Echigo Sushi

Restaurant: Echigo

Location: 12217 Santa Monica Blvd. Suite 201. Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 820-9787

Date: October 27, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Sushi

Rating: Very good warm-rice style sushi

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Back when my office was at the Watergarden in Santa Monica Echigo was one of my regular lunch haunts. The chef studied under Nozawa and is stylistically related to nearby Sasabune. They both follow the “warm rice” school of sushi (which I believe originates in Osaka prefecture. The rice is warmer and less sticky than Tokyo-style sushi. It tastes really good this way, but has some tendency to fall apart on the way to the mouth.


The lunch menu has two choices, the lunch special for $14 and the omakase. Below is the union (both) of each. The lunch special is by far the best deal (6-7 years ago it was even $9!).


Fresh ground wasabi and pickled ginger. These photos were taken on the iPhone 4S which does pretty well in good light. A few missed photos were purloined from the web.


Skipjack tuna with a bit of sauce.


Medium (chu) toro.


Hamachi (yellowtail).


Halibut, which itself doesn’t have much flavor, but the vinegary sauce does.


Tai (red snapper).


Scallop. One of my favorites.


Salmon with a bit of kelp and sesame.


Bonito, also delicious.


Albacore.


Kanpachi (young yellowtail). With a bright vinegary sauce.


Ono.


Shimaji (stripped jack).


Butterfish. This is an Echigo specialty. A firm fish with miso based sauce.


Uni (sea urchin).


And the now classic Nozawa blue crab hand roll (I ate two and could have had more).

Echigo is a hair below a few of the very top lunch LA sushi places (Sushi Sushi, Mori, Go, Kiriko etc), but it offers pretty good relative value, and on the absolute scale top sushi, far above the generic touristy sushi joint. Getting the Omakase at dinner at the sushi bar is an even higher caliber experience.

For more LA area sushi, see here.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Takao Top Omakase

Restaurant: Takao [123, 4, 5]

Location: 11656 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 207-8636

Date: October 16, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: 9/10 creative “new style” sushi

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I’ve already covered Takao in some detail HERE and then separately herehere and here. The full menu and some information on the history of the place can be found through the first link. This particular meal covers a full $120 Omakase, which actually is a very good value compared to ordering ala carte.


We started off with a lovely “shaved rice” style cold sake. I’ve become increasingly fond of this old-school premium form of sake.


Ankimo (Monk Fish Liver) with ponzu, scallions, and slightly spiced daikkon radish. An excellent example of this classic dish.


White fish with a bit of micro greens, citrus zest, and red peppercorns. A very light and delicious “sashimi salad.”


Toro tartar with caviar. A takao (and Nobu) classic.


Baracuda with ginger, scallions, in a light ponzu. This is not normally my favorite fish, but this preparation was very nice, with a light hint of char on the partially cooked fish.


Grilled Alaskan king crab legs. A sprig of pickled ginger. Very fresh and not frozen tasting, but the sweet vinegar sauce (in the back) totally made the dish.


A classic Japanese style unami flavor. A autumn broth of three kinds of mushrooms and some kind of light fish. The two sauces were a sour plum sauce (I think traditional with this fish) and a really tasty vinegary ponzu.


Sweet Santa Barabara prawn and asparagus tempura. The batter had little crispy riceballs in it which gave the whole thing a different texture. Plus there was both curry salt and sea salt and the traditional tempura sauce for dipping.


Salmon slices, marinated in a miso broth, served sizzling hot in this cast iron pan. You could cook as little or much as you liked. The sweet miso sauce was very tasty too.


A sushi flight. Starting at the left: red snapper, gizzard shad, blue fin tuna, toro, and in front, Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin).


Clam miso. Like regular miso, but with an extra hint of brine.


And for dessert, green tea creme brule with strawberries. It’s very green, with a fairly intense creamy tea flavor.

This was probably my best official omakase at Takao yet (and it’s always good). A very nice meal.

Check out other Takao reviews:  [1234, 5]

For more LA area sushi, see here.

Mori Sushi – A Top Contender

Restaurant: Mori Sushi

Location: 11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064. 310.479.3939

Date: September 14, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: Top sushi, but not cheap

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In a town full of top grade sushi, Mori Sushi is consistently regarded as one of the best. It has it’s own particular style, somewhere between the Osaka school types like Sasabune and the classic Sushi Sushi.


The interior and sushi bar.

The following meal represents the “Omakase” the largest and most expensive ($170) of the chef’s options. Several truncated or more sushi centric variants are available. This is basically a series of hot dishes followed by flights of sushi.


Kohlrabi greens.


Housemade tofu, with homemade wasabi and soy. This is the soft silken tofu that I’ve had a number of times recently, like at Moko and Ozumo. This particular example was very nice and light.


Sashimi. Left to right: marinated sardines, abalone liver, baby abalone with yuzu/pepper sauce, shitake mushroom, pike eel jelly, marinated Japanese onion, and Japanese okra. The sardines were really good and sweet. The liver reach, like an ugly blob of chicken liver. The abalone tender. And the jelly like a cube of flavorless jello.


One of those subtle Japanese soups. Pike eel (the white stuff), yuzu (the green sliver), and Japanese eggplant.


Santa Barbara sweet shrimp (with the roe), red peppercorns, and in front: scallop, halibut, and octopus sashimi. All this is dressed “new style” with a bit of olive oil and pepper. The shrimp was very sweet and tasty.


Uni (sea urchin) tempura with salt. I forgot to photo it, but this photo is of the same dish at a different restaurant. It was nearly identical, and very good.


Halibut with kelp on the left. Seki buri (wild yellowtail) on the right. Both solid “normal” fishes of extremely high quality.


