The charming little Japanese restaurant Ikko has a chalkboard sign next to the door that warns, "No American rolls." Its sushi is very traditional, but it does take liberties with the rest of the food. For example, you will find a number of dishes that include cheese, which is seldom found in Japanese cuisine.
My dining companion and I started our meal with three wonderful little mouthfuls of chicken liver pate on toasted bread rounds. Nestled on the pate was a sunny-side-up quail egg with a crispy Parmesan chip resting on top, making a little sandwich. The chicken liver pate was smooth and subtle. The combination of flavors and textures was perfect. Not what you might expect to find in a sushi restaurant but, oh, so good.
Our next selection, also from the starter menu, was a platter of deep-fried octopus and squid legs with a hint of rosemary. The batter was thin and light. The crunchy appendages came with whole-grain mustard on the side, which complemented the seafood perfectly. The legs were tender outside but got chewier toward the inside.
Listed on the appetizer menu was simmered Kobe short rib with coarse ground miso and homemade mustard and galette. The beef had been cooked until it had an incredibly soft texture. It literally melted in one's mouth. The meat was in light brown, beefy gravy.
The miso had crunchy bits and made a sauce for dipping in addition to the spicy mustard. Very thin fried onions completed the dish. We couldn't find anything resembling a galette, but nothing else was really needed.
All of the above offerings appeared on the new winter specials menu that lasts through February. From the regular appetizer menu, we selected stir-fried black pork sausages and Japanese peppers. The five thin sausages had crispy skin and salty, juicy meat. The long green peppers were charred and spicy.
Although we placed our sushi order first, it arrived last. The two sushi chefs were very busy. We really enjoyed the tamago, which was attractively presented, standing on end with a strip of seaweed wrapped around the bottom. The omelet-like egg mixture was stuffed with sushi rice and had just the right amount of sweetness.
We found the sushi the least exciting part of a very good meal. The tuna was smooth, deeply colored and very fresh but lacking in flavor despite its lovely texture. So too was the sea bass. The accompanying pickled radish was especially good, subtle and sweet.
On to dessert: green tea mochico cake with yuzu and honey. This dense, sticky, chewy cake is made with rice flower and, in this case, flavored with green tea. It was served with creamy rich sauce anglais and vanilla ice cream. The dense cake is an acquired taste, but it quickly grows on you.
Our other dessert was quite a surprise. Described as black sesame ice cream with hot coffee and sesame seed paste, it was something like an affogato (espresso poured over ice cream). The difference is that it was served in a large, shallow soup bowl. The bowl was filled with hot coffee, and a scoop of black sesame seed ice cream sat in the middle.
The ice cream was very good, basically vanilla with a sprinkling of seeds. The coffee was strong and black. The ice cream gradually melted and the dish could be finished by spooning the then-creamy coffee. Unusual, but it was hard to stop slurping.
The room is small and dominated by the sushi bar. It has the clean and simple feel of many Japanese restaurants with lots of wood elements and a mirrored wall on one end that makes the space look larger. Ikko's menu is rather unique, and the food is very good.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ikko Japanese Cuisine
Where: 735 Baker St., Costa Mesa
When: Noon to 1:45 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturdays; 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays
Starters and appetizers: $2.95 to $18
Entrées: $12 to $20
Desserts: $4 to $4.75
Bottles: $35 to $286
By the glass: $5.25 to $6.50
Corkage fee: $15