Urasawa – 9/11/10

Urasawa
218 N Rodeo Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

sign

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.

sushi bar

sushi bar2

wasabi root

chopstick holder

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.

krug

Seared Toro and Radish Wrapped Around Monkfish Liver topped with caviar

seared toro dish

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

edamame tofu

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!

Japanese Eggplant

jap eggplant

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

sashimi1

sashimi2

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

beef tartare

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

<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.

Stone-Seared Toro

hot stoneraw toro

cooking toro

cooked toro

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

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

shabu shabu

fish for shabu

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!

Ginger

ginger

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)

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.

Seared Toro

seared toro

Here we have toro, lightly seared. Again, extremely tender with a very nice slight char to it, bringing even more flavor to this bite.

Amberjack

amberjack

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.

Pike Mackerel

pike mackerel

hiro4

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.

Spanish Mackerel

spanish mackerel

This piece had a little bit more of a chew than the previous cuts (which was welcome) and was delicious.

Red Snapper

red snapper

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.

Bluefin Tuna

tuna

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.

Striped Jack

skipjack

Another tender piece of fish, with its own unique flavor.

Squid

squid

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.

Giant Clam

giant clam

There was a distinctive chewiness with this clam, yet a rather sweet flavor came out when I began to chew. Nice!

Sea Urchin

sea urchin

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)

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.

Shitake Mushroom

shitake

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

sweet shrimp

hiro3

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

toro cucumber roll

hiro2

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.

Abalone

abalone

Next was a nice piece of abalone. Chewy and not at all fishy, I enjoyed this one.

Small Shrimp

small shrimp

This piece of shrimp was much more tender than the previous, and less sweet. However, its own flavor was distinctive and tasty.

Sea Eel

sea eel

This sea eel was tender and had a really nice, meaty flavor.

Egg Custard

egg custard

The egg custard signaled the end of sushi and the beginning of dessert. Really moist and light, this made a very good bite.

Pear Jelly

pear

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

sesame ice cream

matcha

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

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.

group photo

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.

Sushi Zo – 9/10/10

Sushi Zo
9824 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

My mother prefers not to eat raw fish. This, combined with the fact that San Francisco’s sushi scene pales in comparison to LA’s (there’s no doubt), means my dad doesn’t get good sushi too often. So my dad and I planned a sushi weekend, and he came down to visit and eat!  We decided to start off with Sushi Zo (Friday), followed by Urasawa (Saturday) and ending with Asanebo (Sunday).

I first tried Sushi Zo last year and found it to be very good – enough to be the second best sushi restaurant I’ve been to in LA. You’d never expect as much from the outside, as it’s a really unassuming spot located in a strip mall with the likes of Vons and Rite Aid. It’s one of those places where, if you just stumbled in without reading up on anything, you’d probably leave thinking “what’s it doing there?”

The menu is omakase-only and, while not a set price, tends to run in the lower 100s. Don’t bother trying to order any cut rolls (especially a California roll!) because they won’t do it and will hate you for asking. Okay I’m not sure about that second part, but they’re very serious about their sushi, going so far as to post signs informing patrons of what constitutes good sushi etiquette.

We started off with a simple bowl of miso soup.

Plain and simple, and a good way to start the meal.

Kumamoto Oyster

I enjoy raw oysters, especially in Japanese preparations. This went down easy with its clean, fresh flavor.

Tuna Sashimi

Next were four slices of tuna sashimi served with soy and wasabi. The tuna was marvelously tender, and barely necessitated chewing. The flavors were great as well. These tender pieces of fish would foreshadow what was to come.

Baby Abalone

Baby abalone was next, sliced and served within its shell with yuzu kosho, a Japanese condiment made of peppers and yuzu. The abalone was rather chewy – a very interesting texture and consistency. However, it had a fairly mild ‘sea’ flavor, and I thought it went really well with a touch of soy and the yuzu kosho.

Squid with Uni

This was one of the more memorable dishes from my last visit, and it’s still excellent. The squid acts like noodles, with an al dente texture, and the uni is stirred up like a sauce…creating a pasta-like dish. Pretty unique, and the combination works very well.

What follows is the sushi – I won’t comment on each one individually at the risk of sounding repetitive, but the sushi was really, really good. I’ll say more after the pictures!

Halibut

Albacore


Spanish Mackerel


Scallop


Yellowtail


Medium-Fatty Tuna (Chutoro)


Pompano


Amberjack


Orange Clam


Butterfish seared with a mustard-like sauce


Yellow-Striped Jack


Monkfish Liver


Sweet Shrimp


Pike Fish


Giant Clam


Sardine

Golden Eye Snapper


Barramundi


Squid


Red Snapper


Sea Urchin and Salmon Egg


Halibut Fin


Sea Eel


Fatty Tuna (Toro) Hand Roll


Egg Omelette

I don’t say this very often, but everything was good. The first few pieces set the tone, being very tender, obviously fresh, with good flavor. That would continue throughout the courses, as all of the pieces of fish displayed clean flavors. The rice was consistently barely warm, and the fish at room temperature, which is perfect – I find temperatures are often overlooked at other restaurants.

I think it’s important to note that the sushi chefs will put whatever necessary on top of the sushi and give you instructions to either dip in soy or not to. I love it when they do this! The accompaniments never overshadowed the fish, but really melded well. However, the sushi pieces are on the small side – the fish slices are rather thin. You could say this gives you a chance to try more pieces. My favorites of the night would have to be the albacore, fatty tuna (always is, if prepared well), orange clam, monkfish liver, sweet shrimp, and halibut fin.

This completed our meal, and I’d have to say I was impressed. This was a step above my last trip here, and really solidified its position among the top sushi spots in the city. I think Sushi Zo provides some pretty good value as well, considering the quality of the fish. I will be back!

