[Warning, this may have been a “short” omakase, but it’s kind of a long review. Apologies for the verbosity in advance.]
I was all set to go to Kiriko today to try their $50 sashimi/sushi omakase when I decided to try Mori instead. I wanted to see how accommodating they were to a shorter and hopefully cheaper omakase during lunch. They were able to get the “short” part down (1 hour from start to finish), but the “cheap” part, not so much.
I’ll give you the punchline now, it was $120 (before tax and tip) for my omakase. Not that it wasn’t worth the money, but it was a lot more than I was hoping to spend (in the $60-$80 range with the expectation that I wouldn’t have the full omakase experience). I was offered and accepted a few special items, which was likely what pushed me into triple-digits. Otherwise, I could see it coming in at under $100.
I arrived around noon and was pleasantly surprised by how open and bright the space was. Both Kiriko and Shunji are quite dark compared to Mori in daylight. Of course Shunji is only open in the evening but Kiriko seems to have the shades permanently drawn. Only one table was occupied, by a large group, with no one at the bar. The waitress greeted me with a pleasant warning that they do not serve cooked dishes, which of course I was fine with.
I requested to sit at the bar and was given the farthest left seat. I was only given a drink menu, so I assume I cannot get the lunch specials at the bar. Maru-san came out and greeted me. I asked if he could do a short omakase, as I had only an hour to eat, with fewer dishes so that it didn’t get too expensive. He was very agreeable to that, asking what time I had to leave, and stating that the omakase will be mostly sushi, but he’ll also have the kitchen prepare two or three special dishes, starting with...
1. Homemade tofu, with fresh wasabi and a diminutive dish of shoyu. The tofu was very fresh (I saw Maru-san skim the bubbles off a batch in the process of being made behind the bar), with the flavor of soybeans gently coming through. The potency of the fresh wasabi and the mildness of the shoyu accompanied it quite well.
2. A small, beautiful, bowl of sashimi, consisting of hon maguro akami and nodoguro:
Maru-san said the bluefin tuna was “from around India”, which he said gives it a different quality than bluefin from other areas. Having recently had bluefin tuna at Shunji and Kiriko, I can say that this “Southern Bluefin” (as Maru-san called it) is different. The flesh was not exactly firmer, but rather more dense, and tasted slightly different, more iron-y perhaps.
The nodoguro, which Maru-san did not know the name of in English--he encouraged me to look it up, which I did on my phone, and it came back with “blackthroat seaperch”--was a fish that I hadn’t had it before, but it reminded me of tai. Maru-san said it’s a very rare fish and very expensive in Japan. He said it was not a fish he specifically stocked, but the Japanese fish market he used sent over a few fish that they thought he would like (like omakase in wholesale), and this was one of them. He seemed very proud to be serving it.
3. A traditional soup (I didn’t catch the Japanese name) of dashi, with a slice of daikon on top of a piece of kinmedai, and a small pink flower on top. I could taste the bonito in the dashi, and the daikon and kinmedai were light and delicate. The flower added just a touch of perfume to the flavor.
Maru-san then moved to the sushi portion of my omakase, starting with...
4. Isaki, which sounds much better than its English name, “grunt”. It was another rare fish, according to Maru-san. Like the nodoguro, I hadn’t had it before, and like nodoguro, I found it to be tai-like, but that’s more of an indication of my unrefined palate for different kinds shiromi sushi.
5. Inada, which had a very nice consistency, not at all melt-in-your-mouth like hamachi. Interestingly, I could taste a little bit of the blood line in the piece I was served. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing as far as proper preparation goes, but it added an interesting flavor that I enjoyed (then again, I like Taiwanese pig-blood cakes), that others may not.
6. Aji, with the traditional kizami negi and grated shoga topping. The fish was very flavorful in and of itself and made for one of the better pieces of aji nigiri I’ve had.
