Following a suggestion by Chris G. on a March 29th 2003 post and also in the mood for more creative omakase my friend and I finally decided to try Wa sushi & bistro. The verdict: omakase heaven. Normally, I frequent Tama, Nozawa and Asanebo to satisfy my craving for good fish, but tonight's meal topped all my experiences at these Valley joints. Like Nozawa, the outside appearance of Wa is nothing to cheer about: located on the 2nd floor of a strip mall that is next to a 7/11 and across the street from a Chevron gas station. However, once you enter you are warmly greeted by the 3 extremely friendly Wa chefs and owners: Hiro, Titi, and Tomo. At the restaurant, Hiro and Titi are responsible for the preparation of sushi/sashimi plates while Titi takes charge of the grill. The place is slightly bigger than Nozawa, but furnished with a hipper decor. Anyways, enough of my babbling and straignt to the good stuff.
Both my friend and I ordered the omakase but were served different dishes initially. First, my friend was served a steamed monkfish liver with ponzu jello - which she said was excellent. Since I'm not an ankimo fan, Tomo prepared a halibut topped with salmon eggs and chilli/lime juice for me that was truly succulent. A memorable dish, but I've had better sashimi at Asanebo.
Next, my friend and I shared two salads. First was a sashimi salad with apple dressing accompanied by two juicy egg wrapped shrimp and asparagus. A unique coupling that created quite extraodinary fresh but subtle sweet flavors. The other plate was a seared rib-eye salad that was immensely enjoyable. Meat was seared to med rare that was tender and flowing with juices.
It was definitely hard to top the greens, but they did so with the baked crab served on an orange slice with spicy cream sauce. Meat was so fresh and the slightly rich cheese/cream sauce was excellent accompaniment. The portion they served was perfect since anything larger than what we got would be too filling.
The wonderful baked crab was again topped by a sushi plate prepared by Tomo. The sushi combo were the following: eel wrapped with thin slice of seaweed and topped with sweet terriyaki-type sauce, a medium toro wrapped with mint leaf and dusted with coriander powder, a spanish mackerel topped with sea urchin jelly and lastly, syake which although plain was still extremely fresh. Definitely a slate of meat whose quality is equal to if not better than Nozawa.
Just when we thought that the meal couldn't get any better, we were served an amazing char broiled Santa Barbara sweet shrimp topped with salmon eggs and an abundance of shrimp head mousse with blu blanc sauce. Although the shrimp was very fresh it was the sauce that made this plate a winner. The blu blanc was mixed with a little lime and pepper, which when soaked into the shrimp meat was something to die for.
At this point, our main chef, Tomo asked if we wanted anything else since other than the upcoming dessert our omakase meal had ended with the shrimp. Only then did my friend and I realized we were entranced by the food and had not realized we had eaten quite alot, but were still craving for more. Sensing our disappointment that the meal was coming to an end, Tomo immediately extended our omakase. This is the point where - in my opinion - Wa sushi tops the others. My friends and I regularly extend our omakase meals at Nozawa, Sushi 4 on 6, and Tama but the plates that follow rarely outshine the previous dishes.
The next plate truly puts Wa in a league on its own. It was rather a surprising dish since it evokes more of a French Laundry fare than a strip mall sushi joint. We were served by Titi a seared sea bass on top of a slice of white carrot (sorry, don't know the English name for this vegetable as it is a direct Japanese translation). Layered on the sea bass was a most delectable fois gras and shitake mushrooms. A sake or wine based brown sauce accompanied the fish. I hope I won't piss anyone off, but you must experience this dish yourself. Honestly, I can't explain my sensations during first taste. As simple as the dish sounds, the only thing I can say is that it was a flawless masterpiece. Moreover, I'm happy to say that the portion of this dish does not evoke the French Laundry. Although the Laundry whips out some of most refined and original dishes (during my visits so can't vouch for others), the portions are so small that I would summarize my experiences there as a collection of taste teases. I always walk away hungry with an empty wallet.
After an amazing plate by Titi that left us grinning from ear to ear, Tomo came back with a mean sushi roll just as creative if not as savory as the sea bass. The roll consisted of ikura and shredded blue crab meat covered in a mix of wasabi/orange sauce that looked like - don't mean to be demeaning - thousand island. Wrapped around each roll was a slice of blow torched syake. Although the flavor was outstanding it was the smooth/soft texture and the way it melted in your mouth that earned it the thumbs up.
Our stomachs were already full to the brim, but my friend and I knew a meal is not meal without dessert. So, to top off our evening Tomo recited some of the homemade desserts that were available: Chocolate souffle (first time to witness souffle served at a Japanese establishment), Tiramisu, Green tea pudding, Pear compote and an assortment of ice cream. Now, one might think that Tiramisu is a boring staple dessert in most Cali restaurants like brulee or shorbet, but I must admit that some of the best and creative Tiramisu that I've tried have come from non-Italian/western establishments. Unable to decide which ones to PIG out and not wanting to completely rule out Tiramisu we requested Tomo to choose 3 of the selections for us to share.
Surprisingly, the desserts are not pre-cooked and we watched admiringly as Tomo and Titi carefully and delicately prepared our desserts. First to arrive was the pear compote which were slices of sauteed pears and purple jelly cubes in a refreshing cool pear soup. It's flavors brought back fond memories of Japanese fruit candies that I so much enjoyed during my kiddy years, hmmmmm.
Next came the Green tea pudding covered in honey/caramel clear syrup and a side of fresh kiwis. Pudding had a flan texture and definitely not as sweet as it sounds. Moreover, the subtle Green tea flavor matched exceedingly well with the kiwis.
Lastly the souffle was placed before us. Filled with hot chocolate fudge and covered with green tea/vanilla sauce it's a real contender among the best souffles in SoCal. Nevetheless, the pear compote was far more original and definitely my favourite.
Overall, our meal was truly extraordinary. Although during the omakase I expected more servings of sushi or sashimi instead of warm dishes, Titi's creations from the grill more than made up for any longing I had for raw delicacies. His work is a sight to behold and taste.
Now comes the damage report: $191.60 for 2 extended omakase (including two side orders of Miso soup). If we did not prolong our meal and keep to 2 desserts, the bill hovers around $120. Not a small bill by all means, but it's a price I'm willing to pay for one of the top meals I've ever had in SoCal. Well, thanks for reading and I wish all of you chowhounds who will one day experience Wa's culinary magic will enjoy it as much as I do.
bien comido bien dormido....
P.S. I apologize for the broad adjectives, bad grammar or any mispellings that I have made you endure. Below is a link to Chris G's March 29th report.
Wa Sushi & Bistro
1106 N. La Cienega Blvd. (N. of Santa Monica)
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Tel: (310) 854-7285