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Had the Proscuitto di San Daniele Dok Selezlone aged 36 months at La Nebbia, really good stuff! Supreme to eat alongside the burrata, frisee, bread, that wicked balsamic sauce, along with a glass of La Crotta di Vigneron Chambave Muscat 2010.
That sounds great, thanks again so much! Quite a variety there with the alcohol pairings! Last year at Keiko a Nob Hill, we also had a glass of Pinot Noir (Oregon state somewhere, 2011 or 2012) with the A5 Kagoshima wagyu steak (and Keiko's wonderful cherry blossom wood smoked duck, beautiful pink interior, done very well and paired beautifully), so I can only imagine how much more ridiculously awesome it would be with Ohmi beef.
The price tag however is holding me back, at ~$450/pp I'd probably just wait until the next time I am in LA and hit up Mori for another YOLOmakase, except it will be $450 for two people (although just one small bottle of sake)!
Lastly, do you remember the neta/types of fish you had for the nigiri course? Was it somewhere around 18 pieces (or was it less than that)?
Thank you again for your excellent details and insight! After having the cooked dishes myself at Mori and Shunji earlier this month, it's hard for anyone else to top them (I won't even mention my visits to Kichisen and Hana Kitcho in Kyoto back in January...). Also Mori was very engaging in conversation that made the experience a whole lot more memorable. Were you able to talk to Jiro in a similar manner at any point during the meal, or was it more quiet and subdued?
Can you tell us more about the sake (individual) offerings and the pairings? Did you get hojicha at the end, and what was the dessert offering (add-on or included), and any of those "petite fours" type things at the very end?
Went there on the 5th, and we were absolutely floored.
Most of their raw oysters are very very, good. The samplers (you don't get to pick) have been very spot on. Personally I prefer the Pacific NW area oysters, with select East Coast (MA state) ones in second place. If you love raw oysters, give the XL Naked Cowgirls (WA state) a try, so smooth and delicious. Pairs so wonderfully with a nice white wine or bubbly. Their top neck clams (raw) are also excellent
The clam cakes are also quite delicious if you crave for something hot.
The Hokkaido hot dog is brilliant, the entire sausage is made with scallops and was one of the best things we ordered.
If you like sea urchin (raw), getting a whole Santa Barbara sea urchin is quite a treat. They give you spoons to scoop it out of its shell and provide some toast/crostini (already buttered). Ridiculously good and quite the bargain at $18 despite the portion (then again to have this in NorCal would be almost impossible, too far away from the source and not in this level of quality).
So let me clarify my comment about that.
We praised the way the ikura was done to our waiter who checked up on us, and he (same guy who recommended Morinoya to us) said that Shunji is not a fan of salmon ikura, but applies his "washoku" techniques to it to bring out the flavors. I alluded to the strong katsuo dashi presence, and the waiter did not confirm or deny it, but said "trade secret" when I inquired what else might be in the making process.
What I do notice though is the way high end sushi restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area do ikura, vs my experiences at Mori, Shunji, and Zo back in 2007. A decade back, very few places did soy sauce, mirin, and maybe sake marination of ikura (in varying degrees and interpretations). Lazy mofos would just brine it and call it a day, and you usually end up with sad clumpy sacks. Now if you go to the likes of Kusakabe, Wako, Gintei, Maruya in NorCal, it's not hard to find soy sauce marinated ikura, and done pretty nicely.
But it seems that at least with Sushi Zo, Shunji, and Mori, the recipe and approach are very different, and in fact there is more dashi in the marination and the soy sauce portion takes a back seat. To me that is a good thing and refreshingly different. The additional chilling of Shunji's ikura, particularly when it bursts in your mouth, is very noteworthy. (Insert "popping boba" jokes here). As a side note, unfortunately both times I had ikura at Kasen (Fountain Vallety), their ikura was just the salted version. Had to get my soy sauce ikura fix at Sushi Koto with their kaisen-don.
And finally to the nigiri course.
At this point Shunji-san asked us if we want anything else and if we are ready for nigiri. We nodded. Then asked us how many pieces. After I said "let's do ten to start", his eyes opened wider and seemed pretty shocked. Then again if J.L. did 51 pieces this should not come as a surprise ;-).