Big eye chu-toro on the left and blue-fun toro on the right. Yum!


Kohada (Shad gizzard) on the left, pickled in vinegar, and Spanish Mackerel on the right. Also very nice fish.


Grilled baby barracuda on the left with a really nice charred flavor and mirugai (geoduck jumbo clam) with miso sauce on the right.


An uni (sea urchin) duo. Santa Barbara on the left (sweeter), Hokkaido in the middle (very fine also) and very fresh Ikura (salmon roe) with yuzu zest on the right.


Tamago (sweet omelet) on the left and anago (sea eel) on the right, grilled, with a bit of BBQ sauce. The eel had strong grill flavors and less of the cloying (but yummy) sweet sauce than usual.


Toro cut roll. Soft and velvety.


A pair of homemade ice creams for dessert. This is sesame, which tasted it but was a bit gritty and not very creamy.


And ginger ice cream which was very soft and pleasant, like a french vanilla with a ginger kick.


Hojicha, roasted green tea to finish.

Overall, I found Mori Sushi to be top notch. But it’s not cheap (not in the least). The ingredients are top notch and you pay for it. It has a subtle restrained style. I slightly prefer Sushi Sushi with it’s larger pieces or Go Sushi with it’s more over the top flavors. It hands down beats out Sushi Zo in my opinion. Certainly Mori is in the top five or so places in town — and that’s saying a lot as LA is unquestionably the best place in America for sushi.

For more LA sushi reviews click here.

Morihiro Onodera (old owner) in the palm shirt. Masanori Nagano left (new owner).

Pleased by Picca

Restaurant: Picca [1, 2]

Location: 9575 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035. Tel: 310 277 0133

Date: August 15, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Peruvian

Rating: Really interesting flavors

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I was really excited to try this new Modern Peruvian. As best I can tell (having never been to Peru other than an airport stop in Lima) Peru has a really interesting culinary melange going on merging Spanish, traditional South American, and Japanese influences. I’ve heard that much of the wave of innovation in American Modern Japanese started by Nobu Matsuhisa (detailed look here) is really just Peruvian. In any case, on to the food.

This space is just above what used to be Test Kitchen last year and is now the excellent Sotto. The chef is Ricardo M. Zarate, a Lima native, and as far as I can tell, he rocks.


The menu. This is all served Tapas style, which you all know is my favorite.


Burgundy! Parker gives this 92, “Bachelet’s 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes – from 60- to 70-year-old vines both below the route nationale and north of Gevrey in Brochon – offers lovely black fruit aromas with hints of anise and mint. A truly palate-staining intensity of vividly-fresh, tart but ripe black cherry and blackberry is underlain by firm, fine tannins (not precluding an emerging silkiness of texture) and augmented by bitter-herbal and stony notes. Although palpably dense and abundantly tannic, this outstanding village wine still comes off as juicy, sleek, invigorating and refined. Put it away for at least 5-7 years.”


jalea mixta. crispy mixed seafood, tartare sauce.” Some really good fried seafood. The tartare sauce was fantastic too.


chicharron de pollo. marinated crispy chicken, salsa criolla, rocoto sauce.” Also good fry. Like uber chicken nuggets.


tres leches de tigre. rocoto, aji amarillo, sea urchin shooters.” Three different gazpacho-like shooters. I had the Uni one. It was very limey/vinegary which I like.


ceviche mixto. mixed seafood, sweet potato, choclo.” Mixed fresh seafood marinated. Those things on the right are the giant peruvian corn kernels. The fish was very fresh, particularly the shrimp. The marinate was tasty, but certainly had a very strong lime/vinegar thing going on.


On the left: “santa barbara prawns. lemon grass yuzu kosho pesto.” Very tender sweet prawns, with the sauce definitely adding.

On the right: “black cod. miso anticucho, crispy sweet potato.” Tasty too. The potato chips though were even better :-)


Apparently in Peru sushi is done with these yellow blocks instead of rice and called causa sushi. The stuff looks like polenta but is actually a mash of yellow potato with some spices.

This is the “unagi. avocado, cucumber, eel sauce” and it’s pretty much your eel sushi. Of all these causas this was my favorite as the polenta is heavier and stronger flavored than rice and the eel held up to it best.


scallops. mentaiko.” Certainly tasty, but it would have been better with rice.


albacore. garlic chip, ceviche sauce.” My second favorite of this set.


spicy yellow tail. spicy mayo, green onions, wasabi tobiko.” Also good, but the fourth potato bar was beginning to feel too heavy.


arroz chaufa de mariscos. mixed seafood, peruvian fried rice, pickled radish.” This was a nice version of paella. Brighter and more citrusy (by far) than it’s Spanish cousin. The ingredients were very fresh.


seco de pato. duck leg confit, black beer sauce, cilantro rice.” This was a slight disappointment. It was perfectly cooked, but given the volume level of the flavors of this meal it felt a little muted, particularly the rice.


chicharron de costillas. crispy pork ribs crostini, sweet potato puree, feta cheese sauce, salsa criolla.” This however was pretty spectacular, one of the best pork sandwiches I’ve tried.


We finished the wine and decided to explore some of the awesome cocktails as “dessert beverages.” These drinks are by mixologist Julian Cox. The cocktail menu.


This was “chilcano de anis, lime juice, ginger syrup, anise syrup, pisco, soda, mint sprig, pernod.” It was pretty damn good, tasting like sweet mint licorice.


Sabertooth. cachaca, muddled blueberries, apricot liquor, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, shaken, lime wheel & blueberry.” Pretty great too.


Rhubarb Sidecar.” Cognac, pisco, fresh lemon juice, rhubarb gastrique, shake violentyly (and they mean it), garnished with spiced sugar.” Also great.


