Hush has been hushed, Mark's has been marked off and Katsuya, we'll see ya, because another restaurant has emerged in the spot that previously housed these restaurants.
It's a large attractive space that has undergone a facelift and now bears the name Okura Robata Grill & Sushi Bar.
The bar remains by the front door, and to the rear is a small eating area. A few steps up is the main dining room. At one end is a long sushi bar, and at the other end are steps leading onto the large covered dining patio. In the middle is a very attractive dining room with splashes of red leather, lots of wood and bamboo elements, soft lighting and a lovely Japanese minimalist vibe.
My companion and I were happy to see Danny Reyes back in this location as general manager. The food is in the capable hands of Jin Heo, named one of the best chefs in America by Best Chefs America 2013.
We began with a pork and chicken gyoza that had a wonderful, slightly crispy skin wrapped around a delicately seasoned meat mixture and accented by a spicy hot dipping sauce. The vegetable tempura was another small plate with onions, red pepper, eggplant and two long skinny pieces of shrimp all coated with a very light, crunchy batter that wasn't a bit greasy. It was really good.
One section of the menu features three types of carpaccio: Kobe beef, Serrano hamachi and hamachi. A la carte selections include dynamite mussels with crab and tobiko caviar in a spicy cream sauce. Crispy spicy tuna comes with caramelized ginger all atop rice cakes.
For something cold to provide balance, we ordered sunomono, an octopus and cucumber salad. The octopus came in long, thin strips that were rather chewy and not very flavorful, but the thin cucumber slices were in sweet white vinegar dressing with sprinkles of sesame seeds. We found this to be very refreshing and palate-cleansing. It was a large portion that we couldn't stop eating.
Wanting to taste the sushi, we chose the nigiri sampler plate with 12 different kinds of fish, all served on sweet and delicious mounds of rice. The selections were maguro (tuna), hamachi, salmon, tai (snapper), ebi (shrimp), ika (squid), albacore tuna, hotate (scallop), unagi (eel), ama-ebi (sweet shrimp), tako (octopus) and tomago.
We liked the tomago best. This sweet egg omelet was just perfect. However, we found the other offerings very bland, and it was hard to distinguish one fish from another. The platter came with a side of perfectly cooked, crunchy vegetables: carrots, peas and shitake mushrooms.
My favorite fish is definitely black cod. Okura's was simply ambrosial. The silky fish had been marinated in soy and then brushed with a sweet glaze that turned the skin crispy when cooked. The silky flesh was moist and juicy, and the fish rested in a delicate wild mushroom broth. Accompanying the cod were spinach, turnips and baby carrots. A single ravioli, stuffed with shrimp and scallop, provided the final fillip.
Sea bass and Atlantic salmon complete the fish entrees, and there is also a Asian marinated hanger steak and a free-range roasted herb chicken with a shiso-yukari crust roasted in a tomato, cheese and caper butter sauce, served on fried rice.
Desserts are often rather uninteresting in Asian restaurants, but we had a fabulous panna cotta. The custard was creamy and dense, with just the right amount of sweetness. This mouthful of luxury was topped with delicate green tea foam and served with a thin pistachio cookie.
Like the phoenix, this location has risen again, but I think this time it has real staying power.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Okura Robata Grill & Sushi Bar
Where: 858 South Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
When: 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Appetizers: $3 to $10
Entrées: $17.95 to $39.95
Bottles: $28 to $48
By the glass: $8 to $15
Sake $35 to $80
Corkage fee: $20
Information: (949) 793-4320 or okurasushi.com