I enjoyed the thinly sliced chunky house pickled ginger. Very strong flavor and very different from the typical "gari" you see elsewhere.
I believe this was the progression
and Shunji finished it off with his take of una-ju. Two pieces of delectable Japanese unagi over his sushi rice, and the eel sauce he poured onto it was awesome. The couple next to us got unagi nigiri, but I really appreciated the creativity he went through here.
Then we got lime and banana ice cream. Good stuff.
And finally the obligatory meal closer Hojicha. Not as great as Mori's but very soothing.
Some random comments
- Shunji, much like Mori, seems a little out of place. But I guess that's the nature of LA in this sense. The round exterior and the interior are certainly very interesting
- not the best acoustics inside, but it is a small place
- Shunji's ikura is excellent. Maybe this is a distinctive LA style where some chefs like Shunji do not like salmon and ikura, but apply some technique to it (there is also a strong katsuo dashi presence). However Shunji serves them much much colder than Mori, and the texture and popping experience you get is wonderful. Our waiter refused to divulge how it was prepped.
- Some of the shiromi had quite a bit of coarse/rock salt over it, at first I thought it was a bit overkill but it worked.
- The toro was maybe just a touch better than Mori, but not mindblowing.
- the cooked food surpasses the nigiri for sure, but the nigiri is pretty good.
- Shunji-san sported a really wicked hairstyle that evening, and evoked a presence that was unlike any other chef I've encountered. If Mori is the friendly traditional master excellent at what he does, then Shunji would be the avante garde "birth of the cool" smooth roller. It was amusing to see him interact with some of the regulars, and also made his own mistakes that made him rather embarrassed (he was decorating a sashimi platter and accidentally broke the sayori deep fried skeleton).
- Had a good exchange with our waiter, and I casually asked him what izakaya he likes around town. He answered Morinoya.
In some ways Shunji reminded me of the glory days of Koo (San Francisco) where the cooked food/small dishes were top notch, although clearly not on the same level.
Also, really really glad I finally made it here.
Tony, as with any sushi restaurant, my experience and instincts are: you are the customer. When you sit down Maru-san will also ask if you have any preferences/allergies/things you don't like and you can kind of customize a little.
So you can request the premium nigiri omakase and tell him no bluefin no uni if you like, and more importantly tell him when you want to stop. He actually said to let him know when we felt full, so he will give some choices from his nearing the end lineup, thus you get to choose what you must not miss.
I think the chef will calculate the tab based on what you ate and # of pieces. This is unlike some high end places in Japan, let's say you booked for a 20,000 or 30,000 yen omakase...you have to leave after the 4th nigiri piece for whatever reason (even if you are ill), they will still charge you full price.
Also Mori Sushi/Maru-san are very customer and service oriented. So long as requests are within reason, they will accomodate. True Japanese style hospitality. This guy rocks.
51!!! I am not worthy.
"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."
Next up, another killer beautiful platter of goodies, in a similar style to Mori but quite different.
- delicately fried baby sweetfish (ayu), a delectable piece of shrimp with sweet potato (satsuma imo) filling inside, and a wonderful Nikogori (sea bream soup jelly) with a piece of salt cured cherry blossom flower on top
- Japanese horned turban shell (small) sazae (simmered)
- firefly squid with vinegared miso sauce (hotru ika with su-miso)
- monkfish liver paste with caviar on top (very concentrated flavor)
Then came the kegani (Hokkaido hairy crab) leg meat course, absolutely delectable. Served with a side of kani-su (crab vinegar dip) which to me was not needed and personally not quite my style (unlike the versions I've had in Japan and Hong Kong). The side of the kegani carapace/crab brains/crab roe/crab guts was awesome. Ended up scraping more chunks of crab meat and mixing it with the paste to elevate the experience. A whole crab is otherwise $85 and to me a reasonable price (had the chance two years ago to have one in Hong Kong, and the restaurant offered it at a reduced cost of $65 to $70, but far too much for one to conquer), and would be great to do a multi course with.
Sashimi course - the least interesting of everything (before the nigiri). Bluefin and kanpachi. Could have skipped them honestly.
