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Restaurant

Kitayama in Newport Beach Was a Looker Back in the Day, but Now It Can’t Rely Solely on Its Looks

5/3/2017, featured image courtesy of Kitayama, Newport Beach.

Just like some of the customers in the area, Kitayama is looking a little worn, and they could also use a nip/tuck and some Botox.

This is no cougar den like 3-thirty-3 in Newport Beach because Kitayama is that aging cougar, but if you can look past a little wear and tear, you are in for an experience with some substance.

If you successfully parked your car in the right parking lot, the front entrance should look like this.

Nowadays, it is still one of the largest and nicest non-chain Japanese restaurant venues in Orange County, but it’s got some new competition from some ripe young bucks like Nobu in the Lido Marina Village (opened in April 2017) and Sushi Roku in the Fashion Island mall (opened in June 2015).

Your typical casual wear in Newport Beach. Image by Nine “Yoyo Bear.

Like an aging cougar, Kitayama also has some eye candy spread throughout the interior that reminds you of its heyday/younger years.

This is big restaurant with their own dedicated bar area

I have been a number of times on varying days from weekdays to weekends, and I have never seen this venue packed although it is never completely dead. I think it may appear that way because it is such a large venue.

This self pouring system was more personable and provided better service than the bartender we had.

After being targeted by a number of sponsored ads for Kitayama promoting their happy hour, I hit up the girlfriend at the time (I miss her out of all my ex’s), and we headed on down. Unfortunately, the service I received from the bartender at the time was the most inept experience I have ever had at any bar in a long time, and I’ve been to a few bars….ok, more than a few.

You should have seen her activate the tap with her dress on.

I am sure that bartender is long gone although the manager at the time I made my complaint to is also no longer there either. He actually went off to start his own restaurant in Newport Beach off of the 55.

The sushi bar at Kitayama is nicely tucked away from the main dining room. Image by Jerry M.

Now onto the most capable aspect of Kitayama, and that is the sushi bar.

Creamy monkfish liver with a citrus ponzu and the crunch of the cucumbers.

The foie gras of the sea and no, it’s not the chicken of the sea, it is the liver of a monkfish.

More ponzu which I’m not a fan of although they didn’t go hard on it.
Like a cougar, you’re here because you like your sushi bars experienced.

You can see the wear and tear here in the bar and throughout the restaurant, but the sushi bar can really throw down.

That anago is so damn good (light, delicate, and savory).

Time to break from the routine of packaged unagi (freshwater eel), and go for some freshly prepared anago (salt water eel).

the soy marinated shishito makes a good topping for a lot of shiromi (white flesh)

You will want to take in this tasty piece with your eyes from…

The hispanic dude here amongst all the Japanese chefs can also throw down.

…multiple angles before you devour it.

With shellfish, the fresher the better (it was still alive at his point).

Unlike fish, chicken, to beef that needs some aging before it is enjoyed, shellfish is always the best when it is fresh.

Not alive any longer.

All amaebi needs is shio (salt) and a squeeze of lemon and avoid the shoyu (soy sauce). Your blood pressure will thank me later.

If you have not put two and two together from the previous pic, I’ll just let you know that this is the shrimp.

Just like the body, all the head needs is a squeeze of lemon (just be careful of any sharp protrusions coming from that shrimps battle armor).

The almighty tuna.

If akami (lean) maguro (tuna) is becoming too routine, switch it up a bit and ask for maguro zuke or “marinated tuna”. The sushi chef will prepare it in a soy sauce blend (nikiri), so here is another opportunity for you to give your slurry of soy sauce and wasabi a rest.

If you have never had ikura (salmon roe), give it a try if you don’t mind some balls bursting in your mouth.

I get it, you’re a baller, so you don’t have to ask how much although you might want to learn that “ikura (desu ka)” also means “how much (in parenthesis is the full and more polite way of saying it)” in Japanese.

Welcome to the opium den. Image by Tammy T, Yelp

You may have noticed or not noticed, but I had to reach out to my fellow Yelpers for some imagery of the interior because I was too caught up with getting 12 different angles of my nigiri sushi. So, I want to thank them for getting back to me so quickly, and letting me use their imagery even if it took me forever to finish this post.

This duck is the equivalent of a dude in leather pants drenched in Drakkar Noir (yea, that’s a very obscure 80’s reference, but I’m thinking of an ex-French roommate from France).

If you can not taste the natural flavor of the ingredient or it doesn’t enhance the natural flavor, it’s not a Japanese dish.

Overcooked duck breast drenched in sauce with cilantro, wasabi, yuzu kosho, and cherry tomatoes. Alex I’ll take “items that do not go together for $500”

One of the places in Orange County to do duck (kamo) right is Sushi Wazen in Lake Forest. They prepare a perfect medium-rare duck breast served with foie gras, topped with an eel sauce, and a chilled honey marinated tomato which is how you do it right. It’s the perfect combo of savory, fatty, and refreshing (the tomatoes acidity) to cut the fattiness of the foie gras.

Kitayama has a great patio that they were cooking on during the summer.
Image by Kitayama

I have seen other Japanese restaurant owners out here on the patio eating.

That tablecloth is like wearing a dress shirt right out of the package Image by Kitayama.

I had to search the Kitayama Facebook page for the last two images, and I just hope they own the rights to these shots.

Pros

The sushi bar and atmosphere (private tatami rooms, garden, full bar, and sushi bar) are a true standout because they are what makes Kitayama what it is.

Cons

Kitayama is showing its wear and tear, and it is nowhere near what it was during its glory days when they first opened. Since then, the ownership has changed, and I don’t think they are doing the most competent job although they have continued to stay in business.

Top 10 in Orange County

If you want to know where it stands amongst the other sushi bars in Orange County, head on over to my list of the 10 Best Authentic Japanese Sushi Bars in Orange County.

Kitayama

101 Bayview Pl.
Newport Beach, CA 92660

(949) 725-0777
Facebook.com/kitayama.newport

Mon-FriSat-Sun
11:30am-2pm, 5:30-9:30pm5:30-9:30pm
Happy hour 4:30-6:30pm
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