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Holiday Eating: Mori- A True Master.

Porthos | Dec 29, 200709:12 AM

Having spent the last 6 months in Miami, it was time to get my sushi fixing while I'm here in LA. And let me tell ya, the gettin’ was good.

I wanted to do a back to back Zo and Mori comparison but several last minute plans came up so I was forced to choose. My most recent visit was to Zo and I decided to see what Mori-san was up to these days. I arrived the day after Christmas and was afraid that the quality would be a notch down due to issues with holiday shipping. My fears were quickly laid to rest. He told me that he had been up since 7am and they a lot of shipments just come in from Japan. Also, Mori skills seemed to have escalated since my last visit a couple of years ago.

I had:

-Japanese Tai marinated in konbu kelp (konbu jime). This very traditional and elegant prep infuses the tai with the flavor of the konbu. The first piece was a bit subtle but when I requested the encore, the artful marination was apparent.

-Buri. Tis the season for Buri. The largest size of hamachi. I was first given a regular cut which was delicious and sweet. This was followed by the prized belly portion to emphasize the difference between the two.

-Buri Belly. Mori proudly showed the pristine white strip of buri belly that he was serving today. It was perfectly white, and glistening with a few spots of red where the blood vessels were. More subtle than toro, the sweetness and the fat of this amazing buri belly cut was simply perfect. On a scale of 1-5 for belly cuts with 5 being the fattiest. This was probably a 4-5. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow…wow.

-Chu Toro. Decent quality and I appreciated the back to back belly cuts but it just emphasized the fact that in season buri belly is unbeatable.

-Kohada. Next began the procession of oily fish. I’ve always been impressed with Mori’s kohada and mackerel preps and this visit simply reaffirmed that. The kohada had just the right amount of marination so there was a balance between the vinegar and the sweetness of the kohada. There was not a trace of fishiness. Very skillful indeed.

-Aji. A wonderfully delicious piece of mackerel topped with scallion and

-Sayori. I always thought Mori’s sayori was tops and I’ll continue to give it that billing. The sayori was crisp, sweet, and quite simply put, amazing.

-Baby barracuda. Lightly torched, nice texture and underlying smoky flavor.

-Uni. Santa Barbara. Perfect, sweet, and the nori surrounding it was top notch

-Marinated Ikura (ikura no shoyu zuke). Again, a masterful prep and marination. I realized that Mori’s skill with the finer sushi arts are spectacular. The ikura was redolent with the wonderful marinade and each individual egg was pristine in texture.

-Aori Ika (big fin reef squid). I’m usually not a fan of ika but this piece was drizzled with fresh sudachi juice (the sudachi cut and squeezed in front of me) and dusted with yuzu zest and sprinkled with gray Japanese sea salt. The ika was creamy and delicious and the citrus juice and zest along with the coarse sea salt accented the sweetness of the ika.

-Mirugai. very sweet, also treated with fresh sudachi juice.

-Boston ebi. tiny little things and very sweet. Again, not usually a fan of ebi but this was pretty good. It was much easier to eat than that gigantic mutant spot prawn Keizo serves.

-Anago. decent but not even close to Yasuda’s league for eel.

-Blue fin tuna roll. Wonderful quality blue fin and nori. The rice is stellar and properly seasoned and cooled.

Mori-san indicated that he it was now my turn to choose and I quickly requested encore performances of the konbu jime, the buri belly (wow), the fatty trio of kohada, aji, and sayori. I also asked for an order of ankimo (a bit backwards, I know) but the beautiful thick orange slices were too tempting. Definitely tied with Ino in SF as best ankimo (cold prep) of all time.

At the end of the meal, I was served a wonderfully fragrant roasted brown tea and a simple plate of fresh asian pear and oro blanco.

I had forgotten how good Mori was. Each piece of fish was scored and carefully brushed with shoyu so not a drop hit the rice. The knifework and shapeing of each piece was artful and consistent. Fresh wasabi was grated in front of me on a sharkskin grater. The rice, is still the best I have tasted outside of Yasuda--individual, well seasoned grains with the right amount of packing. His strength is clearly with marination (with konbu or otherwise) and you won’t get better anywhere else.