Next was the signature famous squid ink ika somen (truffle, sea urchin, quail egg on top). Ridiculously excellent, particularly when paired with the Ichigo sake. Tried some prior to mixing the quail egg yolk and after, and it truly spoke to me. Loved it!
Agedashi tomato - texturally amazing. Makes you wonder how he accomplished this! Deja Tofu?! WTF? There is an interesting mochi like layer that gives it that extra texture. The dashi/sauce at the bottom is rather savory, but so so so good. After having a series of cold dishes, this one warmed us back up.
Yakimono - Canadian black cod, I believe. It's in the vein of Nobu's Miso Grilled Black Cod (which is stolen from Kyoto style Gindara no Saikyo Yaki), but a more subdued simple soy sauce and citrus marination. Silky smooth fatty delicious piece, but without that fermented almost sake like taste. Effective and delicious!
Next up was the Shinshu Mushi - steamed halibut in soba with broth. Words cannot describe how effing awesome this was, particularly the soul soothing dashi it is served in. Reminds me a little bit of Toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦) mini bowls served in high end Japanese restaurants during New Year's eve/New Year's. To go from fusion done right, and immediately to a nailed down traditional classic without skipping a beat, is too genius and marvelous for words.
Next up, Hama hama WA state oyster tempura with a piece of proscuitto wrapped around it. Worried at first that the oyster might be overcooked and its natural flavor ruined (I'm of the school that if an oyster is pristine, I just slurp it down down as is, no sauce, and at most either a glass of bubbly or a nice white wine like a Riesling to go with it) but Shunji nailed that frying down to an artform, and with the proscuitto it made for a very interesting bite. The Ichigo sake was a good one to go with.
Before the nigiri, was the shabusuki. A5 Miyazaki fatty beef. Liked the shabu shabu and sukiyaki remix version of this dish.
(Nigiri portion of the review to come)
After a rather earth shattering experience at Mori Sushi last Thursday, it was hard to even fathom what kind of delicious aftershocks we would eventually encounter (followed by even more deep ass kicking rockin') the following night at Shunji. This was a place I had also lusted over since it was mentioned 3+ years back on this board.
Thanks to kind folks like Porthos, J.L., The Offalo, and many others of you who posted reports and reviews, I had some idea what to expect. But it still did not prepare me for the awesomeness of the entire experience.
The specials board would be literally a sight for sore eyes. F those DMV and eye doctor tests while covering one eye and reading out random letters to determine your glasses prescription! How about, "read me the 5th item down under Special Fish From Japan" or "read out loud the 3rd item from Chef's Creative Dishes"? What is the cost of that whole Hokkaido Hairy Crab if you are diagnosed with YOLO-itis?
So the strategy for us was simple. It was more nigiri focused the night before at Mori, and if we wanted to experience traditional and classic/avante garde Washoku in the same breath and sentence, then the need for more cooked dishes in focus, was our theme of the evening.
Shunji's sake selection is interesting, though I have to say Mori's is hard to beat (even carrying bottles not available at say truesake.com based out of San Francisco). Mori doesn't stock Dassai Junmai Daiginjo, but you can find it at Shunji's. We wanted to try his exclusively brewed in Japan for Shunji by Shunji (Ichigo Junmai Ginjo). At $80 a bottle, I had even contemplated buying one or two as a souvenir to take home. When I casually asked one member of waitstaff, they seemed unsure about selling unopened bottles but would be fine if one bottle was purchased, opened, consumed (no matter how much) then brought home. (Eventually I would dismiss the idea, as the sake is the perfect pairing with his cooked food, does not overpower and is gentle/delicate enough, it will not necessarily taste as good somewhere else, and left the fond memory of it there).
The amuse bouche was sea eel larvae (noresore のれそれ) with a dollop of sesame sauce. Huge fan of this texture (and the noresore too), far more slippery and smooth than nama-shirauo. Quite the delicacy and treat!
Next up was a refeshing delicious chilled soup (butternut squash, and I believe some cauliflower) with four kind of mushrooms (maitake, shimeji, enoki, shitake) and some scallops. At this point we noticed that with each course, the ass kicking meter goes up a notch.
