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As children, there wasn't even a hint of doubt the night before a trip to Disneyland. We were so excited that we could barely sleep, and just the mention of it would send giddy shivers down our spines. As adults, it seems impossible to have such pure hope and expectation.
The night before going to Urasawa, the famed Beverly Hills establishment that has been called everything from the best in the city to the best in the universe for sushi, I started having my doubts. What if I've built it up too much in my mind? Maybe all those starry-eyed food bloggers were wrong somehow? Maybe their palates just don't know the difference between great and mind-boggling sushi? What if we are all disappointed?
But from the moment we were greeted at the door by a small staff of Japanese servers, all of my doubts disappeared. From the freshly-sanded maple sushi bar to the palate of fresh fish behind it, I knew we were somewhere special. And judging from the confident smile and proud posture of Chef Hiro Urasawa, we all knew that this man was as excited as we were about the meal to come.
What a meal it was. The perfectly chilled sake in the spotless blue glasses, the all-day-braised beef with crisp snap peas, the steamed mountain potato "pudding" with fresh wasabe and 24-carat gold leaf, the exquisitely marbled Kobe beef and fatty foie gras for the individual shabu shabus....the list goes on and on. Every dish is lovingly prepared; every garnish is calculated and plays a major role of balance and texture. There's nothing whimsical or thoughtless about any of it. Each bite has been well constructed with much consideration of all the elements.
What lessened the meal's seriousness was the Chef himself, a smiling, playful and talkative man who can look you in the eye while wielding his razor-sharp knife on a squirming, unsuspecting prawn. His talent is truly something to behold, but the most impressive aspect is his sheer enjoyment in preparing this meal-of-a-lifetime for us and you.
So, without a hint of cynicism, I can truly say that this meal was exactly that - The Meal of a Lifetime. The toro melted in my mouth, the hirame was delicate and the uni, silky and rich, was the best I've ever had. And the service - oh, the service! Every time I'd take a sip of sake, someone would find a way of refilling it without my even noticing. Whenever I'd return from the restroom, there was a hot towel waiting for me at my place setting. It was the kind of thoughtfulness that allowed us, the customers, to be thoughtless and just enjoy the food.
Thank you Urasawa, for bringing back the excitement and wonder of childhood, if even for one day. It truly was a spectacular experience!