San Jose’s Bluefin Restaurant — Where Sharks Gather

It’s a Japanese restaurant owned by a Korean-American chef that’s named after one of the world’s most expensive and endangered fish.

And it’s a place where sharks gather — as in Manny Malhotra, Joe Pavelski and Kent Huskins of the San Jose Sharks hockey team, who circle the ice at HP Pavillion, then come here for a bite to eat.

Executive Chef Jun Chon, opened Bluefin restaurant last October on The Alameda in San Jose, not realizing the name he had chosen was that of a species many environmentalists are urging be declared endangered because it has become so over-fished.

“I have gotten criticized a few times about the name,” Chon says. “I only picked the name because it was simple and easy to remember. It’s the king of fish. I didn’t think about the endangered part.”

It’s a Catch-22 for many sushi chefs these days. So many of the most popular fish used for sushi are over-fished. But so many customers still want to eat those varieties that chefs feel almost obliged to serve them.

Chon says he tries to follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guidelines for sustainable fish, but he believes it would be nearly impossible to adhere to them strictly. As it is, he says he won’t buy unagi from China because of the use of antibiotics. He only purchases certified yellowtail. And while he does buy toro (the fatty, luscious belly flesh of the bluefin tuna), he tries to buy only farm-raised from Spain or Japan. As pricey as it is — $16 for two slices — the restaurant sells two to 10 orders a night.

Chon, 49,  is an unlikely restaurateur — the eldest son of a Korean mother born in Japan who never learned to cook growing up, and who majored in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley only because his limited English made it difficult to study other courses besides math and science.

Even so, Chon knew engineering was not what he wanted to do.  When a friend asked him to help out at a Japanese restaurant in Sacramento, Chon jumped at the chance. He found he enjoyed the culture of the sushi bar, where he could interact with customers. So, after saving his money for eight years, he opened his first restaurant, Tomo Sushi in San Jose, which he had for 15 years, before turning it over to his brother.

At Bluefin, Chon sources fish from all over the world for signature dishes such as the sushi omakase ($28) and sashimi moriwase ($28), both of which I got to try one afternoon when Chon invited me to his restaurant.

The fish is fresh and delicate. Chon mixes traditional preparations with more unusual ones such as the mango salmon roll ($16), a colorful roll of fish, fruit and yuzu-infused ponzu sauce. The maraschino cherry halves garnishing the plate  might have been overkill, but the combo of salmon and mango actually does marry quite nicely.

The delicate gyoza have a filling that boasts a lot of texture from a mixture of beef, pork, sweet potato noodles, tofu, and cabbage.

My favorite dish had to be the seared tuna tataki ($15). Slices of meltingly tender albacore tuna were seared just on the outside edges, then served with a garlic-ginger ponzu sauce.

Although Sharks players and their family can be found dining at the restaurant frequently, Sharkie, the team mascot, has yet to make an appearance, Chon says with a laugh.

“Before I had this restaurant, I only went to three Sharks games because I always worked,” Chon says. “But since moving here, I watch all the games. I am a big fan.”

Another Japanese Restaurant: Nombe in San Francisco

And Another: Hachi Ju Hachi in Saratoga

More: My Q&A with Masaharu Morimoto

More: Tataki Sushi & Sake Bar — the First Sustainable Sushi Bar in North America

More: A Guide to Sustainable Sushi

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Date: Friday, 21. May 2010 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Restaurants, Seafood

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26 comments

  1. 1

    The food looks fantastic! I find those rolls extremely pretty and appetizing!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    The sushi here sounds amazing, I love the first picture of the sushi with the black and red caviar!

  3. 3

    Wow that Salmon Mango roll sounds very creative!

  4. 4

    I love maguro and mango together, have never tried with salmon…interesting!

  5. 5

    OH wow, I need to try this! next time I am in the South Bay, I will definitely check it out! Thanks!

  6. 6

    Ahhh, Bluefin! I also reviewed this place (twice!):

    http://feedme.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/03/sushi-bluefin.html

    http://feedme.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/04/bluefin-again.html

    and found it to be the best sushi I’ve ever had. And Jun is great.

    The salmon mango roll was a surprising delight. He calls it “japango.”

    I missed the seared tuna tataki — guess I’ll have to go back again!

    Great review. Makes me want to go there right now!

  7. 7

    cool post. I never know if the chef if Korean, Chinese or Japanese? Is there a way I can find out – just ask I guess?

    I will visit this place one day, looks great.

  8. 8

    A beautiful post. I always love knowing more about Japanese food and culture. The dishes are so beautifully presented. Have a lovely weekend, Carolyn. Mary

  9. 9

    I live right by Bluefin and finally walked in a few weeks ago. I thought the gyoza was definitely off the charts!! So juicy and yet a little crispy from the pan frying.