The next course blew our socks right off. Home made soy milk sesame tofu with dashi gelee and Santa Barbara uni on top. I must say, a perfect medley of flavors and textures. Ever get so excited at a concert of your favorite performer that you can't resist yelling, shouting, clapping, and it's only the 2nd or 3rd song in and the greatest hits (or obscure classics/b-sides) have not been played yet? This was how it felt.
(More to be continued, stay tuned).
Actually no, it was not $400 per person, but $400 for two. My mistake. Sorry!
$95 pp (baseline omakase with kaiseki paced courses with some nigiri in between)
two glasses sake
and nigiri add on's a la carte. I just checked the website and kasui eni and shirayaki are $14.50 per piece. So these add up pretty easily.
I cannot ball like that anymore. But I think I did max out once at almost $450 solo (with mandatory service charge plus a little tip) at Ginza Iwa Hong Kong. That was an exception.
I haven't been to Shi Jia, but Lan Jia in Gong Guan, and this place, are supposedly the top gua bao joints in town (each with their own rabid following), unless things have changed recently.
Hopefully Tong Hua street night market still has a localized feel. Used to be that Ningxia night market was in that camp, but it has been overrun by tourists too in the last few years, and many people are trying to make a buck by writing about their food in foreign media (e.g. HK press).
Yes, total dopesauce of those two fruits! Thanks for shedding more light into this.
Sorry for the confusion, yes I had Oma bluefin kamatoro in Osaka market (Kuromon) sashimi. I just looked at my photo of this YOLOfest and it was 8400 yen per 100 grams. The order of sashimi from that toro specialist shop (Kurogin) I think ran over $150+ easy. My friend commented (and lamented) "ruined for life!" after eating it, and he was so conflicted about ever having toro in the States again. The kama toro I had was not properly defrosted, and it was less than 8 degrees C (but above freezing) that day, but once you let it sit on your tongue for a bit to warm it up, the sensation and taste after a minute or so is unforgettable.
When Maru-san said back of the neck when he described that part of the platter, and I asked "kama" he said "yes", and I assumed that was using the Boston wild bluefin he stocks up on. It's just a point of reference at least for me in bringing up the Oma bluefin kama toro I had. I don't know if Maru-san has ever served Spanish farmed bluefin, but he made his preference clear to me at night at least.
Even Ginza Iwa (Hong Kong, a branch of Sushi Iwa Tokyo) used farmed bluefin off the coast of Hokkaido (never got more info on that, it's just based on what I was told by chefs), and I think a few other places in town that are non star high end have access to the same stuff. It rivals and can surpass good Spanish bluefin.
Cool thanks for the clarification. Maru-san mentioned a South American country but I didn't want to get it wrong.
Yes exactly, boils down to the way the product was handled, stored, aged, the season and the conditions it lived, the amount of bleeding it goes through before deep freeze storage, and all those other finer details that get lost. One prolific and well traveled Taiwanese blogger (based in TW) informed me that migrating bluefin caught off the coast of Pintung and served locally are not properly bled (or at all), resulting in akami with a not so good iron taste. These I believe are the same bluefin that swim back to Oma at some point during their migration path (I guess they get to Jiro/Sawada/Mizutani et al if they are very lucky, or some rustic Taiwanese bluefin specialist sashimi butsugiri fest that does multiple courses in local cuisine, not properly bled if they are unlucky).
I know what you mean by spectacular farmed quality Spanish bluefin! When you get that perfect chutoro cut that is inbetween typical chutoro and otoro, looking more like otoro but tasting like pristine chutoro, it cannot be beat. You will be crying ooo-mommy if it gets a ridiculously good shoyu zuke treatment...
A few other tidbits before I forget
- Maru-san revealed that he keeps a steady supply of wild Boston bluefin, so it is almost always available (pre-purchased and stored in deep freeze). He believes this wild specimen is more effective than the Spanish farmed bluefin that many other restaurants use. Whether you agree with this or not is entirely subjective. But I will say that the bluefin trio pieces were not the cream of the crop that night at Mori.
- Mori-san appears to be somewhere in South America now, working in something food related, but not as a chef (distributor?). My memory is a bit hazy, the conversations went by too quickly.
- before otoro, I actually had a piece of kinmedai (seared). Not sure how I forgot to add that to the photo upload!
