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Italy Meets Japan: The inspiring fusion cuisine of Yojisan Sushi [Review + Photos]

J.L. | May 19, 2012 05:48 AM

Sometimes a meal completely comes at me out of left field and knocks me off my feet. When I first saw the online menu at Yojisan, the new Beverly Hills sushi & crudo-based eatery envisioned by restauranteur Giacomino Drago and managing partner Chef Yoji Tajima (previously of SHU Sushi House Unico in Bel Air), I will admit - I was a bit hesitant about my upcoming meal there. Having opened just last month, its menu feature items like the ubiquitous Rainbow Roll and the Crunchy Roll – It made me wonder if this place was going to become the next big “roll factory of the moment”. Granted, I have dined with Chef Yoji at SHU Sushi House Unico before, and it’s always been a decent choice for Japanese fare on Mulholland, but anything can happen when a chef takes the helm at a new location.

Boy, was I wrong in my initial trepidation! Yojisan is in fact a sophisticated dining experience, effortlessly melding crudo and sushi in a friendly setting. The Italian crudo tradition, with its treatment of raw fish by various citrus, olive oils and salts, is not a field in which many eateries in Los Angeles excel. Perhaps the best example of traditional crudo locally can be found at the great Il Grano in West Los Angeles. Every time I’ve tried crudo, however, I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to compare and contrast it side-by-side with the great sushi traditions found in Japanese cuisine. At Yojisan, one can do just that. However, the vision is even grander: Yojisan takes crudo and sushi, forging in essence a delightful fusion-style omakase as the end result. Customers may certainly order a la carte, but I wanted to see what Chef Yoji could do...

Onwards to the meal! We sat at the sushi bar (of course).

Aperitifs: We enjoyed the house signature drinks, including a refreshing one called Ginger Fix, made with Beefeater Gin, muddled lime, orange juice, syrup and ginger puree, served on the rocks. Just tell your mixologist to take it easy on the rocks when you order this (too much ice inevitably tends to dilute the taste out a bit).

Course #1: Marinated Ikura with Wild Salmon: Small and tasty chunks of seasonal wild salmon are presented with pristine ikura (salmon roe), garnished with diced cucumber and decorated with edible gold foil (just to remind you you're in Beverly Hills). A nice beginning.

Course #2: Hamachi Crudo, with Market Tomatoes & Burrata: Here, we see the strength of Chef Yoji’s preparation. The hamachi (yellowtail) is cut sashimi style, and presented on a bed of tomato slices. This all rests on jalapeño sauce, with dollops of fresh burrata on the side, seasoned with grated black pepper on top. Everything has its role, and the combination is a wonderful dish.

Course 3: Baby Corn Tempura with Fava Beans, Curry Powder: Definitely a highlight of the evening, this dish was reminiscent of street food I would find in Asia – The baby corn is expertly fried tempura-style, and served with pungent curry powder and sautéed fava beans. Awesome.

Course #4: Tarabagani Crudo, with Blood Orange, Shaved Black Truffle, Kumquat, Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Hibiscus Sea Salt: This dish wins easily for the “Most Photogenic” award, for it is stunning to behold. Tarabagani (Alaskan king crab) is sandwiched between blood oranges and kumquats. The black truffle, olive oil and hibiscus sea salt truly make each bite a blend of flavors!

Course #5: A Duo of Tacos: Miso Black Cod Taco & Kobe Beef Tongue Taco: The taco shell pairs really well with the two different fillings, garnished with sliced radish. I inhaled these 2 tacos. The beef tongue taco in particular was amazing all around.

Course #6: Hotaru Ika & Uni Risotto, with Kinome & Squid Ink: My Lord. This has got to be one of the very BEST dishes I’ve had so far this year in L.A.!!! To borrow from Anthony Bourdain: You could open a restaurant serving this dish alone and you’d do just fine. Chef Yoji deftly uses the brine-infused hotaru ika (firefly squid) and puts it atop a perfectly al dente bed of rich uni (sea urchin roe) risotto, and then proceeds to garnish it with squid ink and a few pieces of kinome (young Sichuan pepper leaf). Again – Phenomenal. Must get. It's interesting to note that Italy & Japan are the 2 main cultures which have traditionally prized uni as a gastronomic delicacy.

