Full-time restaurant reviewers make many visits to the places they review. I can't generally do that but I do like to revisit places, especially when the first visit was by invitation, and especially when my review uses words like "best." Was it really the best or was I in a good mood?
I visited Bluefin in San Jose last month and was very impressed, calling it the best sushi I had ever had. At the time, I said, "I will definitely be visiting Bluefin again," and today I did, this time with a friend, Francis, and on my own dime.
So, was it really the best sushi I ever had? And did Francis agree?
We arrived at 11:30 on a weekday. The owner, Jun, wasn't there, which perhaps was a good thing I could get a sense of the service. The host was very cordial, offering me water while I waited for Francis, and the waitress, Bree, was very gracious. We decided to sit at the sushi bar and the sushi chef delivered some gyoza which were, as last time, terrific. They make them from scratch and they're full of flavor. Here's the picture from last time:
We ordered an appetizer Jun had mentioned to me, the monkfish liver paté. Oh, my. It had a texture just like paté but with a seafood taste that reminded me of sea urchin roe (uni). This is a wonderful delicacy.
We also ordered some uni, which I find an excellent test of a sushi bar, because it must be perfectly fresh. Uni reveals even the smallest defect in handling. This uni was perfect.
About this time, Jun appeared and as last time, we shared in his encyclopedic knowledge of sushi. (He promises to let us know when some planned articles on sushi are available on his website).
His uni comes from Santa Barbara. He explained that American uni is often held to be the best. It is farmed locally and that product mostly goes to Japan, while the Santa Barbara product is what Jun buys.
Jun's charming wife, Yeon, who you will remember from the last article, gifted us with some beef teriyaki. I am glad, because I might not have tried this non-sushi choice. Their terikaki is grilled over a hot fire, creating crisped edges and a deeper, grilled flavor.
Next, we had chirashi, which is sashimi served in a bowl, atop sushi rice. There were many of the selections I enjoyed last time. Francis remarked — several times — how fresh it all was. And that's the primary hallmark of great sushi. Everything, without exception, tasted like it was caught a minute ago.
There was tamago (egg), flounder, tuna, yellowtail, some amazingly sweet scallops, and the mackerel that changed my opinion last time.
Sorry for the picture, all I had was my cell phone.
I almost forgot the toro tartare, a slight spicy mix of tuna sashimi, finely minced and molded into a cylinder.
We finished with something one does not normally see at a sushi bar: dessert, of sorts. Jun is experimenting with some classic desserts like creme brulée, but in the meantime, we had an inventive dessert-like sushi roll Jun calls "japango," or Japanese mango. It's actually a maki, or rolled sushi. Instead of the traditional seaweed, it was rolled in a tinted soy wrapper that looked like lettuce. Inside was an unlikely combination of sushi rice, crab, scallop, salmon, avocado, and mango. Light, refreshing, and vaguely sweet, this strange mix harmonized wonderfully. I have to say that when Jun departs from tradition, he does it artfully.
I brought some home for better photography. It's been jostled a bit so if it's not perfect, that's my fault, not Bluefin's.
So, is Bluefin really as great as I thought? Yes. Unprompted by me, Francis also proclaimed it the best he'd had.
We'll be back.