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


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.


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


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.

Quick Eats – Wilshire

Restaurant: Wilshire

Location: 2454 Wilshire Boulevard Santa Monica, CA 90403-5823. (310) 586-1707

Date: July 23, 2011

Cuisine: New Californian

Rating: Solid


Wilshire is a New American in the heart of inland Santa Monica. They belong to the approachable ingredient driven California style popular in recent years (the older LA styles being “asian fusion” and “80s eclectic”).

The unassuming frontage (really sideage) conceals a rather extensive interior with a big bar space and a lovely outside patio. Their website has an up to to date menu.

“Art basil. kanon organic vodka, muddled grapes, basil, lime, ginger ale.” Pretty tasty.

A beet, burrata, and tomato salad with a bit of pesto and balsamic.

“Bacon and eggs. speck, housemade ricotta, poached egg, frisee.” This was a tasty combo, although the egg was just a touch underdone. This is a tricky balance as I like the yolk totally liquid but the white pretty well cooked.

“Scottish salmon. salsify, sprouting broccolini, king trumpet mushrooms, meyer lemon.”

“Braised shortrib. mascarpone polenta, swiss chard, romesco.” A classic short rib combo, as this kind of heavy meat is usually paired with a starch like mashed potatoes, polenta, or risotto. In this case it was the beef gravy that made the polenta, as it often does.

Part of the patio.

The patio bar.

One of the two interior rooms.

I haven’t sampled Wilshire in enough depth to form a really solid opinion. I like the patio area and the food I had was quite tasty, although it didn’t blow me away. Perhaps it seems just a tad too typical New Cal Cuisine. It’s also a hair over priced, but we certainly had a good meal here.

My index of LA Restaurants here.

The Lobster claws at the pier

Restaurant: The Lobster

Location:  1602 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, California 90401.  310.458.9294

Date: April 29, 2011

Cuisine: Seafood

Rating: Great view, decent food.


Every couple months we go to the Lobster. It’s located right at the top of Santa Monica Pier and has a tremendous view of the pier and the ocean, lots of seafood, and a lively scene. It is a little overpriced, but view spots tend to be.

The top of the pier.

The main room inside, with views of the ocean.

The menu.

Typical sour-dour seafood resteraunt bread.

A kind of chimichuri dipping sauce for the bread.

The wine list. I got a couple glasses of the ever reliable J.J. Prum Kabinet Riesling.

“Organic Country Fresh Farms Baby Greens. Fennel, Cherry Tomatoes & Shaved Parmesan with Red Wine Vinaigrette.”

“Manila Clam Chowder. Applewood Smoked Bacon & Weiser Farms Fingerling Potatoes.” This was a slightly different take on the New England clam chowder. I liked the clams in the shell factor, certainly makes it pretty. The broth had a nice flavor, but without the thick creamy whiteness of the totally traditional variant. It was a bit more like a corn chowder, or certain types of traditional Irish soups.

“Grilled Wild Columbian River King Salmon. Coleman Farms Baby Broccoli, Caramelized Onion, Weiser Farms Fingerling Potatoes & Tart Cherry Gastrique.” This would have been good except for the fact that while it was ordered medium well, it was medium-rare, and the pink inside didn’t have the firmness it should, but had turned into that kind of salmon mush. We actually sent it back. Cooked right it would have been fine.

“Butter Poached Lobster. Tutti Fruitti Farms Sweet English Peas, Wild Mushroom Ragout & Lobster Mash.” I usually get this, and there’s a reason. I love lobster. I love buttery bisque-style lobster sauces. I love pees, and mash potatoes go well with all of the above. Really, what’s not to like.

The hopping bar scene. It was even more crowded outside on the patio.

The Lobster is fairly typical of mid-high end ocean-view American places. The food is better than Gladstones (see below), and if you order right can be very good, but it certainly isn’t a stellar kitchen. Still, it can be a fun place and a very enjoyable meal, particularly if you enjoy our favorite North Atlantic crustacean.

For two reviews of Gladstones, check HERE and HERE.

Josie Restaurant

Restaurant: Josie Restaurant

Location:  2424 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, Ca 90405. 310-581-9888

Date: April 30, 2011

Cuisine: New American

Rating: Very reliable and tasty New American


We go to Josie’s a couple times a year. The menu is pretty solidly in the mid 90s New American, and it doesn’t evolve very much, but it is very good and quality control is excellent. There is an emphasis of farmer’s market ingredients and interesting game meats too.

The bread.

Parker 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.”

