Hamasaku (Los Angeles, CA)

Hamasaku
11043 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 11/7/13

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Hamasaku’s been open for over a decade, although I feel like I only heard about it recently. The restaurant’s had a largely entertainment-based clientele (following its owner Michael Ovitz) and its most notable menu items are fusion sushi rolls, many named after celebrities and regulars. Not exactly my scene, but I’ve lately seen more and more positive reviews on the traditional Japanese items on the menu. Coincidentally, I was recently invited in for a visit.

Hamasaku is located in the rear of a strip mall in West LA, in between Century City and Sawtelle’s ‘Little Osaka’ (perhaps a good representation of the restaurant’s balance between traditional Japanese and American fusion cuisine). The kitchen is run by executive chef Wonny Lee, while head sushi chef Yoya Takahashi mans the bar. Both started at the restaurant within the last two years, injecting some fresh influences.

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A chef’s choice omakase menu was on tap this evening.

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Shunji (Los Angeles, CA)

Shunji Japanese Cuisine
12244 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 11/4/13

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Chef Shunji Nakao has been around the LA sushi scene for some time now (greater than two decades) being a key plater in some well-known past ventures (Matsuhisa, Asanebo, The Hump). His eponymous and short-lived Shunji’s on Melrose opened a couple of years ago, to be succeeded by this spot in West Los Angeles. Opened early last year, it’s been on my radar for some time but I didn’t make my first visit until this week for lunch.

The restaurant debuted Mon-Fri lunch service last month, offering a more affordable way to try the restaurant’s oft-praised sushi. Regular dinner service offers a la carte, as well as a handful of tasting options: a $50 sushi special (10 pieces + 1 hand roll), a market-priced sushi omakase, a $100 omakase centered around plated kaiseki-like preparations, and a full omakase starting at $140. On this afternoon, we opted for the premium lunch special which offered 12 nigiri and 1 hand roll for forty bucks…a relative deal. Currently, lunch is sushi-only with potential for the full kitchen to be available in the future.

I appreciated that the day’s offering was rather comprehensive, complete with prices. As with many sushi meals, I’ll save comments for the end.

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Maru (Santa Monica, CA)

Maru
12400 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 8/15/13

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Maru opened a couple months ago in Santa Monica (on the border of Brentwood), a relocation of a restaurant in Valencia. The man behind the food is chef Jason Park, who mixes the Japanese/Korean influences of his childhood into his classically trained cooking background. A wide variety of sushi and sashimi is offered (which the restaurant self-describes as ‘world-class’), as well as an extensive menu of his Asian-influenced Californian cooking. Desserts are a big part of the menu as well and could stand on their own (as Park’s recent opening of dessert shop Ramekin in Los Feliz earlier this year is proving).

I’d heard good things about the restaurant early on and was invited in for a tasting. On the menu on this evening was a small sample of sushi and sashimi, as well as a good glimpse into Park’s cooking.

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Shibucho (Los Angeles, CA)

Shibucho
3114 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Dining date: 7/24/13

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My friend and I decided to get dinner together with two particular stipulations: that it be sushi-centric and that it be a place neither of us had been to. Finding it difficult to find the ideal restaurant that fit these needs, we turned to Yelp for help. Shibucho ended up being the choice due to its 4-star rating and proximity to downtown. While we should’ve been suspicious of the only 52 Yelp reviews at the time of dinner, Shibucho sounded like a pioneering hidden gem. It’s been serving traditional sushi (no California rolls) in a very unexpected location (Westlake) for 37 frickin’ years (pre-dating Matsuhisa by over a decade). We figured it had to be doing something right. Wrong.

After the meal, my friend said it was the worst meal of the century. I’m not ready to make that claim, but I haven’t yet thought of a worse combination of experience and cost in the past 12.5 years. It was that bad.

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Nozawa Bar at SUGARFISH (Beverly Hills, CA)

Nozawa Bar
SUGARFISH Beverly Hills
212 North Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 5/18/13

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SUGARFISH, the streamlined sushi concept from Nozawa, has been rapidly expanding across LA since opening its first location in Marina Del Rey five years ago. This Beverly Hills location is the 6th in the chain (a 7th in Calabasas is already planned with rumors of a NYC project next year), though this one’s not quite like the others. This location is home to something called the Nozawa Bar, a reservation-only 10-seat sushi bar in the back of the restaurant serving an omakase-only menu of various sushi/sashimi. Whereas SUGARFISH focuses on more of the “typical” cuts of fish, the Nozawa Bar promises a more adventurous foray into sushi with its ~20 course meal. Another big difference is that the sushi is prepared right in front of the diner (like a typical sushi bar) rather than in the back (something all SUGARFISH locations share).

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Lunch and dinner reservations are taken online only (here), at $130 and $150 per meal, respectively. Having never been to Nozawa I was excited to dine here, which seems like the closest thing still in existence (though, a completely different concept). This would also be my first true omakase sushi experience since returning from Japan late last year.

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Sushi Dai (Tokyo, Japan)

Sushi Dai
Tsukiji Fish Market
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045
Dining date: 11/21/12

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I’d heard much about Sushi Dai well before coming to Japan, the super-popular sushi shop at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. The stories are almost legendary, talking about the early mornings, long lines and exceptionally fresh fish mere yards away from the fish auction itself. I attempted to eat at Sushi Dai in each of my first two days of the trip; on the first we opted for Sushi Daiwa’s much shorter wait and on the second, I gave up on waiting the estimated four hours for a seat. The third time was a charm – I had the opportunity to dine here on my last day in Japan.

Three of us woke up at 5am on a Wednesday for a short cab ride through the still-dark Tokyo streets to Tsukiji. We were still met with a line, albeit a relatively short one, and braved the cold.

Now, there’s two parts to the line at Sushi Dai. The first 20-25 people wait outside the restaurant, herded like sheep into about 4 neat rows (SO uncomfortable…especially in the frigid weather). The line then breaks (to make room for traffic through the market), and re-forms at the end of the street, where the rest of the line can stretch dozens deep. With our early-morning timing, we found ourselves at the front of the ‘second’ line. The total wait ended up being about 80 minutes. Continue reading