I was asked - no, more like I somewhat pleaded - to go to an industry conference in Dana Point, CA earlier this year. Now, Dana Point is one of my all-time favorite places to visit and my wife and I ate at a handful of restaurants in the area when we were there last year. (Click here to read about the Dana Point restaurants we went to.) When I found out this conference was going to be held in Dana Point, I immediately began to angle for the trip with one of my colleagues. So, it was great to make it back to Dana Point and on our first night there we were part of a small group who went down the hill from our hotel to eat some ultra-fresh sushi at Mahé.
Mahé is a combination steakhouse/seafood restaurant that also has a sushi bar. The restaurant opened in the Dana Point Harbor area in late 2008 and is run by business partners Toby Reece and Anthony Andrews. Mahé gets it name from an island in the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, a place Reece and Andrews had visited in the past on surfing expeditions. Reece's past restaurant experiences included opening restaurants around the U.S. for celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. Reece, Andrews and another surfing buddy opened the first Mahé up the Pacific Ocean coast in Seal Beach in 2001 in what was the former Glider Inn, a restaurant that started in the early 1930's that catered to pilots who flew in and out at a nearby airstrip.
While we were in Dana Point, we stayed at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort where the conference was being held. Now, I've stayed at the Laguna Cliffs resort two times prior and even took my wife there when we were in Dana Point last year just to show her the place. The views from the lawn and the deck down to the harbor and beyond were stunning. It didn't hurt that the weather in the afternoon each day we were there was absolutely gorgeous after the morning marine layer burned off around 11 a.m.
Mahé is located just down the hill from the Laguna Cliffs resort and it was walking distance from the hotel. (see map) My colleague John and I were joined by a new colleague, Matt, who we had hired as a product specialist earlier this year, and a couple of Matt's buddies who were there for the conference.
Walking into the place, we saw the sushi bar to the right. We contemplated sitting at the sushi bar, but found that there were only three chairs open. Our hostess went off to find a table for five that was open.
The dining room at Mahé was a long and narrow room with contemporary wooden tables and chairs lining the sides of the room. Large windows looked out onto a patio area. The patio area featured dining spots along with a seating area with a long fire pit. Mahé also features live musicians on the patio on the weekends.
Quite frankly, I would have rather eaten out on the patio, but I was overruled. We ended up at a long table that featured bench seats in a small room off the main dining area. Asahi beer and sake were quickly ordered up by our group.
The menu at Mahé features a number of interesting number of starters that include seafood nachos, fried asparagus spears, panko-crusted calamari, and Kobe beef sliders. Seafood included sashimi-grade seared Hawaiian ahi tuna, pan-blackened swordfish, and a pan-seared salmon that is cooked in a combination of sake and teriyaki. Steaks such as a baseball-cut filet tenderloin and a bone-in ribeye were on the menu, as well as a couple of chicken entrees.
But we were there for the sushi. Matt started to order up a bunch of rolls and sushi - "That's what I do," he told me. "I just order a bunch of sushi and rolls for the group." Well, I shut him down pretty quickly and told him that he doesn't order for me. I wanted to get some salmon and tuna sushi, but I was fine with the rolls that he ordered up. I couldn't quite tell you what the rolls were - one roll was wrapped in a tempura shell and the other was wrapped in seaweed and char-grilled. But they were all right.
The salmon was absolutely fabulous. It literally melted in my mouth with each piece I had. The consistency of the salmon was like butter. It was some of the best salmon I'd ever had. The maguro tuna sushi, on the other hand, was just all right. It was a tad fishy in taste and was sort of chewy. The salmon was the winner between the two.
I was telling everyone at the table how great the salmon was and Matt said, "Have you ever tried top-seared salmon?" I wasn't familiar with what he was talking about, so he ordered up a plate of 10 seared salmon sushi from our waitress. The sushi chef takes a hand-held torch burner and sears the top of the fish after it's formed into sushi. This is called aburi sushi when it's seared on the top. It was good - a different taste than the raw sushi, which I thought was better in flavor - but it would be something that I'd try again at some point.
More sushi rolls were brought to the table including the two rolls above right. One was a double tuna roll with tuna slices on top of the roll. The other had tuna and some veggies mixed in the roll. Both were very good, but very rich and filling.
It was a fine meal at Mahé. The sushi was very good to excellent - it was tough to beat the salmon sushi they had at Mahé. The rolls were interesting and I was introduced to aburi salmon sushi that evening. There was plenty of Asahi, plenty of sake and plenty of laughs all evening long. By the end of the evening, we were so stuffed it was tough to make it back up the hill to the hotel. Mahé was a fun and hip place with very good to excellent sushi and a great atmosphere near the harbor in Dana Point.