- we were not given the shrimp heads (strangely), nor asked if we wanted miso shiru, fried, or grilled (or imagine it smoked then grilled with kani miso inside....) but that's ok as our stomachs hit capacity by the end of the meal.
- the flowers on top of the wakasagi (smelt) and on top of the egg in the abalone dashi, I believe are cherry blossom
- I forgot to describe and include two items on the kaiseki platter! In front of the rapini was a small portion of shredded bamboo shoot, and on top, something that looked like cod roe (tarako), but was actually roe from Sawara (spanish mackeral). Textural heaven. Oh and I am appalled that I forgot to mention the two cute little halves of round little thingies...kumquat/Mandarin quat and baby peach, ridiculously natural sweet and refreshing.
- Next to the smoked takuan and pickled (pink) daikon were two pieces of smoked bluefin, I believe from the neck/kama area that Maru-san said was too tough to eat raw, so I believe he marinated it with soy sauce (amongst other magical substances) then cherry wood smoked them. In Osaka (Kuromon Market) back in early January, I did the YOLO thing and my friends and I shared an order of Kama Toro sashimi (neck/cheek) of Aomori Prefecture wild Oma Bluefin (the pedigree Jiro Dreams Of uses), and while the marbling is not as ridiculous as a farmed specimen, it can still be very heavy. So Maru-san smoking that kind of similar cut, helps for what he is trying to achieve here. The contrast between the takuan and the non smoked tsukemono daikon inbetween eating the smoked bluefin neck/collar for this tasting is very, very, profound.
Ouch, I lucked out then in comparison!
Two guys came in about 1/2 way through our meal and they had fewer appetizers, likely the $120 option, and one yelper who may have had a similar meal got 18 pieces of nigiri, though I ended up with more.
May have to specify Premium Omakase if you want and are willing to do #YOLOfest (which should be available even during lunch, assuming the chef has the time and materials ready by then, and if so reserving in advance would be the right way to go if you can't wait till dinner). So basically $70 for a few more pieces of nigiri and maybe a few other cooked dishes. I do want to note that dessert might not be included, ours according to the check, was on the house, ditto for the bamboo and kani miso tofu (strangely marked goma tofu) as a result of my ballsy request with the kani miso. But it may not necessarily be $70 more since it is marked M.P. and could change based on the chef's whim and seasonality of ingredients.
Absolutely agreed, and thanks for your very well thought out input/feedback.
Quite a lot of what you have said also boils down to attention to the finer details, some more subtle than others, and some requiring a much deeper appreciation and understanding to realize.
The finer polishing of the rice, compared to some of the ok places in Northern California, it was like progressing from an alright Daiginjo to a premium Junmai Daiginjo. Really unbelievable texture and taste of the rice. Would it have benefited from some red vinegar marination (to keep up with the trend and hype/Edo style rice revival)? Who knows, I didn't bring that up with Maru-san. Just glad he didn't give me a WTF look when I had that strange request with the kani miso I brought in!
To put it in perspective of some fairly recent to not so recent high end sushi meal experiences:
Kusakabe (San Francisco) starts off around $90+ pp, people usually don't get full, and nigiri add on's average $8 to $10+/$15 a piece (higher priced would be Japanese ensui uni, stored in saltwater where it came from), so with two glasses of sake, $400+ per person
Maruya (San Francisco): $150 to $180 per person easy, good variety of fish but the rice is nowhere close. To be fair that was before the original chefs left.
Sushi Mori Tomoaki (Hong Kong) - Lunch (requested dinner-eqsque YOLOmakase) ran probably close to $240 to $260. Very bold red vinegared sushi rice, it's considered above average for HK and cheaper than Michelin star Ginza style sushi. Some of the exotic items were: seko gani 香箱蟹 miso, Japanese (farmed) bluefin meat from the top of the head, smoked Nagasaki oyster, premium quality kawahagi with raw liver on top, seared baby bluefin, Kuruma ebi (raw)/Imperial prawn that Akiko's and apparently Yasuda uses, Kanburi.
Ginza Iwa (Hong Kong) - Premium YOLOmakase runs over $400.