Course #7: Whole Steamed Stuffed Branzino: A bit of Chinese-style cooking on a Mediterranean fish, as a gorgeous whole steamed branzino is presented (with the au jus). The bones have been removed and replaced with mushrooms! The whole thing is served with stir-fried scallions and spicy black bean sauce (Cantonese style). Just beautiful. I kind of wished I received a bowl of white rice with this dish, but that’s just me.

At this point Chef Yoji asked me if I was getting full, as this marked the end of the formal omakase. But I was so pleased with my meal thus far, I didn’t want it to end! Thus, with much anticipation, we entered bonus rounds…

Course #8: Seared Chu-toro with Foie Gras Strips, Asian Pear, Black Truffle: Served with a choice of 2 garnishes: Honey-Ginger Scallion or Wasabi “Guacamole”. Again - Absolutely delicious. Chef Yoji knows his pairings. The delicate Asian pear meshes nicely with the foie gras and black truffle, while the base of seared tuna belly ties it all together. The garnishes are imaginative unto themselves, and add whole new dimensions to this already winning combination.

Course #9: Trio of Delicacies: Anago Yakitori, Grilled Tako and Yamaimo “Fries”: The anago (sea eel) is cooked just the right amount, and lime is provided to add zest. Yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam) is usually grated raw and served with sashimi of fatty fish such as o-toro, but in this case they are prepared like French fries, and seasoned with pesto salt. Last but certainly not least, the tender tako (octopus) is grilled just so.

At this point, I asked for some sushi. Chef Yoji happily obliged.

Sushi #1: Kinmedai (golden eye snapper), slightly seared: Oishi.

Sushi #2: Botan Ebi (giant spot prawn): Two humongous live spot prawns were brought forth. Their peeled, de-veined tails made it onto my plate as nigiri sushi before their heads stopped moving on the cutting block. The botan ebi heads were destined for a bowl of nicely shrimp-flavored miso soup. Outstanding.

Sushi #3: Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin roe), served 2 ways: One piece had volcanic sea salt, while the other had freshly grated wasabi (from Shizuoka Prefecture). Superb. It should also be noted that the sushi rice at Yojisan is very well-prepared.

Sushi #4: Tamago (egg cake): A gentle ending to a great meal!

Hot tea is served. Onwards to dessert!

Dessert #1: Chocolate Lava Cake, with Vanilla Bean Gelato: Good consistency to the chocolate components, and a generous scoop of creamy Italian gelato to boot. Nice!

Dessert #2: Crispy Banana Soy Paper Roll: This was essentially banana tempura with green tea mochi on top. Not bad.

Dessert #3: Green Tea Pudding With Kuromitsu: This was my favorite dessert of the meal: The kuromitsu (Japanese “black honey” sugar syrup) really adds to the thick taste of the green tea pudding.

Dessert #4: “Exotic Bomba”: Mango, passionfruit & raspberry sorbets, covered with white chocolate – Yes, please.

Service was attentive throughout, and unobtrusive. When you ask for tea, make sure to specify “very hot”, else the tea arrives at your table lukewarm (this was just a minor issue). The noise level in the place easily amenable to conversation. I’d recommend parking at the underground Beverly Hills public lot at the Montage Hotel (just a few steps from the restaurant).

Honestly, I never expected a meal this good when I first entered this restaurant. With such focus on crudo, it should serve to open many people's eyes to Italian crudo in general. The sign on the facade may say Yojisan Sushi, but it's actually so much more. The food here is truly inspired. I was blown away by the creative dishes of Chef Yoji Tajima during this omakase. Yojisan, with its successful merging of Italian and Japanese sensibilities, is definitely worth regular visits. Please save me a seat at the sushi bar!

Yojisan Sushi
260 N. Beverly Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

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