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.

Manpuku – Not so Secret Beef

Restaurant: Manpuku

Location: 2125 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 473-0580

Date: October 14, 2011

Cuisine: Yakinaku

Rating: Tasty BBQ, good value

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Manpuku is a Yakinaku (Japanese style Korean BBQ) joint in the heart of the Sawtelle little-Tokyo area (just a few stores down from awesome Kiriko Sushi). It’s been a lunch favorite of mine for years because it offers really good BBQ at value prices. It isn’t the ultimate Yakinaku, a title reserved for the amazing Totoraku, but it is about 10% of the price!


This mini-mall is packed with delicious Asian lunch spots.


Just in case you wondered what you might find inside.


Every table comes equipped with it’s own BBQ. I apologize for the mediocre pictures. My snapshot camera is in the shop and so I had only the iPhone4 (I wasn’t going to lug the big camera). On the plus side, the photos did magically sync to my Mac via photostream, which is pretty sexy. Canon needs to add at least Wifi to their regular cameras. I’m sick of pulling out that card.


The lunch menu.


Kimchee on the left, the delicious sweet sauce (for use on the meat after cooking) on the right.


I ordered the “prime rib lunch set” ($15, and sometimes on sale!) and it comes with all you can eat Japanese salad.


And miso soup.

And rice.


Plus one of these plates of marinated prime short rib and a few vegetables.


The meal is simple. You BBQ to taste (rare in my case), dip in the sweet sauce, let cool on the rice, then eat!

There is nothing to complain about here. The beef is fresh, tender, and tasty. If you enjoy this, and are want to really max out on the variety this cuisine offers (every cut of cow) then check out Totoraku.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Go Sushi Goes To Lunch

Restaurant: Go’s Mart [1, 2]

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

Date: October 11, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Sushi

Rating: Possibly LA’s best sushi!

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This is my second visit to the unassuming Canoga Park sushi temple that is Go’s Mart. You can check out the Foodie Club mega tasting meal I had previously. This time I just dropped by for lunch and had a more “modest” little lunch omakase.


The plate of ginger and wasabi gets the saliva flowing.


Marinated toro collar. In some ways like a really nice marinated tuna fish.


Homemade Ikura (salmon roe). As good as that gets.


Go has the interesting format of serving fish in related flights. This is a foursome of whitefish. All are prepared with variations of wasabi, rock salt, truffle oil, and kelp. Some also have shiso and or yuzu pepper. All four are fairly similar with a nice light bright flavor.


Kue I think, which is a kind of grouper.


John Dory.


Red snapper.


Kelp bass.


Sweet shrimp roe marinated in a mirin (rice wine) based sauce.


It looked pretty cool even after I got most of them out.


A flight of shellfish. Dusted with hibiscus salt.


Japanese snow crab with gold.


Some very fine Alaskan king crab.


Japanese scallop. Yum.


And sweet shrimp (body) with caviar.


The heads came back to us fried. Which are also great.


We ate everything but the eyeballs and beaks.


A flight of tunas.


Blue fin tuna with garlic chip.


Albacore tuna with garlic.


Chu-toro (medium tuna belly) with radish and caviar.


O-toro (extra fatty toro), seared, with gold and a slightly sweet sauce.


A tro of squirmies.


Live octopus, cooked. It was alive a few minutes before we ate it. This was good, but I probably prefer it less cooked.


Fresh abalone. As good as the chewy creature gets.


Baby squid, with a bit of squid guts. Very soft for squid.


Both kinds of eel, sea and freshwater.


The sea eel, with kelp.


And the river eel.


Two kinds of halibut. Both with hibiscus salt, micro greens, and yuzu pepper.


Kelp halibut.


Halibut fluke.


A blue crab handroll with a bit of truffle oil.


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

Go-san continues to impress with some really scrumptious sushi. He has his own take on the art and not only is the fish impeccable but the flavor combos very refined and interesting. Given the ultra high end nature of the food (and standard sushi pricing), it isn’t even that badly priced either. Much more reasonable than Mori Sushi for example. Go to it!

For more LA Sushi, click 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).

Yojie – Deep Boiled Noodles!

Restaurant: Yojie

Location: 501 W Olympic Blvd. Ste 102. Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 988-8808

Date: September 7, 2011

Cuisine: sukiyaki and shabu

Rating: Sleek and tasty

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I often go to Shabu Shabu (review of one of my favorites here), but it’s been a long time since I had Sukiyaki (it’s sweeter eggier cousin).

Yojie is smack int he middle of downtown and is one of those new slicker more modernized ethnic places. I.e. there is decor.

They offer both Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu, but I’ll concentrate on the former. Both are hotpot dishes, cooked table-side by the diners.

Here is the Sukiyaki page of the menu. It’s mostly about the beef. And mostly about the size. I went “sumo” — because I’m well a big eater (you never guessed!).

Here is the beef itself. A little thicker than Shabu Shabu. The rice and the all important raw egg.

And the veggie and noodle plate. Pretty similar to Shabu Shabu.

The difference here is that the “broth” is a sweet Teriyaki-like sauce. Things are cooked a bit more heavily. And then instead of the post cooking dipping sauces you put the hot items straight into the raw egg, which then very slightly cooks as it coats the meat — and certainly makes it richer.

The broth gets all hot and sticky like a yummy thick meaty sweet teriyaki soup.

If you cook a bunch of stuff on it and ladle onto the rice you can make your own Teriyaki bowl type thing. The waiter actually wasn’t paying much attention to our temperature control and let our pots get too hot (we filled the room with smoke).

But he made up for it by giving us free dessert. In this case milk chocolate fondue, which conveniently also uses the hotpot.

These various yummies are then dipped in the chocolate. Not too shabby.

Overall an enjoyable Japanese treat. At the perfectly right thick bubbly consistency (which is hard to maintain) the thick sauce is pretty spectacular with the beef noodle and egg combo.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

The Vengeful Polyglot prays to the hotpot gods.

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.