Sushi Hirano (Osaka) - rated #2 in Osaka by tabelog, sat at the table, but a very comprehensive set meal that was Mori-eqsque but very different. No comparison really, but they had three cuts of whale blubber, whale bacon, whale belly (the stuff The Hump dreamt of), and hey it's part of that culture. That was almost $200. I'd imagine you can eat like a king at Ginza Tokyo for that price, rubber tire or not.
Sakae (Burlingame, NorCal) - You can spend $180 to $220 (no drinks) and order from the white board. Larger cuts, but quality can vary (compared to Mori). You can also spend that much at Koo (San Francisco) but it's nowhere in the same league as Shunji, but the cooked food and fusion touches done right are nice.
So yeah, Mori's price to performance ratio just from those perspectives, is very solid.
We got dessert! Fantastic delicious home made tofu mousse that was ridiculously luscious and smooth (the sauce I believe was made with brown sugar, they call it black sugar in Taiwan and Japan), and a delectable yuzu gelee, finishing it off with a truly excellent cup of Hojicha (roasted green tea) which I truly appreciated. It also reminded me of some of the killer Hojicha cups I had in Kyoto earlier this year at the end of my two kaiseki meals. So classic. Mori's Hojicha is from Shizuoka if I heard correctly, and tastes significantly better than the version served at Shunji's (which is also very good but not close).
Oh yes, Maru-san after the delectable kaiseki-esque platter handed us a bowl of his dashi, which was made with kelp and abalone (instead of using bonito). Delicate slices of abalone, with a killer smooth layered egg. I should have taken better pictures of the egg itself but it was like a gentle smooth tamagoyaki with kelp inside (I also remember hearing there was mackeral in the egg but tasted none). Awesome awesome dashi, hats off!
So I brought along a jar of kani miso (crab carapace paste) that I purchased from Takashimaya department store basement (food section) in Osaka, and took it all the way to Mori Sushi. Asked Maru-san if he could make anything with it, and he gladly obliged. I wasn't expecting him to do a lot with it, maybe a piece of nigiri or one cooked dish, but he went above and beyond. He did use up almost the entire jar to my surprise, and made a new batch of his signature tofu with it, and it looked a lot more darkened (looks like goma/black sesame tofu but it is not). We got to try a slice and it was really good! If any of you regulars are going to Mori soon, I'd rather you guys try it than he offer it to other random folks. So yes you can thank me for that if you ate this recently, assuming he still has any left.
He took some of the kani miso and added it to the bamboo shoots and grilled it. The aroma was ridiculously good. Really liked the additional presentation with the skewered firefly squid (hotaru ika).
It's such a rare find to have an extremely skilled chef like Maru-san, who not only is at the top of his game, but extremely hospitable, courteous, thoughtful, and engaging in conversation about various topics. The same goes for the service which was very admirable (Shunji was like that too but in a different way).
Really glad I finally made it here. :-)
$190 pp + the sake ($51 for a small bottle) + tax and tip.
I'm not even done yet. Dessert and extra side dish pics to come another time.
Some nigiri notes:
biggest regret, not having quota or remembering to ask for tamagoyaki (regular or the castella pound cake "Jiro" version).
The rice....man alive that is some good shit. Refined polish short grain, although interestingly not kept up with the times of high end sushi in Hong Kong/Taiwan/Japan (and that is a stronger red vinegar presence, aka-su). For those who have been to Kusakabe in San Francisco may not be used to that kind of rice (which is served much warmer, and the red vinegar seasoning while not bold, adds a light dimension of rounded sweetness).
There were one or two pieces of nigiri unfortunately where the shari/rice pad fall apart when I picked it up with my fingers (I didn't grip it tightly I promise) and I had to Speedy Gonzalez them down, but I may have committed a pho pas and dropped some carbs on my napkin in the process, thus resulting in a well deserved ridicule (fortunately not by Maru-san himself).
The kelp marinated black cod was one of the surprises of the evening. Hardly to never served rare (I may have had it once at Kusakabe) but this piece was far better, plus the kelp marination helped.
Loved how Mori (and Shunji) quickly rip out the head of a live and wriggling Santa Barbara spot prawn, immerse it in ice, then prep it accordingly to maximize the texture and flavor right up front so you know you are getting the real deal. That is not that different to how they prep spiny lobster (ise-ebi) sashimi in Japan. It's a nice detail that unfortunately gets lost back where I live.