Christopher Oaxacan. Single village mezcal, passion fruit, fresh lemon juice, orgeat, lavender bitters.” The super smokey (and very good) mezcal overwhelmed everything else. It basically tasted like mezcal with lime.


“Lemon tart.” This was a pretty amazing dessert. Light and airy, almost foamy, the intense lemoness paired nicely with the sweet pineapple stuff on the side.


I love even street cart churros but these were pretty supreme. The churros were stuffed with some kind of dulce de leche custard. It kept squirting out but was intensely good. The carob sauce was surprisingly amazing. I remember carob from the 1970s as the horrible chocolate bars that weren’t. This could have been caramel.

Picca was pretty fantastic. They didn’t hit every note perfectly, but it’s a fun (and loud space), the server was very very nice and enthusiastic about the food, and the flavors were bold and powerful, the ingredients first rate. What’s not to love? Unless you prefer crap like el Torito.

For more LA dining reviews, click here.

Knocked out by N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

Location: 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 310.836.6252

Date: August 13, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I first went to the amazing Omakase only N/Naka just three weeks ago, but seeing my review, my Foodie Club partner EP desperately wanted to go again. So we did. Now bear in mind that this lovely restaurant has only a set menu (they offer it in two sizes, plus vegetarian) but the talented young chef Ms. Niki Nakayama concocted a whole new menu (just three weeks later!) without a single repeat — and it was even better!

We start off our wines with a light Spanish white. Parker 90. “A candidate for top Albarino of my Spanish tastings, the 2005 Bodegas Don Olegario is medium gold with honey and apricot aromas and flavors. On the palate the wine is viscous with enough acidity to hold things together. Very Condrieu-like at about half the price.”

Saki zuke

(a pairing of something common and something unique)

Chef’s garden eggplant puree, scottish smoked salmon, osetra caviar

Crème fraiche, chives

This opening course had a wonderful silky mouthfeel and tasted of smoked eggplant, a bit like baba ganush.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Japan ayu, pacific lobster roll, nanohana, daikon and kanpachi, lotus

Root kinpira

Zooming in, the Japanese Ayu. This is a smelt relative known as sweetfish. It was crispy and grilled. Alongside are cubes of watermelon and aged balsamic. The combo was lovely.

This is the lobster roll. Kind of like a piece of uber california maki.

A bit of diakon with either eel or kanpachi inside, not 100% sure. The little tomato is from chef Niki’s garden (as are many things in the meal).

Nanohana, a kind of broccoli rabe.

Lotus root kippira. Slightly sweet with a bit of crunch.

This is an alternative form of the dish for my wife who doesn’t eat shellfish or meat. You can see the lobster is replaced with a bit of seared Toro! N/Naka requires that you specify which menu and dietary restrictions a few days in advance, but they are very adept at customizing the menu.

Now stepping up to this killer California Chardonnay, Parker 95! This one is from EP’s cellar. “The Chardonnay Belle Cote is always a more exotic wine. There are 2,200 cases of the 2005 Chardonnay Belle Cote, a wine with undeniable notes of crushed stones, white peach, orange, nectarine, and quince. Medium to full-bodied, with zesty acidity, stunning minerality, and a firm structure, this is a gorgeous, French-styled Chardonnay that should drink nicely for up to a decade.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Japan bonito, marinated onions, ponzu, myoga, shiso, shiso air,  ginger

A lovely bit of bonito. And not only do I love shiso, but I get to try it as “air!” Although the real shiso had a bit more flavor punch than the airy form.

Fantastic containers add to the fun.

Owan “still water”

Black cod and shiitake, green tea soba, nameko mushrooms, dashi broth

This is one of those mild, but lovely, Japanese soups. With a vaguely sweet, soft mushroomy fishy taste. Very pleasant and soothing.

Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This is an ultra-ultra rare sake I had the previous time and it blew away the entire table (except for the 6 year-old who was left out!) One of the best sakes I’ve ever had. Each grain of rice is hand shaved before brewing!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

Big eye otoro, shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp,

Kumamoto oyster

Zoom into the bucket, where you can see the shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp.

And then over here, past the hand ground wasabi, to the Big eye otoro and Kumamoto oyster. The Toro (o-toro is the most premium Toro) was absolutely amazing.

An alternative basket my wife received. She has hamachi belly and scottish salmon instead of the shellfish.

To pair with the upcoming lobster, this Parker 90 white from Alto Adige in Northern Italy. “The 2008 Muller Thurgau literally sparkles on the palate with well-articulated aromas and flavors that come together with notable harmony. The finish is subtle and nuanced in its suggestions of mint, flowers, lime and passion fruit. This polished white also happens to be a terrific value. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2012.”

Yakimono

Pacific lobster, maitake, enringi, tamale sauce

This was a wonderful dish, and the pairing (recommended by the sommelier) with the crisp white was delightful.

My wife had to tough it out with this fish alternative, topped with a bit of dynamite.

Another lovely container, opening to reveal:

Mushimono

Unagi and gobo chawanmushi, frozen foie gras torchon powder

On the left a traditional Japanese custard with mushrooms. On the right frozen foie gras powder! This second item was sprinkled into the custard to add killer meaty umph! Really nice interplay of textures and fats.

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish to be paired with wine)

Abalone pasta, pickeled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

I had this pasta on my previous visit, but knowing this, Chef Niki gave me a different one! (below) Still, this one was amazing (or so I remember and so the rest of the party said).

Chef’s garden kabocha ravioli with truffles, brown butter sage, manchego

My wife received this dish, perfectly in sync with her taste. It was gone in about a millisecond.