    I might go back just to try the mango and salmon roll (I was skeptical when I saw that) but ur picture makes it look delish!!

  10. 10

    Salmon and mango? Fantastic. I used to avoid Japanese restaurants run by Korean chefs, but I have to admit the Koreans are getting better in Japanese cuisine. I admire this guy for pursuing his dreams even with a degree from Berkeley. :-)

  11. 11

    Hubby and I have been looking for a place to celebrate something and we think Bluefin is perfect. Hopefully we’ll be able to try it out next week, thanks!

  12. 12

    Edda,

    Yes, the gyoza is great. I didn’t think gyoza would be that different, but Bluefin’s are so full of flavor.

    And the “japango” just has to be tried. When he said “mango and salmon,” I thought, “wha’?” But it’s a wonderful combination, and so pretty with the pale green soy wrappers.

    He told me he was grappling with dessert, since Japanese cuisine doesn’t emphasize it. The japango is just one of the things he has on deck.

  13. 13

    A number of really good Japanese restaurants in Sydney are run by Koreans, New Zealanders, Australian etc. That does not make a difference in term of deliciousness for me. But I like that fact that if they aren’t from Japan they usually like to put a twist to the food which I always enjoy.

  14. 14

    I see a lot of mango in sushi rolls recently..and they love giving fanciful names to these rolls. The one restaurant I have tried is a place where I can have sushi AND bibimbap and soon dubu (well, Japanese and Korean food) all at the same time but I hated the restaurant name – Chocolate Sushi. Have not tried Bluefin.

  15. 15

    II can’t believe how spectacular that photo is, Carolyn. Those egg yolks just jumped out and grabbed my eyeballs. WOWOWOW!

  16. 16

    Gorgeous photos! I’ve been to Bluefin in New York… it’s at the W Hotel and they actually have a cocktail called the Bluefin (with swedish fish in it!)

  17. 17

    i cannot wait to move back to cali.
    the mango salmon roll, what is outer wrapping? my stars that just sounds so good. i wish i had access to sushi like that around here (and i live on the ocean…go figure, right?)

  18. 18

    do they have a lightbox in the restaurant, or did you bring in your gear? Your photos are amazing, what is the black roe in the tobitama? Haven’t had seared tuna in a long time, I really love what the bit of cooking does to the texture…

  19. 19

    Very good review of this restaurant. Love the plating and your photos are amazing!

  20. 20

    Wow Carolyn, that looks so amazing. Beautiful pictures. I just moved from NY and I still didn’t find a good Japanese Restaurant here in LA, I really miss NY’s Places.

  21. 21

    Foodhoe: I just used available light from a window in the dining room and no flash. I lucked out as I was there in the early evening (about 5 p.m.), so there was still some daylight left.

    VanillaSugar: I believe the wrapping is a tofu skin of some sort.

    TigerFish: I have driven past Chocolate Sushi and thought the same, “How the heck did they come up with that bizarre name?! Like chocolate and sushi even go together?!?” Too funny.

  22. 22

    Great to see the sushi scene in the South Bay improving! I used to have to make treks up to the Peninsula when I lived down there.

  23. 23

    glad to know the sharks can sulk by filling their bellies with good sushi. GO HAWKS!!!!

  24. 24

    Carolyn, I stared at that picture of the caviar sushi with the raw egg for a good minute. It’s stunning. And his policies with buying fish sound well thought out :)

  25. 25

    WOW! This is literally down the street from me and I’ve never tried it. I guess I know where we’ll be going this wknd!

    Cheers and GREAT Photos!

  26. 26

    I happened to ride my bike past Bluefin the other and was COMPLETELY mortified because of its name. As to not jump to conclusions in judging a book by it’s cover, I thought I’d research the place, and I came across this blog review. I’m sorry, but I highly doubt the sort of innocence/accident in the restaurant’s name choice. The owner/exec chef must be kidding himself about being “near impossible” for his establishment to be strictly sustainable–he ought to take a look at the business model that Tataki (San Francisco) runs on.

    If you plan on going to Bluefin, I urge you to please read all the information at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_sushi_restaurant.aspx. Download the pocket guide to bring with you on your next sushi outing. Ask the chef questions about menu’s items: Is it wild or farmed? How was it caught? Where is it from? Then use these answer in conjunction with the guide to make sustainable choices.

    Additionally, for information on sustainability and overfishing (including the depleting tuna populations), check out “The End of the Line” and Current TV’s “Vanguard: Sushi to the Slaughter.”

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