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