Review: Yakitori grill brings fire and charm to Costa Mesa

  • Bacon-wrapped shishito peppers grill yakitori style at Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa. Eats on a stick moved quickly when fire flairs since it is not in keeping with the Japanese yakatori cooking style. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Bacon-wrapped shishito peppers grill yakitori style at Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa. Eats on a stick moved quickly when fire flairs since it is not in keeping with the Japanese yakatori cooking style. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Oak & Coal offers a la carte skewered chicken, veggies, pork fish and beef grilled yakitori style, along with appetizers at the cozy Costa Mesa eatery on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Oak & Coal offers a la carte skewered chicken, veggies, pork fish and beef grilled yakitori style, along with appetizers at the cozy Costa Mesa eatery on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Ashley Wilcox is an “adventurous eater,” according to mom Olive. The Orange County residents dine on cucumber salad, cold soba salad and yakitori at Oak & Coal on Weds., Aug 2. The 17th Street Promenade, Costa Mesa eatery is owned by Jeff Chon. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ashley Wilcox is an “adventurous eater,” according to mom Olive. The Orange County residents dine on cucumber salad, cold soba salad and yakitori at Oak & Coal on Weds., Aug 2. The 17th Street Promenade, Costa Mesa eatery is owned by Jeff Chon. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Ladies belly up to the yakitori bar at Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa. On this Weds., Aug 2 evening there were several families with young children. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ladies belly up to the yakitori bar at Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa. On this Weds., Aug 2 evening there were several families with young children. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The grill, left, gets smokier as dinner guest fill up Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The grill, left, gets smokier as dinner guest fill up Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Bite-sized pieces of zucchini, chicken and shishito peppers on a bamboo skewer is served at Costa Mesa’s Oak & Coal on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Bite-sized pieces of zucchini, chicken and shishito peppers on a bamboo skewer is served at Costa Mesa’s Oak & Coal on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Look for the fire symbol and you’re there. Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa specializes on meat, vegetables and fish on a stick on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Look for the fire symbol and you’re there. Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa specializes on meat, vegetables and fish on a stick on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Oak & Coal, a small Costa Mesa yakitori eatery agrees. This quote faces the entrance on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Oak & Coal, a small Costa Mesa yakitori eatery agrees. This quote faces the entrance on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Oak & Coal exudes graphic simplicity in shades of gray, black and white. Opposite the bear smoke rises from the wide and narrow Costa Mesa yakitori grill Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Oak & Coal exudes graphic simplicity in shades of gray, black and white. Opposite the bear smoke rises from the wide and narrow Costa Mesa yakitori grill Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Oak & Coal open in late May at The 17th Street Promenade, Costa Mesa where a pancake house has the largest footprint. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Oak & Coal open in late May at The 17th Street Promenade, Costa Mesa where a pancake house has the largest footprint. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Yakatori battle scars grace the open kitchen at Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Yakatori battle scars grace the open kitchen at Oak & Coal in Costa Mesa on Weds., Aug 2. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Costa Mesa’s Eastside keeps reaffirming its standing as the epicenter of Japanese food in Orange County. The latest evidence is Oak & Coal, a new yakitori spot from restaurateurs Jeff Chon and Christian Fernandez, the guys behind popular drinking spots The Wayfarer on Costa Mesa’s Westside and The Alley in Newport Beach. The duo also owns a Japanese shabu shop in the same vintage plaza as this place.

Oak & Coal feels like their best effort yet. It is also the smallest. The restaurant is marginally larger than a shoe box, with an open kitchen on one side of the dining room and a communal table down the middle.

The menu is short and focused squarely on yakitori (skewers) cooked over Japanese charcoal. Most of what comes off the grill is very good, especially the beef short rib, “Kobe” tongue, and chicken thigh. And I especially like the Kurobuta pork sausages, which I like even more when they are intentionally burned around the edges. If you arrive early enough, before they sell out of it, you can partake in chargrilled chicken skin, an off-menu kitchen scrap that shrivels to a crisp and makes an addictive little snack.

Aside from the fairly short list of yakitori, the kitchen also serves panfried dumplings stuffed with kimchi, which the waiters always make a point of pushing. They’re alright, even if they don’t quite live up to the hype.

They also offer two versions of soba noodles, one hot, the other cold. The only version I’ve sampled is the hot one. The noodles arrived overcooked and mushy, completely lacking that chewy toothsomeness of properly made soba. But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here for the skewers.

Incidentally, every time I’ve mentioned this place to anyone, they want to know how it compares with Tustin’s Honda Ya. As far as the yakitori goes, I like the skewers here better than Honda Ya’s. That said, the real competition is much closer, and this place still has a way to go before it can fully compete with Costa Mesa’s Izakaya Hachi, which is still the one to beat. Fortunately there’s no such thing as too many yakitori restaurants, and I’m excited about this one.

Oak & Coal

Where: 333 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa
When: Dinner nightly
Phone: 949-287-6150
Online: oakandcoalcm.com

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