Spaghetti with uni, ikura, poached eggs, seaweed, truffle

I got this, which was also delicious, tasting strongly of uni and the briny bright tone and texture of the ikura — two sushis often paired together and two of my favorites. Yum. This kind of interesting east/west fusion is very unusual, and brilliant.

As we move into the meatier portion of the menu, this 94 point Burgundy. “The Chevillon 2008 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Vaucrains projects an amazing sense of deep, dark concentration. Latakia tobacco; peat; rushed stone; roasted red meats; soy; and ripe, fresh blackberry inform the nose and absolutely stain the palate. The tannins here are as ultra-fine as they are formidable, and the tug on my salivary glands as relentless as are the finishing flavors. If this doesn’t leave you reaching for a napkin or your lips fluttering, probably no wine will. The energy and salinity here render a wine that you feel as if you must strain through your teeth nonetheless fleet-of-foot, enticing, and invigorating.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef ishiyaki

Plus butter cubes and sisho peppers.

Then out comes a little hot rock.

You drop the butter on top, then the meat and cook to your taste. Like a mini version of Totoraku.

The non-meat substitute is baked miso cod, always a favorite.

Sunomono

Marinated halibut fin, cucumbers, ruby red grapefruit

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

The bright marinated flavors and the sweet/sour sake go perfectly together.

Shokuji One & Two

(Rice dish- sushi)

Jeju island hirame, o-toro

Aji (mackerel), hamachi belly.

Aji (mackerel) on the left. Not sure what’s on the right.

Mirugai, shinkomaki, miso hamachi, sesame butter chazuke.

And the other two of above, but I’m not sure which is which :-). live scallops on the left.

R.L. Buller Calliope Rare Muscat. Yum Yum! Parker 100! “Giving aromas of dark brown sugar, black strap molasses, licorice and preserved walnuts, the deeply brown colored NV Calliope Rare Muscat is again incredibly sweet and viscous with a good amount of acid to balance and is decadently rich and nutty / spicy in the very long finish. All these vintage blended fortified wines are bottled to drink now and though are stable enough to hold, they are not designed to improve with cellaring.”

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

A fish with a miso sauce on rice with seaweed.

It’s traditional to end the savories in Japan with a “rice dish.” On the left we have a very traditional bit of salmon like fish, rice, and nori. Refreshing and stomach settling. On the right were two pickles cut roll pieces. I loved these. I’m a huge Japanese pickles fan and really enjoy the crunchy vinegar thing.

Dessert

Chocolate tiramisu, ruby red grapefruit and passion fruit gelee, fruits

 These were all extremely tasty. The grapefruit thing in the middle was particularly intense with a lovely gummy texture.

Kids Omakase

EP and his wife brought his young daughter with them and she got a special “kids omakase” which was very cool.

An assortment of rolls, including toro cut roll!

Ikura (salmon eggs), sweet shrimp, and bonito sushi.

Some of the best looking tempura I’ve ever seen.

Yellowtail belly sashimi. That was one lucky girl!

N/Naka really is a very special place. Both meals I had here were spectacular (here for the first). This second was, if possible, slightly better too, which was always wonderful because often one finds a slight bloom to come off a place on repeat meals. This was very much avoided by the completely new menu, which only three weeks apart was impressive. The quality of ingredients, preparation, and presentation here is pretty stunning.

Try it!

Click here to other LA Japanese restaurants.

Or other Foodie Club extravaganzas.

Takao Sushi Taking Off!

Restaurant: Takao [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Location: 11656 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 207-8636

Date: August 6, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: 9/10 creative “new style” sushi

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I’ve already covered Takao in some detail HERE and then separately herehere, and here, but we went back (we go often) and I built another “custom omakase” trying some different things. The full menu and some information on the history of the place can be found through the first link.

As you can see comparing this to the other Takao meals, you my dear readers, come first, as I ordered completely differently for your vicarious enjoyment.

After my spectacular N/Naka Kaiseki meal and its really good sakes I decided to up my sake game. This is the cheapest of the “shaved rice” sakes on the menu at Takao. It was good, not as good as the two amazing ones at N/Naka (Takao has half a dozen “better” ones too), but good.

The chefs at work. Takao himself was cutting for me tonight.

Scallop sashimi. I do love my japanese scallops. There was sea salt to dip them in too.

Toro tartar with caviar. I just can’t resist.

Spanish Mackerel chopped with scallions. Very tasty!

Squid, two ways. On the left normal. And on the right I’m not sure, but it there was a sour (and I mean sour) plum sauce (above left) to dip it in. Same sauce as I had the other day at Kiriko.

Mysterious grilled bit of sea creature. Soft and chewy, not bad.

Grilled Alaskan king crab legs. A sprig of pickled ginger.

On the left Uni (sea urchin) and on the right Ikura (salmon roe).

Fresh water eel with the sweet BBQ sauce.

And then a winter mushroom miso to finish.

For more LA area sushi, see here.

Ozumo – Japan invades the Mall

Restaurant: Ozumo

Location: 395 Santa Monica Place   Santa Monica, CA 90401   T: 424.214.5130

Date: July 15, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Japanese / Sushi

Rating: Good

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I’ve been slowly working my way through the new Santa Monica Place Mall dining scene. Which surprisingly, isn’t bad. Not brilliant either, but not bad. They’ve populated the mall with six or so small chain corporate places (restaurant groups of 2-4 restaurants each). These are never quite as good as sole (and chef owned) establishments, but they are better than big chains — barf! So far I’ve reviewed Xino, Zengo, and La Sandia. Now it’s time for the Japanese, Ozumo.


The interior space is large.


With multiple parts and a real sushi bar.

The dinner menu can be found here.


We ordered this decent (but not exactly on the level of this) cold sake. They did have a lot of expensive sakes on the menu, so some of them might be amazing.


