Gizzard shad can be an acquired taste. But it also depends greatly on the skill of the chef.
That’s why it is often said that sushi chefs judge each other by their kohada, or gizzard shad.
A close relative to herring or white anchovies, gizzard shad is far more popular in Japan than it is in the United States. Because it is such an oily, intensely flavored fish, tradition dictates that it must first be salted or brined, then washed or soaked with fermented rice wine before being crafted into sushi. Finding the perfect formula is a rite of passage for sushi chefs.
While some masters salt their shad for days. others insist on merely a few minutes. The itamae at Kasen isn’t much of a talker, so I don’t know the whole story behind his kohada. But I can tell you this: It is absolutely delicious. And beautiful.
Kohada is the term for baby shad that are between two and four inches long. Their skin is silvery blueish green along the spine, fading quickly to a brilliant silver body that looks like jewelry. The flesh underneath is pink, like a grapefruit.
Most people who dine at Kasen sit at the counter and order omakase, meaning they let the chef decide what and how much they will eat. If you do this, and the shad is still in season, it will generally show up near the beginning of your meal, so you can judge for yourself if the chef is up to the task at hand. A single jewel-like fillet is draped over a diminutive lump of lukewarm rice. The flesh is elegantly gashed to reveal the contrasting flesh underneath.
Reservations here are extremely difficult to come by, and the counter is strictly omakase. Don’t be surprised if you are repeatedly turned away at first, as I was. The hostess keeps a very tight reign on the dining room and is not shy about giving preferential treatment to regulars, some of whom arrive bearing gifts.
Where: 9039 Garfield Ave, Fountain Valley
When: Dinner nightly
What it costs: Omakase starts at $85
This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. To view more of my work for the Register, check out the archives. For more dining and travel inspiration, I invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.