OC Review: Kitayama, Newport Beach

Kitayama, Newport Beach (Photos by Brad A. Johnson)

The waitress plunks a black lacquer box on the table. She’s dressed in a formal blue kimono with a thick brocade sash elaborately folded around her waist, culminating in a heavy-looking knot in the back.

“Appetizer,” she says matter-of-factly, unfolding the box to reveal what looks like the interior of a two-story dollhouse where each room is filled with several intriguing bites. On one of the shelves is a tiny bowl filled with gelatin-like globules. “Jellyfish pickle,” she says, pointing to it.

“Shrimp ball,” she says, pointing to a flattened pancake coated with what looks like a confetti of green, orange and yellow caviar.

“Glass noodle with fish egg,” she says, pointing to a thimble-size tangle of clear noodles tinted orange from tobiko roe.

She motions to a slice of duck breast in a puddle of brown sauce. “Duck with wasabi.” And finally, “Giant clam,” she says, waving toward two slices of pickled geoduck clam.

This is the first course of the nine-course kaiseki menu at Kitayama, a sprawling Japanese restaurant hidden behind a wall of ivy just off Bristol Street and Jamboree Road in Newport Beach. Surrounded by a lovely garden and waterfall, Kitayama is bigger than most Japanese restaurants, and far more romantic. The dining room is made up mostly of private booths that are shrouded with sheer curtains…

IMG_000555Kobe beef course in the kaiseki (photo by Brad A. Johnson)

A thin, almost microscopic speck of the expensive beef hides beneath a mound of chopped chives, red onion and needle-like strands of yuzu zest. It’s a beautiful presentation that I can’t resist posting to Facebook. And then I take a bite.

Onion. Nothing but onion. The meat is obliterated by the onslaught of raw onion. The intended climax of our meal is a resounding fail. The disappointment comes and goes quickly because the sushi course arrives before we have time to commiserate…

This is obviously just a synopsis. Want more? You can read my full review and see the star rating along an extensive slide show by photographer Cindy Yamakaka in this week’sOC RegisterSubscriptions are required. We don’t give away our work for free at the newsstand, nor do we don’t give it away for free online. Everyone gets one week of complimentary trial access, but after that you’ll need to become a subscriber. Or, if you don’t want to subscribe, you can simply buy a Day Pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access to the entire OC Register archive. 

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