“Kinoko Miso Soup. Nameko, shiitake and enoki mushrooms in a rustic Koji miso soup with negi.” A nice miso variant. I liked all the mushroom action.


“Hanabi. Slices of hamachi and avocado drizzled with a warm ginger and jalapeño ponzu sauce.” This is their interpretation of the classic Nobu dish. Everyone has it now. This version was a tad overdone, throwing in a few more elements and disguising the fish. But at the same time it was tasty and nothing clashed.


“Special heirloom tomato salad.”


Toro sashimi. I’m trying to low carb it so I’ve been doing more sashimi. This was good toro, but it reinforced my conclusion that this Rolls Royce of fish does better as sushi than as sashimi. Somehow it’s fat content needs the rice as a foil.


“Yiya Yakko. Chilled silken tofu, fresh ginger, negi and tamari shoyu.”


Here are the traditional sauces. The tofu itself was perfect. And truth is this is exactly how I’ve gotten it in Japan. The problem is that the straight up soy sauce is a little bland for the tofu. This is a flaw in the classic dish, not the restaurant. The deadly hot Korean version I had recently at Moko was tastier — and vastly more nose shattering.


Some various sashimi. Salmon, scallop, albacore. This was all good, although not ‘amazing,’ I’d say 8/10 on the fish meter.


“Yamabuki. Fresh uni, shimeji and shiitake mushrooms in a healthy Genmai brown rice risotto.” This made me suspend my “low carbing” for a dish. I would have liked more uni (sea urchin) as there are only two tiny pieces. The risotto itself was very good. It tasted more “healthy” and brown rice than a classic Italian version, which would have been slightly yummier. But it did have great texture, particularly with the mushrooms. Overall a very pleasant dish.


Here is the other bar, which is ‘first come first serve.’ These mall places are huge though, and as of yet there is no problem getting into any of them even at prime time.


They even have some cool outside seating, although not as nice as Xino or Zengo’s patios which are fantastic.

Overall, Ozumo is good. I’d probably rate it 7/10. The food was quite good. The service, like all the mall places, needs some work. I think they hire too many young inexperienced servers. The food’s not as good as many of LA’s other top sushi joints, but it’s solid (remember I’m a serious sushi snob), and considerably better (and cheaper) than over trendified mediocre fish joints like Katsuya Brentwood or Sushi Roku. As far as the mall goes, it’s in the league with Xino and Zengo, and certainly better than La Sandia.

Click here to see more LA sushi posts.

Kiriko Sushi

Restaurant: Kiriko Sushi

Location: 11301 Olympic Blvd #102, West Los Angeles, CA 90064. TELL (310) 478-7769

Date: July 8 & 21, Sept 21, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: Very nice!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

At our giant Go Sushi love-fest one of my Foodie Club members suggested I check out this Sawtelle sushi joint. He said it was great. Twist my arm! So I finagled a business lunch there (didn’t have to twist the other arms very hard either).

The unassuming storefront on the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle, right next to the Yakatori place.

This first time we ordered a light Omakase, almost all sashimi with a little sushi.

Omakase 1


The classic Japanese salad with the yummy textured dressing. I forgot either of my real cameras and had to make due with the iPhone 4 (sorry). It really doesn’t do too bad a job if you have adequate light and turn off the flash. That little LED has a range of about 12 inches and isn’t good for much.


Miso soup, the usual sort. They had about four kinds on the menu though.


Amberjack on the left, and halibut on the right with a gelatinous but yummy “sauce.”


From left to right: albacore with garlic chips, baby red snapper, and mackerel with onion and similar. All very good and excellent preparation.


On the left, kanpachi (young yellowtail), taco (octopus), and on the right Japanese scallops with pesto. I hate eating octopus because it’s such a smart animal, but these were some of the most tender and succulent bits of cephalopod I’ve yet had. THe scallop was also fantastic, with the light pesto adding a unique flavor without marring the subtle sea taste.


Left to right: Sock-eye salmon (light sauce), seared albacore, and golden eye snapper. The snapper almost tasted like lobster or something.


On the left: Big eye tuna and yellowtail, in the middle sea bream with salt and on the right homemade smoked salmon. All were great, but the bream and the salmon really stood out.


Sushi, left to right: Tuna, yellowtail, sea bream (with salt), and homemade salmon. This plate was served at the same time as the similar sashimi plate above.


Blue crab handroll. Overstuffed and on par with the Sasabune ones.

I went back two weeks later and ordered a more elaborate sashimi omakase, which is mixed in here with a simpler sushi/sashimi one. This time I had the medium camera so the pictures are better.

Omakase 2


Some couple million year-old sea salt rocks on the counter.


The chef at work.

The salad.


Regular miso.


Red miso, which is saltier and richer.


Octopus, salmon wrapped mango with caviar, and on the right boiled eel with plum sauce. The eel was interesting. It didn’t have much flavor (being boiled) but the sauce was very tart, tasting intensely of sour Japanese plum (which it was).


The same thing but with an oyster instead of the octopus.


A sashimi plate, left to right. Wild kanpachi (young yellowtail) with pesto, gel, and jalepeno. Albacore with garlic chips, abalone sea salt. Halibut with ponzu gel. These gels (slightly sweet, interesting texture) are something unique to Kirko (in my experience).


A sushi plate. Crab handroll, BBQ eel, salmon, yellowtail and halibut.


A sashimi plate that I forgot to photo until after I had eaten several items. We have starting in the lower left and heading clockwise. Tai (Red snapper) with sea salt. Chu-toro. Santa Barbara spot prawn, live head and raw body (eaten). Japanese scallop with pesto.


The head was so alive it was still moving. Click this image for a video.


Then he came back fried. Most certainly dead this time.


