I had asked for a great dinner in L.A. (see my post on 4/20/05), and the Chowhounds delivered. Thanks to the fine (and occasionally weird) advice from fellow 'Hounds, I ended up choosing Urasawa. My client (who graciously treated my wife and I to this lavish meal), was glad she went as well. I brought the camera and took about 125 hi-res digital photos, but I am a luddite at this photo posting thing, so sadly, the photos may have to wait. Four hours and $1125 later, here is my report:
Arrived at the restaurant around 6:50 PM. Our group of 3 was the first of 5 guests that night. The wood counter looked gorgeous. I would describe the place as cozy, minimalist, and elegant. O-cha (hot tea) was poured. Hiro-san greeted all of us warmly, and asked us if we had any preferences, likes, or dislikes. We were feeling adventurous, I said, which pleased him. He said the uni from Santa Barbara was especially fresh today (my favorite sentence to hear from any sushi chef). The toro was from off the coast of Spain, but most of the rest of the ingredients was just flown in from Japan. Sake ordered: Kubota Manju from Niigata, although a nice Sapporo would have also been fine in retrospect. Hiro-san grated his own fresh wasabi with sharkskin throughout the meal (the only other place Ive seen this done in L.A. was at The Hump). Here we go!
Forgive me if I butcher (or outright forget) some of the names. Also, please forgive me for the Iron Chef-like play-by-play.....
Course 1: A pungent marinated mustard-like vegetable. Very smooth, velvety texture - kinda like a vegan oyster shooter.
Course 2: Tempura fish roe, topped with a mild mint leaf (which Hiro-san says he can only find from France). Delicious.
Course 3: Gelatin cube made from uni, whitefish, fish broth, topped with gold leaf, served on a spectacular Tiffany blue platter. The combination of flavors is sublime. Hiro-san says its almost summer, so he uses brighter colors for his serving ware. Needless to say, this is a man who treats food as art.
Course 4: Sashimi combination on a solid iceblock artfully carved by Hiro-san himself. Pebbles (riverstones) lined the plate, along with a hydrangea branch. The toro was decadently fatty. The snapper melted in my mouth. The uni was subtle and sweet.
Hiro is a jovial conversationalist who loves talking about food. He said that he strongly prefers traditional Japan cuisine, especially from the Kyoto region, but he is not afraid to use less traditional ingredients, borrowing from French cuisine, for example. His sous-chef, in fact, was formerly a full-fledged French chef!
Course 5: A play on traditional chawan mushi: steamed egg with layers of uni, kansai (mountain vegetables), and yamaimo (mountain yam), all topped with a gold leaf.
Course 6: Grilled octopus (tako) with yuzu. Simple and flavorful.
Course 7: Cod misoyaki: Miso-baked cod with ginger shoot. The flesh crumbled before my chopstick. So tender.
Next, Hiro-san took out 2 gargantuan live shrimp (Santa Barbara) and deftly prepared it for the next course:
Course 8: Foie gras shabu shabu Hiro-san brought out a charcoal shabu shabu pot for each of us, and an entire goose liver. For flavor, the foie gras slices went in the broth first.
Course 9: Toro shabu shabu was next. Amazing!
Course 10: Ebi (live shrimp) shabu shabu. Their heads were still moving. Wow.
Course 11: Afterwards, we enjoyed the shabu shabu broth. So rich.
Next came the sushi. Hiro-san doesnt use too much rice, which I like. He said we should eat the sushi within 10 seconds of preparation for best effect. I devoured each piece usually within 5 seconds heheh. Young ginger was provided in generous portions as an optional garnish.
Course 12: Toro. Again, from the coast off the Iberian Peninsula. Yummy.
Course 13: Gently cooked toro. A nice contrast to the previous course.
Course 14: Zuke Maguro tuna, marinated in shoyu. Very good, dark texture.
Course 15: Shima aji.
Course 16: Kohada (Japanese mackerel).
Course 17: Kuruma shrimp from the Sea of Japan - Such a different taste than your everyday shrimp. Dee-ricious!
Course 18: Nigiri ika (Japanese squid) much softer than the usual ika.
Course 19: Tai (Japanese sea bream) A new one for me.
Course 20: Mirugai (giant clam) fresh, crunchy texture, just like it should be.
Course 21: Spanish mackerel. Great flavor, so fishy (in a good way)!
Course 22: Japanese herring. The freshest Ive ever had.
Course 23: Needle fish. A unique fish in terms of its ? shaped presentation.
Course 24: Anago (saltwater eel), freshly prepared.
Course 25: Uni. So simple, so sweet.
Now, the charcoal grill came out. Hiro-san took some fat form the toro edge and rubbed the grill with it. He then slapped a huge shiitake mushroom on it.
Course 26: Engawa (halibut fin). Much oilier than I thought itd be.
Course 27: Tiny shrimp. How many species of shrimp are there? Great texture.
By now, the grilled Shiitake was ready.
Course 28: Shiitake mushroom, grilled. Wonderfully paired with the sushi rice.
The grills still hot! Taking a break from sushi, Hiro-san got my attention as he started cutting into a slab of Kobe beef. From Japan, the real thing, he said. He says many restaurant claiming to have Kobe beef in fact have Wagyu beef from Australia. Bite-sized chunks of Kobe beef sizzle on the grill. Anticipation mounts.
Course 29: Grilled Kobe beef with fresh wasabi. Absolutely unbelievable. All that beer and massage really does make the beef taste great!
And now, back to sushi:
Course 30: Hotategai (scallop). The largest scallop shell Ive ever seen. Hiro-san took it and prepared it with surgical precision.
Course 31: Akagai (red clam).
Course 32: Awabi (abalone). Still writhing in its shell, Hiro-san quickly prepared this one and put some sea salt on it. So crunchy, so good!
Course 32: Kappa maki: A simple cucumber roll is a nice break from all that protein. Hiro-san takes advantage of the cooling grill to lightly toast the nori (seaweed) before rolling it. His timing is impeccable. Yum!
Course 33: Yet another type of shrimp: Ama ebi (sweet shrimp) This meal is becoming quite a course in crustaceanology.
Course 34: Tamago (egg cake). No rice, just the fluffiest tamago Ive ever had.
I told Hiro-san I was still a bit hungry because I skipped lunch. He smiled and said I should have skipped breakfast too. Perhaps ..
Course 35: Negi toro (toro cut roll) with cucumber. That toro roll rocked.
Course 36: More sushi grilled Kobe beef slice on sushi rice. Party in my mouth.
I finally said Uncle and agreed to dessert.
Course 37: Chilled papaya with gelatin. A great way to cleanse the palette.
Course 38: Azuki (red bean) mochi, azuki ice cream, with red bean paste.
Hiro-san prepared a small Japanese tea ceremony. The tea froth was very refreshing after such an elaborate meal.
Course 39: Green tea.
Course 40: Hot brown tea. A classically perfect way to cap it all off.
Man, was I full! Total time: 4 hours. We all heartily thanked Mori-san and his capable staff. Mori-san says if I call him ahead of time, he will especially prepare a theme omakase (fugu, for example) for me next time. My wife and I thanked our client for paying the tab (!!!). We will certainly be back!