After taking my first bite at the new 10-seat omakase experience in downtown Santa Ana, “Oh, my God” were the words I expelled. It’s also the name of the restaurant: OMG—Omakase by Gino.
Subsequent bites produced an array of comedic expletives I’ve never used in print. “This is the place that’ll make me burst my zero-F-word streak in the OC Weekly,” I whisper to my wife.
“You haven’t cursed in OC Weekly yet?” she snarks back.
“Eff you, babe.”
The restaurant is a one-man-band, with renowned sushi chef Gino Choi performing surgical-like cuts on fish flown in daily from Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan, as well as from local purveyors he’s worked with for more than 20 years.
Cool jazz floats over the airwaves in the tiny spot—sometimes plucky-bass Mingus, sometimes horny Coltrane—driving the sights and smells of fresh sushi through your delicate olfactories. Warm wood and historic brick features that hold up the space provide warmth, while the curtain in the front window drowns out Santa Ana’s busy Main Street. From inside, it’s easy to imagine you’re in a hole-in-the-wall Tokyo sushi spot, soaking in the intimate, raw atmosphere.
Omakase means chef’s choice, and the 16 courses thrown your way are a complete rainbow of what sushi is all about. Although the menu changes daily, it usually offers an array of seafood including otoro, endangered-yet-yummy bluefin tuna, Japanese kampachi, seasonal rockfish, ocean trout and so much more.
After course 10, it’s easy to forget where you’re at or how much Asahi Super Dry you’ve ordered. Various high-end sake and low-end beers adorn the drinks menu, but there’s something magical about Asahi’s cracker-like beer that refreshes the palate, all while providing some much-needed effervescence. Wine and hot or cold matcha are also options.
Two seatings happen daily, and the $105 prix fixe tag includes three appetizers, a satisfying sashimi plate worthy of a visit on its own, 10 pieces of nigiri, two owan (signature dishes) and dessert.
Outside of the aquarium of sushi, some minimally delicious dishes are snuck in. Chawanmushi is a custardy egg dish that’s full of umami slickness. Uni pasta, with thick and hearty noodles, is topped with white truffles and urchin from a farm in Santa Barbara. A soup breaks the cool-temperature rhythm with a hearty broth and plump and girthy mushrooms.
Shime saba, a marinated mackerel, is somewhat of a barometer of any great sushi restaurant. Served with the metallic-looking side out, the bite can be somewhat rich with unctuous fish oils, yet Gino’s is a flavor adventure with delicate soft edges. It’s so good he should have named it OMFG. And with that F, there is my first foray into fuckery at the Weekly.
OMG—Omakase by Gino, 304 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (657) 231-6008.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!