A sashimi plate of four kinds of salmon. Left to right: Sock eye smoked. Sock eye fresh. King salmon smoked. King salmon fresh. All good.


Japanese scallop sushi, with a bit of salt and yuzu.


More sashimi. Squid with spicy cod roe. Seared Japanese Mackerel. Seam bream with yuzu.

Omakase 3

This is another “sushi and sashimi” lunch omakase.


Soup and salad.

Seared snapper, monk fish liver with jelly, and halibut.


Albacore, seared and raw. Amberjack, wild yellowtail with jelly in front and sea bream in back right.


Salmon sashimi.

Bluefin tuna, wild yellowtail, sea bream, and salmon sushis.


Scallop and Uni (sea urchin) sushi.


A top grade blue crab hand-roll.

Overall, I was very impressed with Kiriko. Not only was the fish fantastic but they had very nice modern presentation and were doing some interesting stuff with the fish without going all weird and California. I’d put it in that grade of 9/10 LA sushi, which is saying a lot as our sushi is so fantastic.

Click here to see more LA Sushi posts.

Food as Art – N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

Location: 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 310.836.6252

Date: July 22, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

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N/Naka opened only three months ago. It’s the brainchild of chef/owner Niki Nakayama and is a rare entry (along with Urwasawa) in the Kaiseki category of Japanese. This is a traditional style of extended meal of small highly ornate dishes that is simultaneously traditional and modern. Originally it was a form of Imperial cuisine from Kyoto, but in the hands of Nakayama it’s received a bit of a modernist twist ala infusions of ideas and techniques from Ferran Adrià, the Spanish genius responsible for many modernist trends in cooking.


The unassuming frontage is on Overland just south of the 10 freeway.

Inside is minimalist, Japanese inspired, and very attractive.

Small attractive details are very Japanese.

Be warned, this restaurant has no ala carte menu at all (yay!). There are three options. A 10-13 course Modern Kaiseki, a nine course smaller Kaiseki (still long), and a ten course Vegetarian Tasting. All three options can be coupled with wine pairings. Below I will present the long Modern Kaiseki and the Vegetarian.

Modern Kaiseki (w/ wine pairings)


Graham beck sparkling, south africa. A nice dry champagne style pinot.

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower tofu, marinated salmon roe, uni butter, micro greens.

A wonderful blend of textures and flavors. The tufo was soft and gelatinous, the uni is… well uni-like, and the bits of Ikura (salmon roe) burst in the mouth as little flavor morsels. Delicious.


2008 — brooks riesling, williamette valley, oregon.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, scallop “dynamite”

Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, miso marinated black cod


Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, red pepper sorbet. The nicely friend crab and the sorbet played nicely off each other.


miso marinated black cod. Pretty much the Matsuhisa classic!


Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, caviar. Seared toro is always good, nice pairing.


scallop “dynamite.” This was pretty delicious. The soft, slightly chewy, bits of scallop played deliciously off the rich dynamite.


2009 — erbaluce di caluso, favar, piedmont, italy. Parker gives this 88 points. “The 2009 Erbaluce di Caluso is an unusual white that in many ways recalls Pinot vinified off the skins. Flowers, red berries and minerals come together nicely on a mid-weight yet generous frame. Clean, mineral notes reappear on the finish, giving the wine its sense of proportion. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Tuna and escolar checkers, ponzu reduction, italian black truffles

A delicious blend of little sashimi cubes and a richer more European sauce, plus the truffles. Very nice.


2010-shesbro roussanne, carmel valley, ca.

Owan “Still Water”

Lobster “shinjo” mousseline, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

You break up that little lobster thing into the soup, and eat that way. The soup had a delicious and light tomato dill thing going on, and the lobster added just a touch of richness.


Sake-kimura junmai daiginjo, akita, japan. This was a spectacular sake, tasting strongly of anise. This is the kind of sake where they shave every rice kernel down before making it!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

Big eye otoro, shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp,

Kumamoto oyster with uni

Some classic sashimi. The fish was all first rate, the wasabi hand ground.


Rw draft sake, suehiro syuzo, aizu japan. This was a fresher, younger sake.

Yakimono

Japan sazae butter yaki with maitake mushrooms

Japanese conch (like we had at Matsuhisa), but even more delicious as it was mixed with really yummy mushrooms and quail egg.


2007 — slumberger gewurstraminer prince abbes. Medium sweet.

Yakimono 2

Foie gras with eggplant, miso balsamic, shiitake mushroom

Double yum! Fois gras done up like BBQ eel (with some eggplant and mushroom).


2009 — elke chardonnay- anderson valley.

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish to be paired with wine)

Spaghetti with abalone, truffles, pickled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

This was a pretty amazing pasta dish, blending east and west. I’m not usually a huge abalone fan (although I have it often enough). It’s usually too chewy, but this wasn’t at all. There was a combined truffle and briny taste to this dish, not unlike a good spaghetti botarga, but also a truffle and butter/liver influenced richness.


2009 — evening land vineyards blue label pinot noir, eola amity hills, oregon. “Evening Land Vineyards is a group headed by movie magnate Mark Tarlov that also owns Pinot vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills and is making wines in Burgundy. They gained control of one of the Willamette Valley’s prized properties, Seven Springs Vineyard, and created an immediate sensation by signing on Dominique Lafon of Comte Lafon in Burgundy as consulting winemaker. The Evening Land group is also making a major effort to restore the health and vitality of Seven Springs. The most recent development is the addition of renowned Master Sommelier Larry Stone as President and GM of the group in August 2010. Over the past 2-3 years there has been an awakening among some of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished vignerons that their region is capable of producing world class Chardonnay. With Dominique Lafon and Larry Stone on board, there is no question that Evening Lands will be playing a starring role in this drama. There are now two serious Gamay producers in the Willamette Valley, Doug Tunnell of Brick House being the other.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef kushiyaki skewers, baby corn

A small portion of yakaniku, ala Totoraku (see here). Delicious and rich. Not quite the beefy effect of the mega secret beef meal, but a nice note in this complex dinner.

