Abe’s Road to Bluefin

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Abe-food.

That’s my moniker for the most innovative, fresh and unique sushi in Orange County. Abe-food. That’s what I will repeatedly chant from now on when I need a fix.

Those of you who have experienced Bluefin, and the sensational seafood presentations created by Chef Takashi Abe, will know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of you who have not, I’ll let you in on a little secret – this tiny restaurant in Crystal Cove Promenade puts out a siren’s call to the unwary sushi adventurer that is at once alluring, fascinating and definitely dangerous. As in, dangerously addicting.

Chris and I recently met with Chef Abe (pronounced Ah-bay) and had the opportunity to find out a little bit more about the man behind Bluefin, its history in the making, and the clientele. Pure Abe…raw and uncensored, just like his dishes.

Chef Abe puts the finishing touches on a presentation.

“So Chef,” I said, launching into a series of questions, “Right off the bat, I have to know what your most popular dishes are?”

“Everything!” Abe exclaimed with a gleam in his eye.

“Oh, come on,” I grinned. “There has to be one specialty above all others?”

“There are many,” he acknowledged. “But to truly experience the magic of Bluefin, one must order the Omakase.”

“That’s the Chef’s choice?” Chris inquired.

“Yes,” Abe nodded. “Guests can choose between a six-course and eight-course prix fixe menu which I prepare and change daily.”

“It changes daily?” Chris repeated. “That’s a lot of work.”

“I use only the freshest seafood, finest quality meats and produce,” Abe stated. “My guests trust that everything is the best, and that is what omakase means: to trust.”

“How did your style develop?” I queried. “I mean, you’re known for your mix of Japanese and European influences – how did that come about?”

“I went to culinary school in Yamagata, Japan, where I grew up. During my studies, I also worked part-time in the top-sushi restaurant there, also called Yamagata,” Abe chuckled. “When I finished school, the sushi boom hit the US, and I knew I needed to learn more skills. Sushi ingredients – and clientele – are very different between Japan and the US.”

“How so?”

“It simply comes down to cultural differences,” Abe stated. “What is considered a delicacy in Japan would never be served in America.”

“So you decided to move to the United States?” Chris asked.

“Yes. I landed in Torrance, then headed to Santa Barbara,” he explained. “I decided to embark on a three-month trip around the States, and when I finished, I realized I’d omitted Alaska. So, I picked up and moved there.”

“That’s quite a difference in climate from Southern California,” I remarked.

“Exactly,” Abe agreed. “After a few years, I moved back, called a friend and asked him what was the most popular Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles.”

“And his response was…?”

“Matsuhisa.”

“And you began working there—”

“The same day I called,” Abe cut in, smiling. “Nobu Matsuhisa answered the phone himself. I worked and studied under him for four years, moving on to Nobu Malibu and opening Nobu London, etc.”

“What brought you to Newport Beach?” wondered Chris.

“I was ready to open my own business and fell in love with it here,” Abe confessed. “Plus, it was far enough from LA that I wouldn’t be competing with Matsuhisa.”

“When did you open Bluefin?” I asked.

“In 2005, so we’ve been here six years,” Abe explained. “I started Abe, my first restaurant in 1998, which was on Balboa Peninsula. I discovered this location in Crystal Cove when I met a friend in Laguna and saw the available sign on the property. I new it would be a good fit and was thrilled when the Irvine Company accepted.”

“And it’s not too far from your old restaurant,” Chris commented.

“True,” Abe acknowledged. “My loyal clientele have followed me from location to location.”

“I certainly can understand why,” I said, taking in the tastefully modern décor and stylish interior, which features a full-length, deep blue waterfall cascading down a back wall.

Abe excused himself to go prepare several dishes, returning with the Copper River Wild King Salmon Carpaccio, as well as the Bluefin Roll, which had king crab tempura inside, seared Albacore on top, a creamy spicy sauce and wild mushroom emulsion.

The presentation alone was visually stunning, but when Chris and I sampled the carpaccio, we both agreed the salmon melted on the palate like pure silk – if silk were edible.

“What do you think of the Bluefin Roll?” I asked Chris, just as he popped another piece into his mouth.

“Delicious,” he said after swallowing his bite.

“I’m enthralled by the Copper River Salmon Carpaccio. The combination of basil, chive oil, bonita flakes, edible flowers, clover and slivered scallions – the flavors hit every note,” I commented, reaching for another sliver. “Did you see the sake sampler? I’d like to try that next time.”

“I saw that,” Chris noted. “They also have a nice wine selection. Too bad we have to rush to another assignment.”

“Well, I’m definitely coming back,” I stated. “Next time, a little sake, the Omakase, Abe-san and me. Oh, yeah … Abe-food.”

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