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I didn't have as much time to traverse LA's wonderful sushi scene on this trip, so I focused my attentions on Mori Sushi, and in particular, Maru-san.
I had four meals at Mori (I know!), all omakase, all with Maru-san. Maru joked that he and I spent more time together over the past few days than he did with his wife!
Over the course of the omakases, I made a number of observations, and, he made the same about me, as the meals became more tailored to my tastes.
I call this a challenge, because Maru-san kept it fresh for me. Of course, I had a number of the same pieces of sushi, but he often switched them up subtly (from the sauces, to the addition of a shiso leaf, the searing, the gunkan-style or nigiri, etc.). The special items, such as soups and introductory courses were always different, as were the desserts!
Finally, I had a couple trips to Tsujita (with Hide-san) and one wonderful lunch with Shunji-san, so I'll include a few comparative points for your reading pleasure, as well.
Onto the food!
Here are some highlights from introductory courses, some of these were bites from zensai:
- Homemade tofu – it's been said a million times, but Mori has the best homemade tofu. The little wooden spoon adds a touch of texture to the silkiness of the tofu
- Various seaweeds and herbs – as garnishes, little bites, flavor complements, I was fortunate to sample so many ingredients. Every piece of greenery is extremely fresh (e.g., no browned edges of shiso leafs), and Maru-san shared information such as the seasonality of the item and even the prefecture from which it was sourced
- Marinated smelt – This was one of my favorites, and the head gave a little when biting into it, and was very juicy with the miso marinating
- Seared, aged toro with Japanese pepper and pickle – Maru-san picked up on my affinity for pickles here. Excellent garnishments, very rich dish, almost like a foie gras of the sea
- Shiro-ebi tempura – I had not had shiroebi as a tempura dish before, but I enjoyed it mightily, as it let shine the delicateness of Mori's tempura, since the shrimp themselves were miniature
- Hamo (pike eel) soup – Apparently pike eel has a very short season, and it is now. A delicious eel, very hearty in the soup
- Baby spinach with baby sardines – a nice cold dish (was an opener for a lunch), it was interesting seeing the little baby sardines' eyes
- Tiger prawn with roe and sea urchin roe – a more flavorful dish, a touch of pepper, the first figs of the season was an interesting and delicious contrast
- Fresh horagai steamed with quail egg as a soup served in shell – one of my all-time favorites, after eating the meaty portions, I used the shell as a soup. The conch was alive just prior to prep
- Unagi over cucumber and seaweed – Maru-san picked up on my appreciation for eels, and served cooked unagi in a nice light sauce. He probably had the best looking fresh water eel that I've seen, and I don't see that many of them fresh
- Broiled yari-ika – another stellar dish. I love yari-ika, due to its texture, creaminess, and subtle sweet flavor. Maru noted this from the sushi courses, and presented a broiled version in a miso-soy reduction on a subsequent visit. Outstanding
- Sashimi platter – I don't get the sense that Mori does a lot of sashimi, but when it's served the knifework is stellar. The shrimp head was still twitching when served, and the contrasting flavors and textures from sweet shrimp to Boston toro and white fishes to sake salmon was stellar
- Abalone soup with shiitake mushroom – We don't get much awabi on the East Coast, so this was great
- Hotate soup – guts and all, this may have been my favorite soup, and the presentation with chives was very delicate despite the richness of the taste
- Ikura over "slimy spinach" – a slurpy dish!