I have been coming here since at least 1997 or 1998 and the Amuse, this gruyere and mushroom quiche never changes. Now it’s tasty, but I do find it odd that they NEVER mix anything up :-).

The appetizer half of the menu.

“Beet and Herbed Goat Cheese Tart. Sweetheart beets, toasted Oregon hazelnuts, baby mizuna.” Tastes as good as it looks.

This was a special. White asparagus (just come into season), gnochi, all in a butter sauce with a bit of cheese. The sauce is much like the classic Italian butter and sage sauce.

The mains.

Another special, salmon with spring peas, tomatoes, etc. A very nice seasonal take on the salmon, cooked perfectly through.

“‘Tagine’ of Beef Short Ribs. Braised Moroccan-style and served with curried cous cous and a side of spicy almond yogurt.” I’ve probably ordered this dish 15-20 times, and it never disappoints.

The little cracker.

And the almond yoghurt underneath.

Notice how much I left of it. I love the mix in this dish. The savory richness of the meat, the soft cous cous, the bit of cream and yoghurt (always good with a heavy meat), the slightly spiced (but not spicy flavor). Yum!

The desserts.

“Chocolate Bread Pudding. Whipped cream, vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate sauce.” About as good as a bread pudding gets. Very similar in fact to the one at Sam’s by the Beach. This one is even more chocolaty though.

Super yum!

Josie’s doesn’t disappoint. It does mystify me slightly why there is so little change in the menu, considering particularly that the quality is so high. I mean, the supplementary vegetables move around with the seasonal and market changes, but the basic list of dishes doesn’t vary much, and I’ve been coming here well over ten years. Personally, if I was in the kitchen everyday I’d be bored. However, seeing as I come 2-3 times a year, I’m all over it.

If you liked this New American, click for reviews of similar places: Rustic Canyon (REVIEW 1REVIEW 2), Tavern (REVIEW 1REVIEW 2, REVIEW 3), or Gjelina (REVIEW).

Capo Valentines

Restaurant: Capo [1, 2, 3]

Location: 1810 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, Ca. 310-394-5550

Date: February 14, 2011

Cuisine: Italian with Cal influences

Rating: Well done, particularly for a special night.


Valentines is tricky restaurant-wise, and rarely shows off a place at it’s best. The economics of the situation tend to force them toward set menus (at high prices) and to rush the service so they can get 2-3 seatings in. We decided to try Capo, which I have reviewed on a normal night HERE.

Normally, Capo boasts of being a “slow food” restaurant. Tonight they hustled a bit, although the food was very good. We had a 7:15 reservation and they had us out of there (7 courses later!) at 9! Actually, we didn’t really mind, but that certainly wouldn’t be the case here on a normal night.

The have good bread. I particularly like the flatbread.

And this probably chickpea based dip.

For Valentines there were two menu choices, the regular on the right, and the truffle on the left. Both had two choices per course (more or less). Click to embiggen.

The amuse, a cone of tomatoes. Essentially like a tomato bruschetta — in a crispy cone.

To start we got two glasses of white. A muscat on the left and a Sancerre on the right. Other than having a rather hefty per glass price tag they were very nice wines.

“Baby red beet, ricotta ravioli.” The first of many Beurre blanc type pasta sauces. They have very nice fresh pasta here, and well the butter sauce is hard to go wrong with.

“Russian Beluga caviar, linguini.” Again with the butter. A very simple dish of pasta, butter, and caviar. It worked. The sauce was bread dipping good. This might not be the BEST venue to show off the caviar, although it certainly wasn’t overwhelmed, lending a briny note to the whole thing.

I love Amarone, as it is very grapy, and that’s one of the things I like in a red.

Parker gives this 92. “The 2004 Amarone is beautiful and understated in its wild cherries, sweet herbs and flowers, all of which come together with unusual finesse and clarity. Silky, ripe tannins frame the exquisite finish. The 2004 is already approachable and should continue to drink nicely for another decade or so. This is a very representative vintage for Allegrini. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020.”

“Bluefin tuna tartar, caviali.” This is a very nice sushi grade tuna, essentially chopped like you might find in a tuna handroll. The bread is very toasted.

“Gnocchi lobster, truffles.” Again with the Beurre blanc! The gnocchi were perfectly pillow-like, the lobster tender, and the truffles do go spectacularly with the butter — really one of the best ways to show them off. Everyone but my arteries thought this was a fantastic dish. Again, I lapped up the butter with yet another piece of bread.

“Heirloom tomato vegetable, burrata.” No faulting this combination. Capo always has a lot of burrata, and you know I love it (HERE FOR MORE ON THE BEST FRESH CHEESE!).

