Urasawa – 9/11/10
218 N Rodeo Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Urasawa. This is typically the first word that comes out of my mouth when someone asks “what’s your favorite restaurant in LA?” I first came in 2008 – I had heard all the stories, but could not justify the then-$300 price point until I graduated college and started working. My expectations were high…very high – and it was everything I imagined and more. The food is fantastic, yes, but it’s an experience as well. Every detail is so meticulously thought out from the sushi bar (sanded daily) to the elaborate ice sculptures, and to the fish (of course). Watching Hiro Urasawa work is a show in itself – his actions are so deliberate and exacting, embodying years of tradition. He truly enjoys what he does.
A sushi weekend with my dad (see: Sushi Zo and Asanebo) would be incomplete without a visit here. What follows is my third visit, and it was just as special as my first.
The restaurant itself is largely just a sushi bar – there is one table off to the side that is rarely used.
Above: behind the sushi bar; the sushi bar itself, sanded daily (it was SO smooth); wasabi root and yuzu – few restaurants in LA actually use real wasabi, even the Michelin-starred ones; turtle chopstick holders.
We brought a bottle of champagne to go along with our meal – very dry, this bright sparkler with slight citrus notes would do well in this meal.
Seared Toro and Radish Wrapped Around Monkfish Liver topped with caviar
We started off with this pretty dish! Instantly, I noticed the superb marbling in the toro – it’s a beautiful thing. The whole package is very tender; all of the flavors are distinct, and the caviar gives it just enough saltiness to bring out the flavors of this bundle.
Edamame Tofu with Shrimp topped with salmon egg
The tofu is velvety smooth, and evident of the edamame used to produce it. The salmon roe adds a lot of complexity and flavor to this dish, and really is a good combination with the richness of the tofu. Delicious!
Interesting dish. This eggplant, from northern Japan, is lightly pickled. It’s incredibly juicy and tastes, well, like a good eggplant.
Sashimi amberjack, toro, spanish mackerel
I always love the presentation of this dish. The fish rests upon an ice sculpture…so ornate! The fish, from left to right, are amberjack, toro and Spanish mackerel. I got my first taste of the night of the fresh wasabi – it has noticeably less heat than its powdered counterpart. All of these pieces of fish were so tender and uniquely flavorful. The toro, especially, was like wow.
Wagyu Beef Tartare and Caviar topped with radish
Here we have wagyu beef tartare on one side, caviar on the other, and topped with pieces of radish. This reminded me a bit of the beef tartare with caviar dish at Petrossian, but is completely different. A high-end “surf -and-turf,” it’s a very savory bite combining the richness of the beef with the brininess of the caviar.
Shark Fin Chawanmushi
Yum, shark fin! This chawanmushi contained gingko nuts, shrimp, shitake mushrooms and shark’s fin. The egg custard was really light, and all of the flavors really melded in this cup. Shark’s fin has a really distinct flavor, and it was the star of the show here without being overwhelming.
This dish has been on the menu each time I’ve come. A really hot stone (you can feel it from your seat!) and two pieces of raw toro come out first. Then, the toro is seared on the hot stone and dumped into this sauce for you to enjoy. This is one of the best bites I’ve had in recent memory. “Bite” isn’t even the correct word here, because you don’t even need teeth to eat this. A very well-marbled piece of fish, it melts like butter in your mouth, and tastes just so damn good. My goodness.
Sea Eel Tempura
The batter is light and very crispy. The eel is tender, rich and savory. Combine these together and you have some great tempura.
Shabu Shabu foie gras, king eel, sweet shrimp, red snapper, fresh seaweed
Since my first meal here, Urasawa has always offered a shabu shabu course. On this night, red snapper, king eel, foie gras, sweet shrimp and fresh seaweed were offered. The swishing of the food is done for you – you just do the eating, and the drinking of the soup afterward. Everything here had fresh, clean flavors – and made for a really nice soup afterwards!
A plate of ginger is brought out – thus, you know it’s time for the sushi. The sushi comes from all over the world, wherever Hiro-san thinks is best. Almost all of the fish we had on this night was from Japan – the exceptions were the tuna from Spain and the shrimp and sea urchin from Santa Barbara.
Hiro-san makes each piece of sushi himself in order to ensure control, and sauces them appropriately. If he doesn’t like something about the fish as he’s preparing it, he will discard it – we saw him do this a few times throughout the night. Per his instruction, each piece should be eaten within 10 seconds to ensure optimum freshness. If you don’t, he’ll surely call you out on it (in a nice way, I promise!).
Fatty Tuna (Toro)
We start with a glistening piece of toro. Not messing around, we go straight to the piece that is often the best cut of fish in any sushi house. Urasawa’s is so delicate, with a barely yielding texture and superb flavor. The light pink color is really indicative of the amount of marbling in this fish. Urasawa easily has the best toro I’ve had.
Here we have toro, lightly seared. Again, extremely tender with a very nice slight char to it, bringing even more flavor to this bite.
Next we have kanpachi, or amberjack. Very tender (though not quite as tender or fatty as the toro) with a lighter flavor. An excellent version of this fish.
The fish is seared with hot metal skewers before being cut up. The searing enables a little bit of a crust to form, helping to develop the flavors.
This piece had a little bit more of a chew than the previous cuts (which was welcome) and was delicious.
Grated yuzu rind was added on top of the fish. I really enjoy red snapper, and this one did not disappoint. The citrus flavor of the rind really brightened up the fish as well.