Between Mori and Zo, I think Mori edges Keizo on skill, knifework, and rice (for now). Mori’s selection is smaller but packed with delicacies. Keizo has the superior selection in terms of variety. Both have pristine quality. I think I’ll go to Mori for perfect, and I mean perfect preparations of seasonal items, for that unbeatable sayori, and that knockout buri belly when in season. If I want to down 25-30 pieces of fish without repeats, Keizo is my man.

Oh, and I would highly recommend getting to Mori for that buri belly ASAP. It ranks up there with true Madai as one of my top sushi tastes of all time. I’m bumping Mori up on my rank list.

My personal list with the caveat that I have not been to Urasawa in LA or Masa in NYC and that those two may get higher than a 10.

10- Sushi Yasuda (NYC). Perfect rice (his own mix), 40 types of fish, 5 types of fatty toro, 5 types of fatty hamachi, and multiple types of fresh grilled eel. True madai, impeccable kinmedai, warasa, and hiramasa. Yasuda is the gold standard. I learn something new from him every time I go.

9.75- Kuruma zushi (NYC). Stellar quality of fish and a nice variety. The variety and rice does not approach Yasuda. Prices can get astronomic.

9.5 - Mori Sushi (LA). Great quality and knife-work. The rice is wonderful. Perhaps the best I’ve tasted outside of Yasuda. The variety is somewhat limited (around 20 types) but he does have fine kohada, unbeatable sayori, barracuda, winter buri, and amazing buri belly. For all practical purposes, Mori and Zo are about equal in the quality of fish. Mori’s rice and knife-work have a slight edge while Zo has a greater variety of fish in general. Mori’s strength is without a doubt, with marinades (konbu jime, ikura no shoyu zuke, kohada, etc.)

9.0 – Sushi Zo (LA). Excellent quality and variety. Keizo is young but already has the mischievous half-smile that all great masters possess. His knife-work and rice is a little inconsistent at times (some slices are more strips and some pieces of rice were much smaller than others) but he does do a true omakase offering seasonal items such as isaki. Keizo also uses fresh wasabi.

9.0- Jewel Bako (NYC). Again, great quality, and great variety, but the size is a little precious and the chef's skill is nowhere near Yasuda's. Recent downgrade because I haven’t been in a while and have not heard any great reports about the place.

8.0 to 8.25-Kiriko (LA). The quality at times can be excellent but at times it can be slightly off (especially their kohada, aji, saba). The rice is a solid 8. On occasion, they do have fresh wasabi. The house-smoked salmon is excellent. The fresh matsutake soup is a must when in season. Not too much in terms of exciting variety although I did have live japanese mantis prawn and pristine baby bluefin tuna here.

8.0- Kaygetsu and Kappa (SF). Both have excellent fish quality, but limited selection. Kappa’s ranking is only for the quality of the sashimi since they don’t serve nigiri. Kaygetsu's fish may be upwards of a 8.5 if Toshi hides the good stuff behind the counter.

8.0- Nishimura (LA). Great quality, limited selection. Horrible attitude by the waitstaff. A very unpleasant dining experience. A 6 if you take the entire experience into account.

7.5- Kitsho (Cupertino, SF). The fish is great and the variety is excellent, not only for the southbay but for the SF area in general. Howard brings in some really good stuff like seasonal suzuki and kawahagi. His kinmedai and shima-aji are occasional misses. However, the cuts are a little bigger and less refined. The rice is always hit or miss.

7.0- R23 (LA). Good quality, live abalone is available but in general, a limited variety.

7.0- Ino (SF). Great ankimo. Best I’ve had to date. Even better than Sushi Zo’s steamed ankimo. He has a small imported variety from Japan. Pikefish was memorable. Way too much wasabi. Excellent ikura no shoyu zuke.

6.0- Zushi Puzzle (SF). I want to like Roger but his fish was too warm for my taste. He does get some very interesting fish (like his pencilfish) but he may be more of a "interesting rolls" type guy vs. pure nigiri specialist. Roger did have Japanese uni on my visit.

5- Sasabune (LA). Good crab hand roll. Otherwise, watch out for the precut fish and don't be surprised if the skin is left on the mirugai. The hot rice is poorly seasoned and readily falls apart. It’s even worse when doused in sauce.

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