7. Kurodai, black sea bream, with a shiso leaf under the neta and a splash of citrus on top (did not taste like lemon, so maybe yuzu or sudachi). I’m not sure if I’ve had this fish before. It’s similar to the other shiromi I’d already been served earlier, nodoguro and isaki, but the shiso and citrus brought out a different flavor that was quite enjoyable.
8. & 9 Toro, two pieces: one from a bigeye tuna, one from the aforementioned bluefin from the Indian Ocean. Self-admitted amateur here, but I’m not sure if they were otoro or chutoro, and I didn’t ask as Maru-san had gone into the kitchen briefly. My (probably incorrect) assessment was that they were otoro, as the otoro I’ve had in the past have all had the lines separating the muscles across the pieces whereas the chutoro I’ve had have generally been more uniform and marbled. Regardless, they were quite amazing pieces of toro. The bigeye toro had a subtle tartness and less of a fatty taste, whereas the fattiness of the bluefin toro really came through.
9. Aori ika, bigfin reef squid, which Maru-san explained was the best quality of the various ika. It was soft and creamy in texture. I think I might have preferred it to have a little more snap in the flesh (without the rubberiness of course), but it was excellent.
While we were talking about squid, I mentioned having hotaru ika (firefly squid) recently, and Maru-san asked if I wanted to have some today. I nodded enthusiastically. He said with a smile he will have the kitchen make one last special dish for me. Meanwhile...
10. Amaebi nigiri. I recently had live amaebi at Shunji, dispatched in front of me, shrimp heads lightly fried to a crisp. This wasn’t that, no fried head, and the shrimp was not as sweet as I’m used to with amaebi, but it was still very good.
11. Kamasu, baby barracuda, which was first seared (tataki, on a grill, not aburi, with a torch). The skin was very smoky, in a good way, while the flesh was soft and still raw/rare. A nice contrast and delicious piece of fish.
12. & 13. Uni gunkanmaki, from Santa Barbara. Extremely fresh, sweet and creamy. I asked Maru-san if it was from Santa Barbara, and he said yes. He then paused and asked me if I really like uni. I answered in the affirmative. He then offered me uni from Hokkaido, saying he didn’t have much left. Of course, I accepted. It was the first time I’ve had it, and I could taste some subtle differences, with the Hokkaido uni being both milder and yet more briny, somehow.
14. Anago, simmered or steamed, lightly sauced. It was a perfect piece of fish, cooked to just done. I remarked that I’ve rarely had anago, mostly unagi, and Maru-san opined that unagi is not usually very good, that it’s farmed and mass produced, that people just like it for the sauce. I agreed but mentioned having some fresh unagi down the street at Shunji about a month ago. He said he got his live fresh water eel from the same source as Shunji at the same time (I could picture them bumping into each other at the fish market holding live eels).
Maru-san mischievously informed me that the anago would be the last piece of the *initial* selection of fish that I would have. I was definitely getting full, so I was glad it was just a joke, plus I was starting to worry about what my bill would look like, but before I could think of it too much, out came the...
15. Hotaru ika, firefly squid, in a bowl with cucumber, different varieties of seaweed as garnish, and a whole-grain mustard-based “dressing”. The individual squid were even smaller than they were at Shunji, each no more than one inch long, not counting the tentacles. They were delightful. While the potency of the mustard was a bit overpowering, the flavor paired amazingly well with the squid.
16. & 17. Homemade black sesame ice cream and a small cup of hojicha. The ice cream was delicious, though I wonder if they used milk rather than cream, as the consistency was more icy and less creamy than the chai ice cream I had at Kiriko. The hojicha was very mild and comforting. A nice way to end the meal.
The bill, as I said at the beginning, was $120, before tax and tip. In total, I spent just over $150 for this meal. It has surpassed my omakase at Shunji as the most expensive (per-person) meal I’ve ever had.
[I’m going to end the post here, and give some thoughts in comments below, as this is already getting too long.]