Sunomono

Halibut fin ceviche

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

A tasty little intermezzo.


Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This apparently is an ultra-ultra rare sake.


In the glass. It was darn good. Darn good. So were all the sakes, but I liked this one and the first one the best.


Housemade ginger.


Some traditional sushi. Jeju island hirame, o-toro


yellow tail belly, shima aji


live scallops, uni shinkomaki. Overall the sushi was good, but not quite at the level of the very top dedicated sushi places. Still, it was very very good sushi.

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

sea trout and roe chazuke

It’s traditional to end the savories in Japan with a “rice dish.” On the left we have a very traditional bit of salmon like fish, rice, and nori. Refreshing and stomach settling.


On the right were two pickles cut roll pieces. I loved these. I’m a huge Japanese pickles fan and really enjoy the crunchy vinegar thing.

Dessert

Black sesame crème brulee, fruits

A very nice crème brulee with a soft sesame flavor.

There was also a dessert wine, a light medium sweet late harvest wine, but I forgot to get a photo of it.

Dessert

ice cream on cornbread

Tasted of corn, and ice cream — big surprise. Light and yummy.

Vegetarian Tasting

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower Tofu with Truffles

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup, braised wakame seaweed with shiitake

Lotus root “kinpira”, grilled eggplant, shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


grilled eggplant


braised wakame seaweed with shiitake


shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup


Lotus root “kinpira”

Modern Zukuri

(Modern interpretation of sashimi)

Compressed watermelon, cucumbers, baby yellow squash, baby zucchini, yuzu

Kimchee air

Otsukuri

 (Sashimi )

Arrowroot konyaku, whith konyaku, spinach, kabocha, baby taro

Nanohana ripini, carrots

Owan “Still Water”

Potatoe “shinjo”, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish)

Spaghetti wild mushrooms, truffles

Yakimono

Lotus root mochi, spinach teppanyaki


avocado, Sushi-eggplant & shiso


shiitake, grilled konyaku

Maitake roll, cucumber and plum

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

ocha zuke with wasabi nori

The desserts were the same as the Modern Kaiseki. Overall a pretty spectacular job of approximating the full range of proteins using only vegetable sources. Vegetarian (or otherwise protein restricted) foodies should delight in this.

I was extremely impressed with N/Naka, and you can bet I’ll be back soon. The food is highly elaborate and offers a full suite of flavors meticulously prepared. I very much enjoy even the fully traditional Kaiseki dinners, but this slightly modernist take was even better. Sometimes chefs with inferior pallets will introduce modernist techniques into traditional meals and create uncomfortable taste pairings. Niki Nakayama clearly has a very sure and confident palette, as I found every dish harmonious and balanced.

I just hope the somewhat adventurous and all-tasting format doesn’t make it difficult for the restaurant to thrive (and I wouldn’t change that at all for myself, but some might be intimidated). I have the feeling that the menu changes up frequently, and is very seasonal, and I hope that’s the case — because I’ll be back! (And I was, click here for a second meal)

Or here for other LA Japanese restaurants.

Go Go Go Sushi!

Restaurant: Go’s Mart [1, 2]

Location: 22330 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303  818.704.1459

Date: May 28, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Sushi

Rating: Possibly LA’s best sushi!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

The Food Club has been talking about taking a trip to Go’s Mart for months, but we finally got around to organizing it. For those of you who don’t know, Go’s Mart is a tiny strip mall joint in Canoga Park with some of the best sushi in the entire LA area. Go has a unique take on the art, as you will see below. My partner in crime, Erick, has been coming here for over ten years and he called Go (the owner/chef) up and arranged for a “special” omakase for us. For scheduling reasons we decided on a very long Saturday lunch.


So I went down tot he cellar and prepped the above lineup of sushi friendly wines, mostly whites and a couple lighter red Burgundies. Go doesn’t have a liquor license, so there is no corkage!


The storefront is about as unassuming as can be.


The master behind his counter.


Most people sit at the cramped little sushi bar.


Go’s has pretty much NO decor. It started as a Japanese market and they still sell various drinks and products.


Oddly, this includes video tapes — and what appears to be racy Japanese video tapes at that! Who even has a VCR in 2011?


We had the table (about half of it shown).


This unusual Spanish white earn 92 from Parker, “The 2007 Gorvia Blanco was sourced from a single 3 acre vineyard planted exclusively to the indigenous variety Dona Blanca (used in the past mostly for grappa production or as a table grape). Medium straw-colored, it reveals aromas of apple, pear, slate/mineral, citrus, and acacia. Crisp, concentrated, and intense (in the style of top-level unoaked Chablis), in the mouth it is vibrant, complex, and impeccably balanced. It should provide both intellectual and sensual pleasure for another 5-6 years.”


Ginger.


We open with a kind of sunomono. Pickled cucumbers, very orange salmon, shrimp, bonito flakes, flying fish eggs. It had a strong vinegar tang of course.

Then a lovely preparation of Akimo (monkfish liver). Sweet fermented miso sauce, sesame, seaweed, goji berries, gold flakes (Go loves gold flakes). This was wonderful.

Finished off the first wine already.