- Hokkaido uni tempura – this I loved again. I thought Mori's tempura was very good, delicate, maybe not the level of Tempura Matsui recently opened in NYC, but still very good
- Miso black cod – a single bite. This one threw me a bit, since I had thought it a "Nobu" dish, but Maru-san tells me it's very traditional in Japan
- Grilled nasu – I love Japanese eggplant, and the char gave it some more character. It was served with a mint-type of leaf which I enjoyed too, but Maru-san says is not always appreciated in Japan
- Kinmadai soup with shiitake mushroom – some sort of starch ingredient, the name of which escapes me, was included here, and made it slightly more interestingly, as I was told they are popular in Japan and cut into various shapes from flowers to hearts to clovers. I see these at Kajitsu in NYC. While I appreciate veganism, the starch was rather boring
Overall, Mori's small dishes are my favorite, as they range in flavors, complexities, and richness, but are little morsels so you can enjoy them and leave room for the…
Others have waxed philosophic on Mori's shari, and to me, the rice is very delicate. You can taste almost every grain, notice its roundness, and the subtle flavors. It's a bit above room temperature (especially earlier in the evening), and it balances perfectly with the neta. The neta itself is cut with the best precision, and the draping is artful. Mori's nigiri are rather small, Yasuda-like, so one is able to sample a variety of pieces. The tastes are very subtle, overall, and I find Shunji to be more bold, however, Mori's complexity makes the bites deeper. The knifework of Maru-san may be the best I have ever seen. Not one stray cut. If you're a Buddhist (who eats fish), you'd love Mori. ☺
Here's a rundown of almost all the nigiri I had. These were over various sessions:
- Hata (Grouper) – interesting white fish, very in season
- Hotate (still alive!) – often served second, provides a meaty flavor in the white course
- White fish marinated in kelp – this made an appearance during every nigiri session, and I managed to fail to pick up the name each time
- Isaki (Grunt fish) – Oilier than I expected. I have had many times before, but this is the best
- Tako (half raw octopus) – Wow, what a different. Half broiled, so still a touch silky, but with some firmness
- Managatsuo (butter fish) – A bit of a crowd pleaser on the white-fish landscape
- Nodoguro (black throat sea perch) – This is a rare beast, or at least a high-quality one, think Otoro of the white-fish family
- Yari-ika (special squid) – outstanding, I had described this earlier, but think of ika that has more taste, a buttery creaminess to it. Almost akin to a scallop of the cephalopod world
- Masu (ocean trout) – almost translucent in freshness and wildness
- Sockeye salmon - unsure on the Japanese name, but Maru-san made a point of mentioning the river from which he procured in Alaska. That's so mindful
- Aji – a favorite of mine, always cut perfectly. This made an appearance later in temaki
- Akami – so clean and lean. Again, almost translucent. Tastes more tuna than the fattier cuts to me
- Kamasu (Japanese barracuda) – Outstanding grilled fish, and I like the Maru disdains the use of the blowtorch, so that you have the smaller grilled markings on the fish. (Similar to Yasuda in NYC)
- Chutoro and Otoro – different cuts of fatty tuna. Maru-san drew me a diagram to explain where he got the cuts and how the otoro was nearer the kama while chu-toro had more texture
- Shiro maguro (albacore) – a seasonal fish, so much better than canned! Sorry bad joke
- Inwashi – sardines are so fresh and in season. Maybe the most flavorful piece of nigiri at Mori right now
- Amaebi – loved that Maru-san serves it in two pieces, one piece slightly grilled the other raw. You could still see it twitching a top the shari
- Kohada – a little surprising, since it's not in season, however, that only means that it's a different size according to Maru-san
- Saba – Maru-san tells me this is his favorite fish. This is the same "favorite" of Mitsu-san at Yasuda the closest itamame we have on the East Coast to Maru-san
- Kinmedai – a few different cuts, but tended to be seared. This is becoming a favorite of mine, due to its lightness yet richness of flavor
- Uni – Santa Barbara and Hokkaido. Sweet and nutty. Hokkaido was more likely served gunkan style, probably to complement its more layered flavor
- Ikura – very light preparation, fresh with little to no marinating. The roe are so fresh they burst in your mouth, so it's an intense bite from a tactile perspective
- Mirugai – giant clam is always good, and I love the crunch
- Akagai – this made an appearance one day, and had a more alkaline flavor to it
- Awabi – steamed with a sweet, abalone sauce. Out of this world good. Would love to have seen more shellfish, such as razor clam
- Anago – outstanding, served a couple different ways, but I preferred the salt prep to the sweeter eel-sauce version
- Unagi – this was unusual for nigiri, according to Maru-san, but he wanted me to try the full range of eels
- Tamago – very delicate, egg-type of tamago. Similar to Shunji's maybe a touch sweeter and less egg presence. (Tsujita's is more of the flan consistency)
- Aji handroll with Ginger – Maru noticed I loved ginger, yes, I'm that guy, so he mixed it with Aji for a very flavorful hand roll. Nori is complex and somehow refreshing. I could use it toasted though!
- Toro-taka hand roll – with Japanese pickles and shiso leaf. It was wonderful watching Maru-san scrape the greasy, oily fatty tuna from the membranes. Probably the richest hand roll, I have eaten. Less rice than at Shunji
Mori is the rare Japanese restaurant that makes a stab at desserts versus throwing down a slab of cantaloupe.
- Brown sugar mousse – very sweet, very amazing
- Tofu ice cream – obviously delicious, light refreshing, and a touch sweet
- Mango jelly – all house-made a nice tart contrast to the tofu ice cream, little bits of fresh mango rounded out the dish
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