Every sushi place has tuna, but this one was different. The color was a nice crimson red, and was one of the most tender, succulent pieces of tuna I’ve had to date. I think this could compare favorably to toro at some other establishments.
Another tender piece of fish, with its own unique flavor.
The yuzu rind was grated on this piece of squid. Characteristically chewy, yet still tender, its texture was wonderful. Of course, a great example of the fish.
There was a distinctive chewiness with this clam, yet a rather sweet flavor came out when I began to chew. Nice!
No need for teeth on this one, I just moved it around in my mouth with my tongue. Silky smooth, the sea urchin breaks apart and releases a flavor that screams the ocean.
Medium-Fatty Tuna (Chutoro)
We went back to the tuna’s belly with this medium-fatty piece. At Urasawa, medium-fatty is still pretty damn fatty. This was a delicious piece of sushi.
I’d personally never order a mushroom sushi – it’s not my thing. However, this mushroom was lightly cooked and presented a nice, earthy flavor.
Sweet shrimp is typically one of my favorite things to have as sushi. Here, the prawns were taken out alive and broken down in front of you. The head was probably still moving as the body was eaten. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! The shrimp was deliciously sweet with a succulent, yielding texture.
Toro and Cucumber Roll
This was the only roll of the night – simply cucumber and toro. The ratio of toro to rice was perfect, and the very thinly sliced cucumber added a really nice crunch.
Next was a nice piece of abalone. Chewy and not at all fishy, I enjoyed this one.
This piece of shrimp was much more tender than the previous, and less sweet. However, its own flavor was distinctive and tasty.
This sea eel was tender and had a really nice, meaty flavor.
The egg custard signaled the end of sushi and the beginning of dessert. Really moist and light, this made a very good bite.
The jelly contained pieces of pear in it, and was made with a little mango as well. This dish was refreshing and not overly sweet.
Sesame Ice Cream with Matcha Green Tea
I love green tea. Matcha green tea is good stuff. The bowls of tea were prepared fresh and had a beautiful green color. Rather mild in flavor and not at all bitter, I could drink this all day. The sesame ice cream was so rich and creamy, with pronounced sesame flavor. I enjoyed this as well.
Roasted Green Tea
Lastly, we have never-ending cups of this roasted green tea. I say never-ending because you will get another one if you finish it. The cups are so small, I felt bad because the waitress kept fetching me another. Again, I love myself some tea.
So ends another meal at Urasawa, as remarkable as the first time. My experiences here have been uniquely memorable, and I’ve always walked out of the restaurant a little bit sad, wondering when my next visit would be. Service is top-notch; Hiro-san will point out errors to the waitstaff in Japanese to be immediately fixed. I don’t know how he sees everything, but I bent down to put my camera down once, he said something in Japanese, and someone was there to replace my napkin, thinking I had been bending down to pick it up from the floor. I don’t mean to point Hiro-san out as a mean character; he actually has a very warm personality and loves interacting with his customers.
Is it worth the price tag of $350? Yes, it is. The majority of that $350 goes to Urasawa’s premium ingredients; when shopping for fish, he’s not looking for the best value – he’s looking for the best fish, period. And that may come from anywhere in the world. He’s willing to pay whatever it takes so that he can serve it to you, thus the high price tag. Obviously, it’s not a place you go to on a routine basis, but when you want something really good, something special, Urasawa is the place.
i aboslutely love sushi and i have yet to come here! hopefully, before the year’s end… until then, zo is my favorite! great reviews on both!
Definitely worth a visit, you’ll love it!
No matter how many times I visit Urasawa, seeing other people’s pictures always makes me crave a return trip.
I envy you your parents. I only wish mine were so open-minded about food.
Ryan – I know what you mean, I had been looking at pictures for almost a year before my last trip. And yes, I’m glad to have the parents that I do!
I think it’s an absolute disgrace you support a restaurant that serves shark fin. I recommend educating yourself about finning. A restaurant of quality would never serve this or even consider it. I will never eat there and if you have any sense at all you would think about what you write and promote before you publish it. Of all the wonderful culinary opportunities for sushi..they actually serve shark fin. It’s a damn shame.
I respect your opinion. I do have some knowledge over the practice of shark finning and I disagree in the manner in which it is done. However, I don’t consider that to be a complete detriment to this overall meal and experience.
You’re making my last hour at work a bit more passable by reading your meal at Urasawa. I can’t wait to go back sometime this year.
And in regards to the previous comment, now I want some Shark Fin!
Hahaha thanks Danny – glad to make your afternoon at work more pleasant.
Thanks for the great review. im going here in about 1 month…. just wondering do u know of any great sushi restaurants right outside of nyc.
I’m sure you’ll have a great meal!
Can’t say I know much about the NYC sushi scene, let alone just outside of it. Sorry!
This review of Urasawa happened before you went to Japan, if I am not mistaken. But upon visiting Japan, what is your current appreciation of Urasawa? Question: Would you say it’s in the same league as Sushi Yoshitake in Tokyo, or rather comparable to the like of Sushi Kanesaka? Thanks
You’re correct. I think Urasawa stands up very well with the best of the meals I had in Tokyo. It’s a little different to compare since its hybrid kaiseki/sushi meal isn’t common in Japan (they were all separate from what I could tell), but again – Urasawa stood up there with the best of ’em.