“Jamon Iberico de Bellota.” Spain’s best ham (see leg below). My biggest beef with this dish is that the bread is too toasted. It has a nice charred flavor, but that overwhelms the subtle salty-nutty taste of this very fine pig product.

Oink! How did my leg get from Iberia to American?

“”BBQ Wild King Salmon.” My wife, a salmon aficionado, loved this salmon. It had nice accompanying veggies too.

“Cote de Boeuf, truffle potato puree.” This was my least favorite dish of the evening, but this is just because I’m not really a steak guy. It was very rare, more than medium closer to rare. That was good. But I’m just not that into simple meat. I like things jazzy. If one were a steak lover, I’m sure this would be awesome. As it was for me it was good, but not mind blowing or anything. The mashers were really good though, and went particularly nicely with the black truffles.

“Fruit Crostata, zabaglione.” They described this as a pear tart. It tasted like apple pie. I wonder if they mixed it up and gave us “Hot apple tart, truffle honey ice cream” except that’s whipped cream (zabaglione?) and not ice cream. In any case, it was good apple pie, although it tended to fall apart.

“Chocolate creme brulee.” Yum! This was very good, rich, creamy, nicely chocolatty!

Some various petite fours. Mostly simple nut cookies and a couple fruit cream filled chocolates.

And they even included a rose!

Overall, this was one of the better Valentines dinners we’ve done. Really, just like with the flowers one can expect to pay more for less on this special night. But Capo did as well as could be expected. The choices were good, and every dish was very well executed.

Food as Art – Takao

Restaurant: Takao [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

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

Date: March 9, 2010 and February 12, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: 9/10 creative “new style” sushi


Takao is my local outlet for high-end “new style sushi.” While my last sushi review, Sushi Sushi, is an example of a fairly traditional sushi bar Takao is more based on the model created by pioneer Nobu Matsuhisa at his eponymous restaurant (REVIEW HERE). In fact, Takao himself worked with Nubu at said restaurant in the early 90s. But he spun out in 1995 and started his own place, Takao. This however is no total “neo new style” joint like Sushi House Unico, but instead, like the late Hump (REVIEW HERE), marries Nobu-style sushi with a more traditional Japanese restaurant format. In fact, in homage to that tradition, Takao looks more like an old-school Japanese restaurant, and its menu includes the various set dinners like chicken teriyaki etc.  Nevertheless, this is some really good stuff if you take advantage of what they have to offer. One of the nice things about this place is that you can take people who just aren’t that into sushi. Takao is also the biggest beneficiary (in our family) of the Hump’s death, as we used to split our family Japanese outings between Takao and the Hump — now Takao gets them all.


Storefront in Brentwood, conveniently located for us westsiders.


Big Menu! Click parts to embiggen.

IMG_9785 IMG_9786 IMG_9787 IMG_9788 IMG_9789 IMG_9790

I’m going to review a bunch of different takes on eating here, derived from two actual meals and several people. One option, for the more timid, but also an excellent deal, is to get the “set dinners.” They come with soup, salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert. This is the salad. If you ask you can get sunomono or possibly some other optons instead.

If you are an advanced eater you might find these next 8 or so pics boring, keep going, the good stuff is below!

Miso soup. I think if you ask they have a couple different types. This is the basic scallion and tofu.

Vegetable tempura. Again, there are some typical options in the set meal.

This is a basic “sushi dinner” plate. There are lots of other options like miso glazed cod or terriyaki salmon. You can ask for more or less whatever sushi you want (but perhaps not a whole plate of Uni and Toro). In the center, Ikura (salmon egg), cut tuna roll.

In the front, left to right. Halibut, albacore belly, Tamago (sweet egg omelet).

In the back, left to right. Maguro (Tuna), salmon.

In the back after the salmon, hamachi (yellowtail) and regular albacore.

Vanilla and mango mochi is one of the many dessert options.

This next “meal” is a custom high end meal with a sashimi/sushi focus.

House cold sake. Masumi “Okuden-Kanzukuri” Nagano prefecture.

Tai (red snapper), with garlic, salt, red peppercorn, onions, olive oil. A very bright flavor, and the peppercorns, not spicy at all, add a nice textural component.

Toro tartar and caviar. Chopped tuna Toro, onions and wasabi mixed with light soy sauce topped with caviar. The classic found at Matsuhisa (you can even see it in my last meal there). It’s still good, a big blog of succulent Toro!

Kampachi (young yellowtail), jalepeno, cilantro, and ponzu. Another Nubu classic, but for a reason.

