Old-School Sushi Makes a Comeback at These Restaurants

The Osaka-style pressed sushi of the 1700s predates the familiar Tokyo-style nigiri sushi and sashimi.
Photograph courtesy of Sushi II

In 18th-century Osaka, Japan, aficionados preferred enjoying sushi at home to eating it on the spot. There was no refrigeration, so curing the seafood helped preserve it, and pressing the rice and toppings together in a wooden box made it easier to transport. Chef-owner Susumu Ii at Michelin-listed Sushi Ii follows historical precedent, offering several types of pressed sushi—aka hako zushi or oshi zushi—for takeout. Pressed sea bream, eel, and shrimp, as well as similar mackerel battera, are also available as an add-on to his elaborate omakase menus. 100 W. COAST HIGHWAY, NEWPORT BEACH, 949-287-6268


The Japanese word izakaya translates as “stay-drink-place”­—a pub, a place to cozy up to shoju and snacks. At Izakaya Hachi, those snacks include fresh oysters, o-toro sashimi, Jidori karaage, robata beef tongue, and pork shabu shabu. To make its pressed sushi of saba mackerel, salmon, or freshwater eel, Hachi layers vinegar-cured fish, sushi rice, and shiso leaves, compresses it all in a special box called an oshibako, flames and slices it, and presents it with fresh wasabi and a dollop of umeboshi (salted Japanese plum). 3033 BRISTOL ST., COSTA MESA, 657-231-6566


You’ll find bento boxes, tempura, and sushi, plus chirashi featuring sashimi over sushi rice and other bowls at Sushi Koto. You won’t find pressed sushi on the menu but it’s always available—on the secret menu, as it were. Chef-owner Yasuo Matsuki prides himself on Japan’s more traditional dishes, and his mackerel battera—pressed sushi that tops the formed rice and cured fish with a translucent sliver of kelp—is about as traditional as it gets. Its most ardent fans are often older. 18120 BROOKHURST ST., FOUNTAIN VALLEY, 714-964-0988


Purists beware: New sushi spot Seabutter puts contemporary twists on the old-school technique. “Let’s make it fun; let’s do multidimensional, new-age versions,” enthuses owner George Fratkin, whose first location is in Beverly Hills. “Think of it as sushi layered cake.” Among the choices, the Pressed Tail layers spicy yellowtail and jalapeno with more yellowtail, seared shimeji mushrooms, and soy-truffle sauce. The Salmon Avo tops salmon and avocado with lightly seared salmon and truffle-marinated artichoke. 1100 S. COAST HIGHWAY, LAGUNA BEACH, 949-942-6042

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