Sushi Zo provides no dessert options, so we went across town to Scoops to get some ice cream before they closed.

I got a scoop of the the hazelnut smoked porter, as well as the Earl Grey. The flavors are brilliant, though I always struggle with the temperature of the ice cream. I would love it to be a few degrees colder, as it begins to melt too quickly. I do think that one tastes the flavors more when it’s less cold, but I lose too much of the mouth-feel I enjoy.

Morimoto Napa – 8/28/10

Morimoto Napa
610 Main St
Napa, CA 94559

Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s first venture on the west coast is in the small town of Napa in the heart of wine country. Given the slower, leisurely pace of this small town, I was expecting a rather quaint restaurant. I was mistaken. The restaurant is bustling – the lounge, bar and dining room were packed to the brim with customers, with staff carving dizzying paths through these three areas and the kitchen.

Before I look like an idiot, these images were taken at the end of the night.

Morimoto Napa is not a traditional Japanese sushi house….kind of like how Morimoto not a typical Japanese chef. This place is trendy – the decor and crowd instantly reminded me of something like Geisha House, Koi or Katsuya in LA. Considering Morimoto’s background of being head chef at the famed Nobu in New York, I could see the parallels in decor.

The menu features a wide array of hot and cold appetizers, salads, entrees, and (of course) an extensive sushi menu. We opted to order a variety of dishes instead of the omakase, in order to sample a variety of hot and cold dishes.

Toro Tartare wasabi, nori paste, sour cream

This was presented in a grand fashion, in a large bowl of ice. This has to be one of Morimoto’s most famed dishes – chopped up toro with a selection of accompaniments to help yourself to.  From left to right, these were: nori paste, wasabi, creme fraiche, chives, avocado and rice crackers. It’s a fun and playful dish, and each of the accompaniments were quite good. However, my favorites were the nori and (surprisingly) the avocado – the rice crackers were perfect to add a bit of texture.

Morimoto Sashimi seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi, five sauces

Layers of smoked salmon, hamachi, eel, chu-toro, eel and oyster mushrooms were combined to make these sashimi bites. Accompanying them were a number of sauces including arugula oil, yuzu vinaigrette, eel sauce, and red and yellow pepper sauces. I’m often not a big fan of maki rolls that combine a variety of fishes, as you can’t distinctly taste any one fish. This dish followed those same traits, however it was pretty tasty.

Tuna Pizza anchovy aioli, olives, jalapeno

A pretty unique dish here with tuna as a featured ingredient in this raw “pizza.” The flavors were pretty good here; the jalapeno, while prevalent, wasn’t overly spicy.

Ramen morimoto chicken noodle soup

Did I mention we were sitting outside with the temperature in the low 50s? A bowl of ramen soup was in order. This ramen was really more like a Vietnamese pho ga, with its hearty chicken broth, shredded chicken, and rice noodle (not a common type of noodle for ramen, as far as I know. Having said that, it was a deeply satisfying and comforting bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Rock Shrimp Tempura spicy kochujan sauce, wasabi aioli

I remember this dish from my trips to Nobu, but this variation is a little different. Plump and juicy pieces of perfectly-fried shrimp were served in two sauces. Both sauces were good with just the right amount of heat – I preferred the more complex flavor of the kochujan over the wasabi.

Whole Roasted Lobster “Epice” garam masala, lemon creme fraiche

This whole roasted lobster was an impressive thing on a plate. However, I found the tail meat to be rather mealy, though the claws were succulent and delicious. I thought the garam masala was rather one-note; the lemon creme fraiche was good in tempering the mild heat of the curry, while adding some acidity to the dish.

Braised Black Cod ginger-soy reduction

Most fusion Japanese restaurants seem to have some sort of variation of this dish on their menu. This cod really reminded me of Roy’s (Yamaguchi) version…which is a good thing. The fish was moist and flavorful with a really melt-in-mouth texture.

Crispy Whole Fish spicy tofu sauce, papaya sauce

I love the presentation of a whole fish, especially when deep fried. The fish was very moist with a rather mild flavor. The spicy tofu sauce was rather overpowering, though, for such a light fish.

Sea Urchin Carbonara smoked bacon, udon noodle, crispy shallot

This was definitely a ‘fusion’ dish – here, Morimoto is putting a Japanese spin on the classic Italian pasta. Interestingly, the udon noodles weren’t very thick (thinner than a linguine), and closely resembled those in the ramen. The creamy carbonara sauce was rich and delicious – a solid take on the classic. There was only one small piece of uni included, but it added a nice briny flavor to the rich pasta.

Chef’s Combination Sushi

Full as we were, we couldn’t leave without trying some sushi. We opted for one of the “chef’s combinations” which included spicy tuna, sake, kanpachi, chu-toro, hamachi, maguro, unagi, ebi, mirugai, and aji. What a disappointment. The sushi was rather pedestrian – it didn’t have the glistening sheen of fresh-cut fish, and had almost a dry mouth feel. I was missing the tender, melt-in-mouth feel from most of the pieces.

Doughnuts

For dessert, we had doughnut holes with a variety of dipping sauces, including molasses, lavender honey, lavender sugar, soy sugar, powdered green tea and ginger sugar. These bites were warm and fresh out of the fryer, and the sauces brought back some of the playful customization we saw in the first few dishes.

In all, this was a solid meal. Good, but not great. I did not expect to have a mind-blowing experience here; rather, I wanted to try some of the interesting non-traditional dishes Morimoto has to offer. Outside of the surprisingly poor sushi showing, the dishes demonstrated some creativity and strong execution. I can’t say I anticipate being back (there are so many other places I want to try in the Napa Valley), though I do look forward to trying Morimoto’s new venture (his first non-Asian one) in Los Angeles.