Main lobster tempura (1/2). Takao has a lot of interesting tempuras. Uni (my second favorite), sardine, crab, unusual seafood pancake with shiso, and more. This is a decadent favorite of mine, and in a half portion is pretty reasonable.

Japanese scallop sushi. With yuzu and salt on the left, and with shiso on the right. I LOVE good scallop. I couldn’t decide which was was better. The yuzu/salt has a gorgeous tang, bringing out the delicate flavor and texture of the scallop. The shiso also pairs wonderfully, although it’s flavor dominates to a larger degree.

Aji, Spanish mackerel. Very solid mackerel in the traditional preparation. Soft, with only a hint of fishiness.

Blue fin tuna, special soy sauce. Straight up tuna at its best.

Taco (octopus) with shiso on the left, and sweet soy and wasabi on the right. Again, tough to choose, but I think perhaps I prefer the shiso by a small margin.

Chu-toro with sweet sauce. Pretty melt in your mouth.

Sweet shrimp, as sushi and with the head fried. The shrimp itself is sweet and soft, sort of the essence of fresh crustacean. The head (you do eat it, the whole thing), is crunchy, fried, sweet. Very tasty too, but watch out not to get stabbed by the legs as you munch it down.

Uni (sea urchin) with sweet sauce on the left, and yuzu on the right. Some top Santa Barbara Uni. The sweet one is good, but I think I prefer the yuzu as it shows off the uni itself to perfection.

Unagi (fresh water eel). Typical version of the BBQ eel, and good. Not quite as good as the eel at Sushi Sushi (HERE).

Tamago. Solid, with a nice sweetness, but the texture is just a tiny bit heavy, and feels less “handmade” than the superlative Sushi Sushi version.

This next meal represents the $90 Omakase, allowing the chefs to put together a full meal. They do an excellent job of this, and you can customize it fully. It’s actually considerably cheaper to do an Omakase then to assemble a big custom sushi meal like above.


White burgundy is always a good choice with sushi.

91-92 points. “Similar to prior notes, though this time the oak is joined by a noticeably sweet perfume on both nose and palate, particularly immediately on opening. A hint of nuttiness comes as the wine evolves the glass. I really enjoy this style, and most of the wines I’ve had from Girardin.”


Wine in the glass.


Halibut carpaccio. Thinly sliced halibut sashimi with salt, black pepper, chives, garlic, and pink peppercorn topped with yuzu and olive oil. Very nice and light, emphasizing the flavors of the condiments and the texture of the fish.


Toro sashimi, black truffles, sweet sauce, wasabi. How can you go wrong with this?


Tai (red snapper), sea salt. The lemon and salt dominate, but I find myself very much enjoying that as they don’t overwhelm the very subtle fish.


New style salmon sashimi with truffle. Thinly sliced sashimi with truffles, chives and ginger topped with hot olive oil. This is much richer, and the pairing of the warm oil always throws me a bit, but it does taste good.


Santa barbara prawn, ponzu. Emphasizes the sweet meatiness of the prawn, as the sauce is fairly light and citrusy.


Miso glazed snapper. Scallop dynamite. The fish is pretty close to the Nobu classic cod. It’s fine, but not really my thing, and the cod might be better. The dynamite, with it’s mix of flying fish roe, scallops, and whatever eggy rich thing dynamite actually is — is quite wonderful. I love to suck on the marinated ginger shoot at the end too.


Fish tempura. One of the above mentioned “interesting” tempuras. Not unlike something one might get in Spain. They fry a lot of small fish there. I guess the Portugese did too, as they brought Tempura to Japan.


The Omakase comes with some sushi. If I’m at the bar I will steer it more interesting, but I wasn’t. Left to right.  Blue fin toro, yellow tail, Spanish mackerel, ika (squid), sardines (?). All are good examples of type.

The Omakase also includes miso soup (of your choice — there are mushroom and clam versions) and desert. I didn’t picture them however.

The chefs at work. Takao himself on the left.

Overall, Takao is a great place. It’s perhaps 90-95% as good as Matsuhisa or the late Hump which it resembles. And it’s cheaper and much more approachable. We go here more often. There is/was a “mise au point” (sharp) quality to the above places that isn’t totally honed here — but it’s still fantastic — and bear in mind that I’m a pretty damn snobby and experienced sushi eater. Been doing so (a lot) since 1978 plus over 20 trips to Japan and many Japanese friends. There is certainly better straight sushi in LA, but I still go here more often because there is an enormous variety of very well made food, and they are extraordinarily friendly and welcoming. Our two year-old has even eaten here!

For a second Takao review, click here.

For my LA Sushi index, click here.