From my cellar, parker gives this Rhone white 95 points. “The 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape blanc is even better. Meriting the same rating as I gave it last year, it is a delicious, beautifully textured, light gold-colored white revealing plenty of white peach, apricot, nectarine, and honeysuckle notes as well as a distinctive florality and minerality. More honeyed and fuller-bodied than its 2008 counterpart, it should drink beautifully for 7-8 years, then go into an oxidative state. It is somewhat of a gamble as to what will happen thereafter. Beaucastel’s limited production luxury cuvee first produced in 1986 is their 100% Roussanne Vieilles Vignes offering. Fifty percent is barrel-fermented in one-year-old barrels, but no new oak is utilized.”


Kani (king crab) with fresh Japanese scallop in an uni (sea urchin) sauce and topped with real caviar. Erick licked his plate. The scallop and the uni were particularly wonderful.


The first round of Go’s unique take on regular sushi. Starting with the pink one on the right, and proceeding clockwise: Kime-Tai (special red snapper), butter fish with kelp, halibut with kelp, and kanpachi (young yellowtail). Everything was dusted with a bit of ancient sea salt, some of the fish had shiso, some yuzu, some the marinated kelp. You can see the little dark sliver of fresh black truffle on all the fish except the kanpachi. Not only was each piece of fish exceptionally fresh, but the additional elements gave them a unique (and complex) flavor profile.


Two of our friends even brought their four year old. She didn’t eat the omakase :-) But she did handle the LONG (4-5 hour) meal pretty darn well.


Santa Barbara jumbo prawn, uni, caviar. These were all females, with the roe (the red stuff). This was a succulent bit of prawn, but of course the uni/caviar thing just boosted it.


A fantastic Burgundy, Parker gives it 92, but I’d give it more like a 94. “The 2003 Clos Vougeot explodes from the glass with licorice, dark cherries, and a myriad of spices. A wine of considerable depth, it is packed with suave black fruits immersed in chocolate. Well-structured, ripe, and exceptionally long, it will merit a higher score if its alcoholic warmth is absorbed into the wine with time (something that sometimes occurs with Pinot Noirs). Projected maturity: 2008-2017.”


Oooh Toro, two ways. On top is O-toro (special extra fatty tuna belly) with onions and caviar. On the bottom is kawagishi toro (shredded) with sweet sauce, stronger onions, and gold flakes. Both were amazing, but the o-toro was mind blowing.


Scottish salmon, look how orange this stuff is! The one on top is smoked, the bottom raw. Both have a little bit of onion and are dusted with hibiscus salt. The smoked one tasted like lox sushi.


For a lunch party where half the people are going back to work afterward (Uncharted 3 has a big E3 deadline coming soon and many are Naughty Dogs), we cruised through the wine fast enough. 2003 Vosne-Romanee clos du chateau monopole, domaine du comte liger-belair.


On the left Saba (mackerel) and on the right seki-aji (mackerel from Kyushu, considered the best). The saba had truffle, and the second goji berry, which gave it a bit of a sour and salty taste. Great examples of these fish, and continuing Go’s interesting arrangement of flavors.


“Special albacore roll.” Slightly spicy crab wrapped in avocado and albacore and topped with toasted garlic. I’m not normally a crazy roll fan, but for this I made an exception!


Starting at the right (pink one) and going clockwise: ebi (sweet shrimp) with gold and salt, japanese scallop with yuzu and caviar, geoduck giant clam with shiso, and Santa Barbara abalone (with truffle). Yum!


The ebi heads return in fried form.


The cooking process weakens the molecular bonds in the complex sugar that makes up the shrimp shell, allowing to just be crunched whole. We left a few antennae behind.


Seared toro with gold and sweet ponzu. What can you say, excellent. Although, I do prefer it raw.


Our four year-old got this interesting sushi lollipop.


Blue crab hand roll. These had little sprigs of truffle in them, which took the whole thing to another level.


Starting with the darker fish on the right. Snapper, flounder fin (yuzu and salt), black cod (salt and kelp), and flounder body. Many of these (all but the black cod) had shiso, all were dusted in the hibiscus salt. I’m not a flounder connoisseur, but I was told that the fin (behind soft) was some of the best that can be had. Go’s prep certainly livens up even these “dull” whitefish. Of course the fish itself was impeccable.


Scallops with flying fish eggs and truffle in a truffle sauce. Yummy!

The 2003 Walter J. Oster Riesling Auslese. I got this at the winery in 2005. As we wound down the wine this sweeter take went perfectly.


The “volcano!”


I’m not exactly sure what was inside, but it was some kind of whitefish, real crab and seaweed, along with seaweed, sesame, flying fish eggs, and lots of dynamite. The whole thing was pretty damn tasty!


In the front snow crab, and the back kani (alaskan king crab) with uni and caviar. Well, if top grade crab isn’t good enough: add uni and caviar!


Two kinds of eel. Unagi (freshwater) and Anago (sea). Both in the sweet sauce, with a bit of kelp. Great eel!


Kanpachi (young yellowtail), with shiso, truffle, and yuzo.


And finally another round of Toro because we couldn’t resist!


Go finishes up with a bit of fruit drizzled in sweetened condensed milk. Very nice finisher. There are oranges, rasberries, strawberries, golden-berries, mulberries and blueberries.


Some of the fish in the cabinet. You can see the toros in the middle front.


More fish.

Close up on the toro.


Prawns and scallops.

So I do have to say that Go is some of the best Sushi in the city, and by extension all America. It’s up there with Urwasawa, although more straight sushi oriented (even if with unique flavors). Less traditional than Sushi Sushi, but blows away Sushi Zo and Sasabune (not that they aren’t great too on the scale of things).

And as an extra bonus there was a Chinese foot massage place right next door where we waited out our buzz for only $19.99 an hour!

A second Go Sushi review, here.

For more LA Sushi, click here.

For other Foodie Club meals (all crazy great) see here.