The ikura prep is very different from the slightly more common soy sauce, mirin, sake marination in Northern California (and prior to that, everything was fish bait, overly salted clumpy yucky stuff), wondering if it is a commonality in SoCal high end sushi? Tasted hints of katsuo dashi, and less soy sauce. Either way, really good. Shunji would do a slightly nicer rendition that is colder (and the popping in your mouth sensation more refreshing).
Maru-san has his own nikiri dedicated for anago (brushed sauce). The dedicated one he used for abalone was so good I cleaned up drips on the plate with my pinky and "scarpetta"'d that shit up. I have an annoying habit of tasting the chef's nikiri either before or after, and one of the reasons why I love anago (particularly if the chef makes his own sauce). I have to say the steamed abalone nigiri was nearing the top of my all time favorites this evening.
Madai no konbu jime - kelp marinated sea bream
Sayori - halfbeak
Sakura Masu (cherry trout from Hokkaido)
Sawara (I believe also smoked with cherry wood)
Gindara no konbu jime (Canadian black cod, first time Maru-san decided to serve it raw since the texture was right). Maru-san did the right thing and marinated it in kelp first which firmed up the texture and imparted the wicked flavors into the fish.
Wild boston bluefin (akami)
Buri belly (wild Japanese adult yellowtail)
Kohada (gizzard shad)
Chutoro (wild Boston bluefin)
Kamasu (baby barracuda)
Akagai (from Japan)
Mirugai (Geoduck, he said from Northern California)
Nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch)
Santa Barbara fresh spot prawn (ama ebi)
Legendary side by side tasting of Hokkaido bafun and Santa Barbara uni
Steamed abalone with raw liver on top, with a brushed nikiri sauce cooked with abalone (that reduction is freaking excellent!!!)
Ikura (amazing, delicate katsuo dashi flavor?)
When I hear or see the word YOLO as uttered by many females on social media, I think of them partying in Vegas, bikini thigh poolside shots, and drinking way too much alcohol and puking on the dance floor.
But to us avid eaters, it sounds a little better than "gluttony" or "food porn".
So I present to thee, my first full blown review for the LA board. It has been an extremely long time coming, satisfying a lust that lasted 8 years.
Easy reservation a little over a week in advance, and we chose the 6 pm slot, right when they opened. Was able to dine in front of Maru-san himself, who was not only a killer professional that excels in what he does, but also extremely down to earth, engaging, humble, and very thoughtful and courteous. Our waiter consistently helped refill our sake cups, fold our napkins when we got out of our chairs, and new pours of tea (rather than refill existing). The house matcha was absolutely brilliant, by the way (surpassing Shunji's)
For sake, narrowed it down to either Tasuriki "Kome No Sasayaki" Daiginjo from Hyogo Prefecture, or Kimura Shuzo Junmai Daiginjo, and after a little deliberation, picked the former which was a very solid choice. We offered Maru-san some, to which he revealed to us that he's also from the region (Osaka) and also liked. This also explained quite a few things, particularly the artistry and the kappo style / kaiseki approach to the cooked dishes from the aesthetics, kodawari, and arrangement/plating.
Given the options of nigiri omakase, premium nigiri omakase, omakase, and premium omakase, we decided to take the plunge. YOLO!!!
And thus YOLOmakase it was.
The next platter of goodies was a true delight.
Simmered/marinated mini conch from New Zealand (sazae-ni). Reminded me quite a bit of bagai-ni 梅貝煮 that I had in Hong Kong (legit Japanese izakaya restaurants). Ridiculously nice texture.
Takuan (pickled daikon) smoked with cherry wood, and house made tsukemono (pickles). Fantastic, particularly the takuan.
Hotaru-ika (firefly squid) with su-miso sauce. Vastly superior to the batches I've had in Northern California before coming down.
Rapini - chilled greens were refreshing to have
Wakasagi ワカサギ【公魚】wakasagi - Japanese smelt tempura. Freakin' ridiculous. Highly refined frying technique, not a single drop of grease. Delicate and delicious! Even the slices of bamboo shoot in front were smoked a little with cherry wood (and gently marinated in front of that).
