dining companion and I shared the jumbo fried soft shell crab served with oroshi (grated white radish) ponzu sauce. The crab pieces had been fried to a crunchy crispness and the citrusy sauce provided the perfect foil. We followed this with one of our favorites: tamago. The layered egg omelet was soft and delicious with lovely sweet notes and a hint of tartness. A piece of black nori rested under each of the two pieces.
Of course, we had to try the sushi. We selected toro (fatty tuna) and hamachi (yellowtail). It was so nice to have some really good quality sushi since we have had too many lackluster slices of fish recently. This was the real deal, fish as fresh as can be, with subtle flavor and silky texture on perfectly sweetened rice.
From the section of special house rolls, we chose a popular favorite: the ma-g-de? This wonderful concoction was beautifully presented. The long roll was cut into sections, each with a piece of fried tempura shrimp in the middle along with snow crab and avocado. Each piece was topped with spicy aioli, a thin slice of spicy tuna and jalapeno, then finished with drizzles of sweet soy sauce.
I can see why it is a favorite. It was just wonderful with many layers of flavor and texture.
We also liked the tempura platter, consisting of three large white shrimp, crisp carrot sticks and zucchini. The tasty shrimp were not the least bit greasy, and they were nicely enhanced by the little pile of three mixed salts for dipping. The carrots were also good, but the zucchini was tasteless.
I was looking forward to the black cod on the entrée section of the menu. There are actually only two things to choose from in that category. However, our waitress announced that the restaurant was out of black cod, although it was only 7:30 p.m. I assume it just wasn't available that evening. She did offer me a second selection, which was a big piece of fried hamachi on the bone.
It was a poor second. The thick skin on the fish hadn't been crisped up, and most of it was rubbery and unpleasant. Also, the fish was largely bones and eating it required surgical extraction. It was hard to get more than little slivers of meat.
Since this dish wasn't on the menu, and the waitress was just trying to offer a substitute, I can't really say much more about it. It was the only thing we ate that really wasn't good, and it was not the best way to end what was otherwise a very delicious meal.
We did ask for dessert, but Sota has only ice cream. Dessert is really not a feature of Japanese cuisine.
I would certainly return to Sota. I would like to sit at the bar and have the chef do an omakasi dinner.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 3344 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach
When: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 5 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Appetizers: $4.50 to $10
Sushi and sashimi: $5 to $21
Rolls: $5 to $16
Entrées: $19 to $23
Bottles: $26 to $105
By the glass: $7 to $16
Corkage fee: $20
Information: (949) 675-0771 or sotasushi.com