(Doing this review in spurts, please excuse this weird approach)
I kept looking around at Shunji and Mori in case you or other people I knew off the internet might show up! :-)
The employee told us to call ahead to reserve the pistachio next time, if I understood him right. There was a sign that said Sicilian pistachio was available as half kilo containers, but I saw none in the refrigerator next to the gelati counter.
Pumpkin flavor was pretty good. The granitas were very refreshing. I have to say I liked hazelnut the best out of the lot, cannot touch a classic. But I hope to try their pistachio some day. They all hit the spot as it was getting a little hot around noon ish on Saturday. Very glad I went out of the way to Altadena (the other choice was Carmela in Pasadena, but decided on Bulgarini instead which was the right choice). That was the last bite of food we had before heading home.
On a related note, thank you EVERYONE who chimed in and helped with some final decision making. What an awesome foodcation we had, and so memorable too! Already looking forward to the next one...
We drove into the complex to take a look before leaving town (this was Saturday the 11th) and grabbing a sour plum drink from Tofu King, and there was still a lot of construction going on (fixtures not even in place). Doubt they can open by the 18th.
So far the best cold/chilled HK milk tea is the "Champagne Milk Tea" at Smile House Cafe (Taraval) which happens to be a rather eclectic fusion style HK cafe (cash only). It's a bit of a gimmick but I have to give them credit for doing it right. They refrigerate the brewed cold milk tea that is lightly sweetened, then pour them into bottles, and serve them on ice so they stay chilled for the duration of your meal. It's particularly refreshing on a warm or hot day.
Unfortunately their hot milk tea is quite average to almost forgettable.
You should either add sugar, or condensed milk, but not both unless you feel it was not sweet enough (and even then you should just ask for a little more condensed milk which is already pretty concentrated if you prefer a more rounded creamy texture). At Tak Kee Lee you can ask for condensed milk on the side and they will provide it, so you add as much as you need. For me I rather have a fine balance so the sweetness does not overwhelm the flavor of the tea and the evaporated milk, but just enough so that it covers any bitterness or sourness (if that's the case the tea is over brewed or old which is possible).
Evaporated milk is already added in.
Most neighborhood Hong Kong cafes and dai pai dongs that brew their own HK milk tea, do not add sugar in, particularly the really old school places, and those were the ones I went to (not sure where you went in Hong Kong that did this, perhaps the more fancier/modern HK cafes?)
Some dai pai dongs in HK, e.g. Yue Hing in Central, do not stock condensed milk so you can only self sweeten with sugar. Same goes for if you want a half coffee half milk tea there.
The local jargon when ordering hot milk tea is this:
茶走 - cha jao (tea "walk") - meaning no sugar, add condensed milk.
茶走沙 - cha jao sa (tea "walk" "sand") - the last character is more like "powder" and in this case refers to sugar. Namely, a tea but withhold the sugar. If you see sugar on the table, they will likely give you a milk tea unsweetened and you season it yourself.
Unfortunately these HK cafe slang works only in HK 100% of the time, try this in SF Bay Area and you may get mixed results or confused looks.
It's actually 蟹粉 (crab powder in loose translation). Technically and overseas, it is bits of crab meat mixed in with the carapace and I believe wok stir fried in some way (some call it crab roe, crab guts, crab brains, the Japanese refer to it as "kani miso"). Some Shanghainese restaurants abroad (e.g. Hong Kong's Tin Heung Lau) are far more particular with their 蟹粉, preferring to not use meat from the legs (especially when using hairy crab), where a plate of the goods comes from several crabs and can run over US$120 to $150 (this "sauce" you throw over rice or Shanghainese noodles, lo mein style....and some have taken the concept to incorporate Italian pasta like spaghetti or buccatini).
But we are in the USA, so 蟹粉 can be whatever and questionable. Even the mom and pop shops make it so that it tends to be a bit drier and in some cases not so spectacular.
I went to DTF Arcadia flagship on Monday, and Costa Mesa in October. Did not order the same things, but I would say they are very good if you do not compare it to abroad. DTF Arcadia flagship does not have the expanded cocktails and boba milk tea/whacky side of the menu like Costa Mesa does (which I assume any Westfield anchored DTF will have).